Gun Rights Advocates Bid Farewell
to Civil Rights Icon Otis McDonald



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By Kurt Hofmann, April 11th 2014
JPFO writer contributor, © 2014.

Gun rights, and civil rights in general, lost a true champion on April 4, when Otis McDonald lost his courageous battle with cancer. Courage, indeed, is perhaps the word that best describes Mr. McDonald's life, so it is hardly surprising that it also characterizes his death.

Mr. McDonald is famous, of course, for the 2010 Supreme Court case that bears his name, McDonald v. City of Chicago. In that case, the Court found that the Second Amendment protects the people's right to keep and bear arms from infringement not only by the federal government, but via incorporation through the Fourteenth Amendment, from such infringement by state and local governments, as well.

For those of us who know that the Second Amendment exists as the absolute last line of defense against tyranny -- indeed, genocidal tyranny -- this is vital. In an amicus brief supporting Mr. McDonald, JPFO explains why:

Local governments and authorities have a history not only of oppression in their own right but also of assisting in the oppressive activities of national governments. Ignoring this reality would fundamentally undermine the protective value of this Court's ruling in Heller.

The Nazis, for example, accomplished their mass killing with substantial assistance from local police units. In his seminal work ORDINARY MEN: RESERVE POLICE BATTALION 101 AND THE FINAL SOLUTION IN POLAND (1998), Christopher R. Browning recounts how the German Order Police, consisting of local police units transformed into genocide squads, were instrumental in carrying out much of the mass killing that was the hallmark of the Nazis' "Final Solution."

The amicus brief also described state and local governments' attacks on the right to keep and bear arms in the U.S., particularly as a key component of oppression of African-Americans.

In An Act of Bravery: Otis W. McDonald and the Second Amendment, the authors Sue Bowron and Frederick Jones note that race remained a very significant factor even in 2010:

As an African-American in a declining south side neighborhood, he was an unlikely pick for a case on gun rights. However, as a black man, Otis would personify the historical impact of the Second Amendment. He was the lead plaintiff in the case, a position he was not anticipating to accept but at the same time, he embraced it wholeheartedly.

The forcible citizen disarmament advocates, of course, took a very different view of McDonald's race. Coalition to Stop Gun Violence executive director Josh Horwitz, for example, implied that this choice as a lead plaintiff was nothing more than a cynical exploitation of the color of McDonald's skin. Rabidly anti-gun bloggers and those responding in comments were even more explicit in their condescension, calling McDonald a "figurehead," and worse, a "dupe," as if not only were white gun rights advocates using him, but he was too naïve to realize it. The notion that as a black man, McDonald was fighting back against centuries of "gun control" as a tool of racial oppression would of course not fit their narrative.

McDonald also had his own very practical reasons to fight to overturn Chicago's handgun ban. By this time, his neighborhood was decaying into a swamp of criminality. His house was burgled several times, and he once had a young hoodlum's pistol thrust in his face during an attempted carjacking. As a regular attendee of his neighborhood's Chicago Alternative Police Strategy (CAPS) meetings, McDonald took on an active -- and visible -- role in taking his community back from the gangbangers. That role did not go unnoticed by those among his neighbors who preferred to see the community as their own private criminal playground. Chicago's handgun ban meant no more to them than laws against burglary and armed robbery. McDonald vowed to defend himself and his family from them, but before he could do so effectively, he would have to fight the city government itself -- a fight that took him all the way to the Supreme Court.

With the McDonald decision, the Supreme Court is now on record as holding that the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment are "fundamental." There is therefore now a powerful argument that any law limiting the right to keep and bear arms must be subjected to strict scrutiny. An honest application of that standard (admittedly a hugely hypothetical scenario) would be very bad news for every gun law, and thus very good news for the American people.

We have obviously, even in the aftermath of the decision, seen very little court deference so far to the "fundamental" nature of the rights protected by the Second Amendment, but some state and local gun laws are now being rolled back on Second Amendment grounds -- something that would have been unthinkable ten years ago. And Otis McDonald played an enormous role in making that happen.

Because of the groundwork he laid, we shall overcome

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