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Captain Jim Williams, a member of the newly created African-American militia in South Carolina, was lynched by the Ku Klux Klan in 1871. A placard was attached to his body: “gone to his last muster.” The newly created Department of Justice adopted a novel theory to prosecute Williams’ killers: The government argued that the Klan’s disarmament of Williams and other members of the so called “Negro militias” violated the Second Amendment, which was now applicable to the states through the recently ratified 14th Amendment. The two federal judges presiding over the KKK case could not agree over this new theory, which modern courts have dubbed “incorporation.” On March 2, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear another Second Amendment incorporation case, McDonald v. Chicago. The question now is not the disarmament of the militia but the private right to have a handgun for self-defense (Chicago’s citizens are free to own a variety of long guns, including shotguns.) History will figure prominently in this new case. The looming question for the Court is simple: Will the justices get the history right, or will they be swayed by a potent gun-rights mythology that has distorted the history of Reconstruction and effectively erased the memory and sacrifices of men such as Williams?

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