The founding fathers of the modern “gun rights” movement in America was…the Black Panthers ?? Yes, or so the Atlantic argues in an interesting piece on the twisted, tangled history of firearm ownership in America:
The Ku Klux Klan, Ronald Reagan, and, for most of its history, the NRA all worked to control guns. The true pioneers of the modern pro-gun movement? The Black Panthers. In the battle over gun rights in America, both sides have distorted history and the law, and there’s no resolution in sight.
It was May 2, 1967, and the Black Panthers’ invasion of the California statehouse launched the modern gun-rights movement. On the west lawn of the state capitol in Sacramento 30 young black men and women [arrived] carrying .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45-caliber pistols. The 24 men and six women climbed the capitol steps, and one man, Bobby Seale, began to read from a prepared statement. “The time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late.”
Opposition to gun control as what drove the black militants to visit the California capitol with loaded weapons in hand. The Black Panther Party had been formed six months earlier, in Oakland, by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. Like many young African Americans, Newton and Seale were frustrated with the failed promise of the civil-rights movement. Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were legal landmarks, but they had yet to deliver equal opportunity. In Newton and Seale’s view, the only tangible outcome of the civil-rights movement had been more violence and oppression, much of it committed by the very entity meant to protect and serve the public: the police.
Inspired by the teachings of Malcolm X, Newton and Seale decided to fight back. Before he was assassinated in 1965, Malcolm X had preached against Martin Luther King Jr.’s brand of nonviolent resistance. Because the government was “either unable or unwilling to protect the lives and property” of blacks, he said, they had to defend themselves “by whatever means necessary.” Malcolm X illustrated the idea for Ebony magazine by posing for photographs in suit and tie, peering out a window with an M-1 carbine semiautomatic in hand. Malcolm X and the Panthers described their right to use guns in self-defense in constitutional terms. “Article number two of the constitutional amendments,” Malcolm X argued, “provides you and me the right to own a rifle or a shotgun.”
The Pathers’ efforts provoked an immediate backlash. Republicans in California eagerly supported increased gun control. Governor Reagan told reporters that afternoon that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” He called guns a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” In a later press conference, Reagan said he didn’t “know of any sportsman who leaves his home with a gun to go out into the field to hunt or for target shooting who carries that gun loaded.” The Mulford Act, he said, “would work no hardship on the honest citizen.”
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