I hate to say it, but Ronald Reagan was the father of the modern gun control movement in America. Of course that was at a different time in this country, when Reagan was governor of California and black radicals had taken over the statehouse toting machine guns and chanting "black power." At that time, the solution to having large numbers of blacks publicly exercising their Second Amendment rights scared the religion out of a political establishment already on edge at the height over agitation concerning civil rights.
On May 7, 1967, the Black Panthers showed up on the steps of the California State Capitol in Sacramento brandishing loaded rifles and black berets in a show of defiance that would forever brand them as enemies of the establishment. They were there to protest the passage of the Milford Bill (nicknamed "the 'lack Panther Bill" by the press), which had been fast-tracked through the Legislature and signed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. The bill reversed existing California law that made it legal to carry a loaded firearm in public as long as it was not concealed or brandished in a threatening manner. Reagan himself was quoted as saying that he saw "no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons."
But we should back track a little bit to get an understanding of what had everyone so up in arms – no pun intended. In 1966 the Black Panthers had announced that they advocated black people, primarily in Oakland, California, arm themselves to protect against what they (and many in the black community) widely viewed as political oppression carried out by the police. Incidence of alleged police brutality, including the killing of unarmed citizens, were rampant in Oakland. In response, the Panthers established the "police patrols," which consisted of armed groups of blacks following police cars around the city and documenting each time police stopped or arrested a black citizen. Under California law, the Panthers' activities, though highly unorthodox, were perfectly legal. They would also carry law books and copies of municipal code to ensure that all police actions were carried out by the book.
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The Panthers' police patrols proved wildly popular among members of Oakland's black community. Not surprisingly, the police were alarmed. Gradually, incidents of government abuse of citizens abated. But the sight of armed uniformed blacks roaming around the city using the law to challenge the authorities was more than the city bargained for. Officials believed that if the police patrols spread to other cities there could be a real risk of political revolution in the inner city.
Hence the effort to curb the lawful possession of guns by inner-city blacks. Fast forward to today. The inner cities in which most blacks live have some of the most draconian gun laws in the nation. That is no coincidence. America now ranks about third in the world in terms of gun-related homicides. However, if one were to take out the inner cities, America would rank near the lowest in the world in gun-related homicides. In fact, in the places where gun ownership is least restricted, gun violence is lowest. Mass shootings of the type that took place in Oregon recently – despite the media's noise over the matter – are the rare exception and not the rule.
And the truth of the matter is that places with the most restrictive gun laws – the inner cities of New York, Detroit, Chicago and Washington, D.C. – have the highest murder rates in the country. That cannot be the fault of guns per se. It is the fault of criminals fighting over the illegal drug trade. But despite these obvious facts, every time an incidence of mass murder reaches the national consciousness, anti-gun activists go on a tirade over the lack of restrictive gun legislation.
But what is particularly ironic is that the black community tends to go for the anti-gun argument almost reflexively. That is despite the fact that blacks have traditionally faced the brunt of official tyranny more than any other group in this country – dating back from the slave patrols, to the civil rights movement and even up to this day, with complaints about police misconduct in the black community. How can a community that refuses to stand up for itself – that refuses to exercise its constitutional right to keep and bear arms – ever be respected by the powers that be?
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White Americans are under no illusion that the government can and will grab as much power as it can in the absence of a vigilant citizenry. There are countless examples, from the Cliven Bundy incident – in which armed ranchers successfully rebuffed the government's attempt to violate age-old grazing rights – to the state of Texas, which recently passed laws empowering citizens to carry weapons for self-defense on college campuses.
Perhaps it is because some in the black community fear that the self-determination, the responsibility and the independence needed to bear arms and participate fully and forcefully in the political process will deprive them of their victimhood. That is to a certain degree understandable. Victimization has born fruits over the past half century, although the returns have certainly diminished as of late. Why not give independence a try?
Media wishing to interview Armstrong Williams, please contact [email protected].