Thursday, April 18, 2013

It was easy to pass gun laws when the nation had to fight the Black Panther Party

“Senators say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets,” Gabrielle Giffords writes in an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times.

“The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.”
Giffords understands that fear.

On January 8, 2011, a week into her third term, Giffords, as a member of the United States House of Representatives, was shot near Tucson, Arizona.  She was shot in the head.  Thirteen people were injured and six were killed.  Among those dead was federal judge John Roll and nine-year-old Christian-Taylor Green.
Now Giffords blames the NRA for manipulating members of the Congress to kill a bill for stiffer background checks.   The NRA successfully used the assumption of Second Amendment protection to destroy a proposal that most Americans desire.

It hasn’t always been this way.
It’s easy to forget the NRA didn’t begin the battle for gun rights.  It was the Black Panther Party who advocated for an individual’s right to bear arms back in the 1970s. 

Those Black Panthers maintained the right to own guns as a way to protect themselves from the police.  They carried their weapons to the California state capitol.  They brought their rifles to the trial of Huey P. Newton. It’s a part of American history that gets lost in the rhetoric related to today’s fight to grant people the right to own guns.
Maybe the resurgence of the Black Panther Party would change that public perception.  I’m not calling for it, but given how racial tension in the 1970s shaped thoughts on gun rights, maybe a few black folks wearing all black with assault weapons will get the attention of Congress.

Gun laws have almost always been about race.  Slaves and freed blacks were forbidden from owning guns due to the fear of an uprising.  The fear was justifiable.  The prevalence of slave revolts is often overlooked in the teaching of American history.
After the Civil War in the South, blacks were prohibited from processing firearms. The law was enforced by members of the Ku Klux Klan, who terrorized black communities to assure no blacks owned guns.

Then there’s the history of the NRA in pushing gun restrictions.
During prohibition, the NRA supported gun control measures as a way to combat organized crime.  The National Firearms Act was passed in 1934, and the NRA not only backed it but led the fight for legislation in many states to limit the carrying of concealed weapons.

Karl Frederick, former NRA president, helped draft the Uniform Firearms Act, a law requiring a police permit to carry a concealed weapon, a registry of all guns purchases, and a two-day waiting period for gun sales.
The NRA fought for gun control after the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.  The NRA promoted restrictions during the turbulent years of racial unrest. Riots sprung up across the nation - Rochester, NY, Newark, New York City, Philadelphia, Jersey City, Patterson, NJ, Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Louisville, Pittsburg, Augusta, GA, Jackson, MS, Watts, Cleveland, San Francisco, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul – and the NRA pushed for restrictions to limit guns in the hands of blacks.

There was war in the streets. Can you blame them?
The NRA joined forces with Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California, in support of gun control. Reagan wanted to get guns out of the hands of the Black Panther Party. The Black Panthers had their own law enforcement with armed members who showed up at the scene of arrest with weapons to protect black citizens from police brutality.

On May 2, 1967, The Black Panthers walked into the California State Capitol fully armed to protest a bill to limit gun possession. Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law.

Then the Black Panthers Party’s influence weakened.
The NRA shifted their position. Members within the organization began fighting to protect their right to bear arms citing distrust of the government and police. Ronald Reagan, who had signed the law to limit the Black Panther Party, became an advocate for guns as a way to protect people from the state. 

So, it was okay for whites to be protected from the states, but not blacks.
What is the connection between gun laws today versus the mood in the 70s?

Giffords blasting of lawmakers who bowed to the influence of the NRA is instructive to the role race continues to play in the formation of public policy.  It’s a truth that gets lost in the pomposity encompassing Second Amendment Rights.  Although race riots and panic stirred by the Black Panther Party was enough to pass laws limiting gun possession, the death of 20 children and 6 adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School was not enough to do the same.
The fear of a black revolution was enough to pass gun laws.  But a long history of gun violence isn’t enough to sway members of Congress to make a difference.

I hate saying it, but does race play a role in all of this?
As for the history of gun violence in the United States since Columbine, check out the list.  After reading it, call somebody and tell them you’re pissed.

December 11, 2012. Tyler Roberts killed 2 people and himself with a stolen rifle in Clackamas Town Center, Oregon.
September 27, 2012. Five were shot to death by 36-year-old Andrew Engeldinger at Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis, MN.  

August 5, 2012. Six Sikh temple members were killed when Wade Michael Page opened fire in a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.  
July 20, 2012. During the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, CO, 24-year-old James Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 58.  

May 29, 2012. Ian Stawicki opened fire on Cafe Racer Espresso in Seattle, WA, killing 5.
April 6, 2012. Jake England, 19, and Alvin Watts, 32, shot 5 black men in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in racially motivated shooting spree. Three died.

April 2, 2012. A former student, 43-year-old One L. Goh killed 7 people at Oikos University, a Korean Christian college in Oakland, CA.  
February 27, 2012. Three students were killed by Thomas “TJ” Lane, another student, in a rampage at Chardon High School in Chardon, OH.  

October 14, 2011. Eight people died in a shooting at Salon Meritage hair salon in Seal Beach, CA. 41-year-old Scott Evans Dekraai, killed six women and two men dead.
September 6, 2011. Eduardo Sencion entered an IHOP restaurant in Carson City, NV and shot 12 people. Five died.

January 8, 2011. Former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) was shot in the head when Jared Loughner opened fire on an event she was holding at a Safeway market in Tucson, AZ. Six people died.

 August 3, 2010. Omar S. Thornton shot a Hartford Beer Distributor in Manchester, CT after getting caught stealing beer. Nine were killed, including Thornton, and two were injured.
November 5, 2009. Forty-three people were shot by Nidal Malik Hasan at the Fort Hood army base in Texas. Hasan reportedly yelled “Allahu Akbar!” before opening fire, killing 13 and wounding 29.

April 3, 2009. Jiverly Wong opened fire at an immigration center in Binghamton, New York before committing suicide. He killed 13 people and wounded 4.

March 29, 2009. Eight people died in a shooting at the Pinelake Health and Rehab nursing home in Carthage, NC. Robert Stewart, was targeting his estranged wife who worked at the home and survived.
February 14, 2008. Steven Kazmierczak opened fire in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University, killing 6 and wounding 21. The gunman shot and killed himself.

February 7, 2008. Six people died and two were injured in a shooting spree at the City Hall in Kirkwood, Missouri. Charles Lee Thornton, opened fire during a public meeting after being denied construction contracts.
December 5, 2007. Robert Hawkins, shot up a department store in the Westroads Mall in Omaha, NE. Hawkins killed 9 people and wounded 4 before killing himself.

April 16, 2007. Virginia Tech became the site of the deadliest school shooting in US history when a student, Seung-Hui Choi, gunned down 56 people. Thirty-two people died.
February 12, 2007. In Salt Lake City’s Trolley Square Mall, 5 people were shot to death and 4 others were wounded by Sulejman Talović.

October 2, 2006. An Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster, PA was gunned down by Charles Carl Roberts, Roberts separated the boys from the girls, binding and shooting the girls. 5 young girls died, while 6 were injured.
March 25, 2006. Seven died and 2 were injured by Kyle Aaron Huff in a shooting spree through Capitol Hill in Seattle, WA.

March 21, 2005. Jeffrey Weise killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s girlfriend before opening fire on Red Lake Senior High School, killing 9 people on campus and injuring 5.
March 12, 2005. A Living Church of God meeting was gunned down by church member Terry Michael Ratzmann at a Sheraton hotel in Brookfield, WI.

July 8, 2003. Doug Williams, a Lockheed Martin employee, shot up his plant in Meridian, MS in a racially-motivated rampage. He shot 14 people, most of them African American, and killed 7.
December 26, 2000. Edgewater Technology employee Michael “Mucko” McDermott shot and killed seven of his coworkers at the office in Wakefield, MA.  

September 15, 1999. Larry Gene Ashbrook opened fire on a Christian rock concert and teen prayer rally at Wedgewood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, TX. He killed 7 people and wounded 7 others.
July 29, 1999. Mark Orrin Barton killed his wife and two children with a hammer before shooting up two Atlanta day trading firms.  He killed 12 including his family and injured 13 before killing himself.

April 20, 1999. In the deadliest high school shooting in US history, teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Kiebold shot up Columbine High School in Littleton, CO. They killed 13 people and wounded 21.


  1. The fear of a black revolution was enough to pass gun laws. But a long history of gun violence isn’t enough to sway members of Congress to make a difference.

  2. "It’s easy to forget the NRA didn’t begin the battle for gun rights. It was the Black Panther Party who advocated for an individual’s right to bear arms back in the 1970s."

    Is this a joke?

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