…One historical transformation that contributed: the tactical turn on the left—among white revolutionaries and black power militants—had to die out. It began in earnest in 1966, when Black Panthers began patrolling the streets of the Sunshine State with guns. As I put it in Nixonland:
Here was one of the things that made these young men remarkable: beneath their berets and leather jackets, behind their bandoliers, they were also naively earnest. They believed implicitly in the majesty of the law. Revolutionaries in an only-in-America kind of way, they perceived themselves as a fully functioning ghetto constabulatory, apparently suprised when the response of the police—whom they called an “army of occupation”—was to wish them dead. “What are you doing with the guns?” a patrolman would ask them, a little afraid. ‘What are you doing with your gun?” Huey Newton would shoot back, and pull out one of the law books he always carried with him as other stood by with cameras and tape recorders.
(Yes again: nothing new—except the cellphone technology—under the sun.)
Huey would step out of his car and snap a live round into his chamber: California law only outlawed the carrying of loaded weapons inside a motor vehicle.
Things shifted, of course, when the Panthers started patrolling rich white neighborhoods, including the one where a right-wing supporter of Ronald Reagan in the state assembly, Don Mulford, lived. When the assembly debated Mulford’s subsequent bill to ban the carrying of loaded firearms in public places, Panthers strolled onto the floor of the state assembly fully armed. The Mulford Act passed right quick after that—and, ironically, one of the nation’s first high-profile gun control laws was signed by Governor Ronald Reagan. (We’ll see how ironic in my next post.) …
In 1972, the Republican platform supported gun control, abiding by a simple proposition with which many of us in the reality-based community agree: less guns, less crime. [...] But by 1980, the Republican platform said this:
We believe the right of citizens to keep and bear arms must be preserved. Accordingly, we oppose federal registration of firearms…. We therefore support Congressional initiatives to remove those provisions of the Gun Control Act of 1968 that do not significantly impact on crime but serve rather to restrain the law-abiding citizen in his legitimate use of firearms.
That same year, for the first time in its 109-year history, the NRA endorsed a presidential candidate: the Republican nominee, of course, Ronald Wilson Reagan. Reagan, they said, would see to it that the Justice Department “will pursue and prosecute those in government who abuse citizens for the political ends of gun control.” (How’s that for paranoia?) [...]
And by the 1970s one of the most active lobbies in new attempts to control [Saturday Night Specials] was… the NRA. In 1971, their director said, “We are for it 100 percent. We would like to get rid of these guns.” In 1973, their man in Congress, Michigan Democrat John Dingell, introduced the latest bill to ban them. In 1975, the NRA moved more aggressively into lobbying, with a new Institute for Legal Action. But suddenly, the tenor of their lobbying had radically shifted. [...]
Yes, the man who signed the Mulford Act in 1967 outlawing the carrying of weapons in public, back when the target was Black Panthers, was also an early adopter of, and crucial propagandist for, the theory that armed citizens should imagine themselves taking on the state—once the likes of the Black Panthers were defunct. As he put it in the the third part of his radio series [in June 1975], what the authors of the Second Amendment “really feared was that government might take away the freedoms of the citizens in their newly created free state. Each of those first ten amendments guarantees a freedom. the Second Amendment guarantees the right of the citizen to protect those other freedoms. Take away the arms of the citizen, and where is his defense against not only criminals but also the possible despotism of his government? In police states they take away the citizens’ arms first. This ensures the perpetuation of the state’s power, and the ability of police to deal with dissenters, as well as criminals.”
“So isn’t it better for the people to own arms than to risk enslavement by power-hungry men or nations? The founding fathers thought so. This is Ronald Reagan. Thanks for listening.”
What makes us Americans, or even just participants in a civilization, is precisely that we surrender the horrifying conception of life is nothing but a violent war against all, resolving to live by legitimately constituted authority instead. To give up that conviction is democratic heresy. That heresy was another of Ronald Reagan’s gifts to us.
Secret Service agent, Tim McCarthy clasps his stomach after being shot spreadeagling himself between Ronald Reagan and John Hinckley Jr. March 30, 1981
Ronald Reagan, Why I’m for the Brady Bill – New York Times, March 29, 1991:
While there has been a Federal law on the books for more than 20 years that prohibits the sale of firearms to felons, fugitives, drug addicts and the mentally ill, it has no enforcement mechanism and basically works on the honor system, with the purchaser filling out a statement that the gun dealer sticks in a drawer.
The Brady bill would require the handgun dealer to provide a copy of the prospective purchaser’s sworn statement to local law enforcement authorities so that background checks could be made. Based upon the evidence in states that already have handgun purchase waiting periods, this bill — on a nationwide scale — can’t help but stop thousands of illegal handgun purchases.
And, since many handguns are acquired in the heat of passion (to settle a quarrel, for example) or at times of depression brought on by potential suicide, the Brady bill would provide a cooling-off period that would certainly have the effect of reducing the number of handgun deaths.
Critics claim that “waiting period” legislation in the states that have it doesn’t work, that criminals just go to nearby states that lack such laws to buy their weapons. True enough, and all the more reason to have a Federal law that fills the gaps. While the Brady bill would not apply to states that already have waiting periods of at least seven days or that already require background checks, it would automatically cover the states that don’t. The effect would be a uniform standard across the country.