Gun control, race, and the founding fathers


KPFA's Mitch Jeserich, one of my favorite people on the radio, had a fascinating discussion this morning with Adam Winkler, who's written an new book about the history of gun control. Everyone who fights with me on this blog knows I'm not a big fan of guns, and Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA, doesn't completely agree with me.

But there's some interesting stuff in his book and it's worth listening to the show -- in part because it shows just how inconsistent the gun nuts have been over the years and how their claims about the Second Amendment don't hold up when you look at history.

For starters, Winkler told Jeserich, the noble founding fathers, those folks who put the right to keep and bear arms in the founding document of this great nation, were not at all opposed to gun control. They had all kinds of gun laws -- most notably laws barring black people from owning guns. They also required that all muskets be regularly inspected and registered.

The racial element of gun control is nothing new, but Winkler shows some of the hypocrisy: In the 1960s, when the Black Panthers began carrying loaded guns on the streets (for self-defense against violent, racist white cops) the California Legislature set out to limit the right to bear arms in public -- and Ronald Reagan, that staunch Second-Amendment guy who is worshiped by the NRA, fully supported the restrictions. In fact, he said in public that nobody should have the right to carry a loaded weapon on a public street.

At least, not as long as black people were doing it.

Even the NRA was not founded as a pro-gun group. It emerged after the Civil War to teach northerners better marksmanship. That mission continues, to a certain extent -- I still have my NRA Marksman First Class medal, earned in summer camp in the 1960s, when they let kids do shit like that. But these days, it's all about fighting any limits at all on the right to carry any weapons you can imagine.

So it's worth remembering: The gun lobby didn't always lobby for free access to guns (particularly not for guns for African-Americans). And the folks who wrote the Second Amendment were all in favor of a "well-regulated militia" whose members -- at that time, the general (white) populace -- had to declare, register and present to government agents on a regular basis all of their firearms.


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