The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution reads, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Conservatives who now view the Second Amendment as one of the cornerstones of our nation’s democracy were the same people responsible for extensive gun reform in California and America at large. In 1967 Republican Assemblyman Don Mulford introduced the Mulford Act to the California state legislature, and it effectively repealed the California law, which allowed the open carry of loaded rearms. This law was introduced in reaction to the formation of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California.
Prior to 1967 it was illegal in California to transport a loaded firearm, but the open carry of firearms was legal. When the Black Panther Party formed it established the Party’s Platform and Program – ten guiding principles that would outline the purpose of the party. While many of these principles were about the self- determination of Black people and the end of discrimination and racism in housing programs, military service, employment, and education, point seven explicitly calls for “an immediate end to police brutality and murder of black people.” These principles were established based on the experience of Black people and their oppression in Oakland. The media took the image of the male Black Panther in his blue shirt, black leather jacket, beret, and rifle and made that the image that would be remembered when the BPP was criminalized and said to be the greatest threat to internal security by F.B.I Director J. Edgar Hoover.
The rifle. Potentially one of the greatest symbols to come out of the Black Panther Party is what would also lead to its criminalization. The rifle is the symbol of the law. Black people in America were not living in a free State. The Black Panther Party called for the weaponization of Black people because the government was not been protecting them and the militarized police force in Oakland was becoming tyrannical against Black communities. Thus, the Black Panther Party becomes a standing militia because the Second Amendment said they could and that it would be okay.
In 1968 Congress would pass the Gun Control Act of 1968, which would become one of the most extensive measures of gun reform since the 1938. Introduced by Senator Thomas Dodd (D-CT), the Bill was met with extensive opposition in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Initially, the House Judiciary Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee halted the passage of the Bill. In each case there was a tie that was overturned during reconsideration. The passage of this bill in October of 1968 would heavily regulate interstate commerce of firearms. Specifically, it would make it illegal for people to travel from a state that requires a license to purchase a firearm to a state that does not require a license, purchase the firearm, and return to their state having legally purchased a firearm without a license. In tandem with the Mulford Act in California, the Black Panther Party’s use of firearms was criminalized. Along with federal criminalization of the BPP, media coverage of the Party also created an image of a violent militant group that was anti- White, ignoring years of successful programs around creating and staffing food services to feed members of their communities, staffing health clinics to provide medical services to community members that did not otherwise have access, and other major works to end housing discrimination, poverty, and denigration by the State. Ignoring the accomplishments and the actual platform of the Black Panther Party to argue for greater forms of activism and protest is an ahistorical understanding of the movement, the Party, its intentions, and its successes that are still flourishing today.