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.



Professor Winkler continues to take events out of context. He states that all muskets where to be regularly inspected and registered. In actuality, only those muskets that were used by the standing militias where kept in a militia registry and at the militia company level, not by the BATFE – which did not exist then. They were to be inspected to ensure that their firelocks and accessories were in good repair and that their stocks and hardware were kept clean and well oiled. Further, it was a requirement that every member of the militia keep a designated amount of black powder in charging flasks, a certain number of spare flints, and a minimum number of lead balls of the specified caliber. That is what was meant by "inspection."

Finally, if there were entities -- including Ronald Reagan and the NRA who used bad judgment in the 60s, they sure corrected themselves since. The founding fathers realized that what they had envisioned as a constitutional republic was not yet there in 1787, but they had the wisdom and the foresight to reach over themselves for their dream of what their mentors the Greek philosophers called the Great Republic.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 05, 2012 @ 7:16 pm

It's a good thing that the young mother in Oklahoma had a 12 Gage side by side shotgun a few days ago when two men broke into her home. She saved her life and the life of her infant son by blasting the perp to kingdom come. In this case the NRA mantra came true, "When Seconds Count, The Police Are Always Minutes Away" .

Posted by Guest on Jan. 06, 2012 @ 1:00 am

The mind is a terrible thing not to have.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 06, 2012 @ 3:18 pm

You seem to manage ok!

Posted by Guest on Jan. 08, 2012 @ 5:36 pm

People who use guns in self-defense are 46 times more likley to shoot a loved one than an intruder. Good for that one woman, sad for the 46 you don't hear about.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 22, 2013 @ 1:05 pm

Yes, if you own a gun you are more likely to shoot a gun than if you do not own a gun. Genius.

You are also more likely to shoot someone who would otherwise cause you harm or take your property.

That pesky second amendment again.

Posted by anon on Feb. 22, 2013 @ 1:19 pm

Don't know about "gun nuts" but there sure are a lot of anti-gun nuts out there. Particularly in the land of fruits, nuts and flakes, a.k.a. the People's Republik of Kalifornia. The land where criminals, weirdos and illegal aliens are lauded and heteros, gun owners and Christians are spat upon.

That 10.0 earthquake is way overdue out there.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 06, 2012 @ 9:11 am

Great writing following the lefty playbook. Taking a person Conservatives look up to (since he fixed the mess Carter had made and helped win the Cold War) and paint him as a racist. Then take the evolvement of an organization and infer that it is hypicritic. Regan made mistakes (all humans do), the biggest was amnesty for illegal aliens. You would either say he wasn't a racist for giving amnesty or he was becuase he said later it was a mistake. You and Prof. Winkler brush with too broad of a brush.
The NRA is a grassroots organization that gets its power from its large membership (unlike the Brady's who are a top down, Foundation funded, anti self defense, idiologically driven, PR organization with a miniscule membership). I (an individual) have made the choice to have the ability to defend myself and my family against the ricitivistic predators that our courts release back onto the streets. I also choose to belong to organizations that support my ability to do so (the NRA, GOA, SAF and USCCA). I guess that I am just a "Gun Nut" and "Racist" to you. Think about this. I live in a suburb and have an above average income. I can afford to buy whatever I need. In addition to carrying a gun everyday I have a large garden and 5 chickens. Is my desire to have some level of self suffiency insane? Who is more in line with our founding fathers views of individual liberty? I would never force my views on you by supporting politicians who would want to pass a law forcing you to produce more of your own food (for the good of the planet) or forcing you to carry a gun (since concealed carry does help reduce crime). But you would happily have me lose in total or part my ability to protect myself becuase of your views.
Perhaps you should write about "Progessive' history morphing from being pro individual to being pro big govenment and the expense of individual rights.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 06, 2012 @ 9:28 am

By living in an area with a high average income you've insulated yourself from the need for personal protection. Since everyone in your area can afford to buy what they want, what motivation is there for break-in's? An adacent apartment complex to where I used to live had a LOT of meth addicts. There were stero's taken out of cars, break-in's here and there, but I was never fearful enough to go out and buy a gun. My neighbors weren't going out buying guns to protect themselvs. We all follwed the golden rule, if we don't F with anyone else, they won't F with us. And if they steal something out of our car, whats having a gun going to do? They'll be long gone by the time we figure it out. No, the only people that scream the loudest about needing a gun for self defense are the most likely to never need it. You know what victims of break-in's realize? If they just let the burglars take their stuff, the'll be safe. If they pull a gun, they're going to get shot AND have their stuff taken.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 22, 2013 @ 1:15 pm

The article writer here is making a lot of assumptions without anything to back it up. Conservatives worship Ronald Reagan. MANY NRA members despise Reagan for signing the extremely questionable FOPA back in 1986, of which the Hughes Amendment is the closest we've had to an outright ban on weapons in this country and was pushed through committee by Charlie Rangel, despite not having enough votes to pass.

If you find yourself supporting Ronald Reagan and racist laws designed with the sole purpose of disenfranchising minorities of their civil rights because of your adherence to anti-gun dogma, you're on the wrong side of history.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 06, 2012 @ 11:20 am

If it was racist to deny people the right to carry loaded weapons (the only means of actually defending yourself with it, since most bad encounters last only a few seconds), is it no longer racists?

I gun control is still racist, perhaps not due to the police, but because minorities statistically have greater need in crime ridden neighborhoods. I think gun control is also anti-women (the most effective anti-rape device I know of is a pistol). Gun control is also ignorant of the facts, because it simply advantages those that disobey the law, and is demonstrably not reducing crime.

So those anti-gun nuts are demonstrably (by the statistics and your very reasoning on race and guns) racist, misogynistic, uneducated, fear mongers.

Now I doubt the NRA would advocate any of those past positions. They have learned and matured, and reflect a more mature and learned America.
Can you do the same?

Posted by Bukkiah on Jan. 06, 2012 @ 11:41 am

Sometimes it is racist to point out that most gun violence occurs in the black community and sometimes it is racist to pretend that is does not.

Judging from this article probably the pendulum is swinging to pretending gun violence is evenly distributed across America, but when the pendulum swings back, the author is going to look like a deluded racist progressive whitey.

Happens like clockwork.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 06, 2012 @ 12:44 pm

somebody trying to play the race card because they figure it will get them an edge.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 06, 2012 @ 12:59 pm

I'm not for giving an inch because all these laws are intended to be incremental with the end purpose of getting rid of legal abortions.

Same with the anti-gun crowd.

No amount of gun laws will get them out of the hands of progressive Edwin Ramos types, so the anti gun types will just need another law, then another and then a couple more. These laws will just effect the average law abiding citizen, as the average progressive thug isn't going to obey them.

As we know, the goofy left thinks the constitution is a living document, so if the NRA types want to look at it a certain way, it's a bit hypocritical for the left to be all that upset and self righteous.

Posted by matlock on Jan. 06, 2012 @ 2:08 pm

we don't need government approval to have guns.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 06, 2012 @ 3:20 pm

Tim a lot of people, including a lot of black people, will tell you that rap music rather than gun ownership is the fuel for the fire of gun violence in the black community.

We should ban rap music.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 09, 2012 @ 10:14 pm

It will always come down to race in this country. And it does not matter what the 2nd amendment says the right to keep and bear arms is, because of states rights, because of local governments rights to govern themselves. People want to think of the American Antiquity as a gun infested, racist land of shootouts. This is laughable. Granted there was not an ATF or any sort of ban, federally, but of course there was and always will be some form of gun control. I'm not saying I am advocating this, I believe I should be able to have as money guns, in any caliber, that spits and carries any amount of rounds I would like, but my wants are independent of reality. Places where there are families and communities, do not want ANYBODY (white, black, brown, blue), walking around, INTIMIDATING people, whether you agree it's for protection from the brutal "man" and his police, or gangs in yo hood. It won't fly, and it didn't fly at any time in American history. Some form of legislation always comes from irresponsible people doing wrong.
But....... I do not agree with racially motivated political dogma, I come from the "yeah so who gives a fuck!" camp. Take your reversed racism you call equality, your affirmative action, and your revised liberal edition of history and cram it. This is what it is, fuck what it was. Fuck precedent! That's all semantics and talking points and blah blah blah. There is no reinterpretation of the constitution, only someone trying to manipulate. I would love to hear some of Obama's collegiate conversations about the constitution and whitey. Wonder how electable he would be, had politicians the testicular fortitude to be honest?

Posted by Ryesick on Jan. 12, 2012 @ 8:56 am

Militia members were indeed required to possess militia arms and show up for musters. Guns were inspected to make sure that they were in working order, and you could be fined if your gun was not in working order. But registration? Nonsense. There are no serial numbers on the vast majority of guns well into the 19th century, and the only guns that the government cared about were the guns that you were required to own for militia duty. Other guns you owned? The only time they cared was during the American Revolution, when guns were sometimes appropriated to arm unarmed militia members.

Gun control laws that disarmed blacks are common in some parts of the country, but certainly not everywhere. Here is my list of race and religion specific gun control laws in the Colonial period: It is heavily weighted towards the colonies where slavery was a dominant part of the economic system. Interestingly enough, most colonies disarm blacks the same year, or within a year or two, that they take the vote away from free blacks. (Yes, free blacks voted in Virginia and South Carolina into the 18th century, and a free black man is elected to the Maryland legislature in 1642.)

Confusing Governor Ronald Reagan with "the gun lobby" is just misleading. The 1960s Reagan was considerably more liberal than the 1970s Reagan. (Wasn't that true for all of us?)

Posted by Clayton E. Cramer on Jan. 30, 2012 @ 11:24 am

I don't have much of an opinion on the historical gun stuff. You and Winkler obviously know more about gun history than I. I suspect part of it is simple semantics, and what exactly is meant by "registration." You define it pretty narrowly to include "serial numbers." Others may have broader definitions.

But I wanted to respond more to this last zinger:
"The 1960s Reagan was considerably more liberal than the 1970s Reagan. (Wasn't that true for all of us?)"

Actually it's NOT true at all. It's a common myth based on faulty understanding of statistics:

It sure isn't true for me. The more I learn, the more progressive I become.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 30, 2012 @ 12:14 pm

when I suggested that we ALL were more liberal then. Gov. Reagan signed California's liberalized abortion law in 1969--and even used the film of him signing the bill in his 1980 campaign ads (although he did not identify that is the bill he was signing). I can certainly remember in the 1960s and even into the 1970s that popular sentiment leaned strongly towards industrial policy, government regulation of nearly all industry, and very much against laissez faire. Ideas that were regarded as kooky in 1975 (e.g., that money supply was a major part of what caused inflation) are now so mainstream that 1975's notions ("Let's all be a bit less piggy") now seem almost Flat Earth by comparison.

Posted by Clayton E. Cramer on Jan. 31, 2012 @ 7:31 am

You might want to take a break from your studies of history and take a look at what's going on around you. Have you ever heard of something called "Occupy Wall Street?"

Posted by Greg on Jan. 31, 2012 @ 6:53 pm

That's another reminder of how liberal Reagan was. Much of the small opposition in the state legislature to passing the open carry ban (which was aimed at the Black Panthers) came from conservative Republicans, who argued that self-defense was a legitimate reason to carry a gun.

Posted by Clayton E. Cramer on Jan. 31, 2012 @ 7:33 am

Gun nuts like to rewrite history. It's their favorite past time. They'll tell you that gun control laws were invented to prevent Black from owning guns. Meanwhile, they don't care at all that Black people makeup the majority of gun deaths in the U.S. They love their guns more than their nigras.

Posted by Diablo on Jan. 31, 2012 @ 6:31 pm

Guns and the laws surrounding them will always be around. People need some regulations for safe and responsible ownership of weapons, so while I am not a fan of gun ownership, I think reviewing the laws regularly is important.

Posted by Kevin Jones on Apr. 09, 2012 @ 11:42 pm

So, every country should be allow to have nuclear weapons to defend themeselves according to the 2nd amendment of international law. Americans are the most scariest people on earth. Why should countries who have been around for thousand of years be dictated by a country like America whose only been around for 500 years. We're the newcomers.....shouldn't we be the ones to fall in line. America is the most confused country on earth. That's why we're taking instructions from a country like Isreal who have only been around since 1946.

Posted by Guest LYNN SMITH on Apr. 20, 2012 @ 11:43 am


Posted by Guest LYNN SMITH on Apr. 20, 2012 @ 11:50 am

Interesting. You argue for gun control legislation, but present as justification that racist legislation was used to deprive blacks from owning and carrying arms. Your logic is thus that because legislation was used to deprive black people of their civil rights, the government is justified in depriving EVERYONE of their civil rights. By that logic, it's justifiable to keep everyone from voting because black people were deprived of the vote by legislation early in our country's history. And you call your OPPONENTS nuts....

Posted by RonF on Jan. 24, 2013 @ 9:40 pm

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