A week after the Newtown massacre– as the National Rifle Association doubles down on opposing any new regulations on anyone obtaining any sort of firearms, and as news comes in of four firefighters shot (and two killed) as they responded to a blaze in upstate New York– I recommend that anyone interested in the history of gun control and “gun rights” in the US read this fascinating account by Adam Winkler of how they evolved in the last century.
Among other things:
–Among the first groups to advocate an absolutist position on gun rights was the radical-left Black Panther Party, which considered guns a means of self-defense against the police.
–California Republicans, including then-governor Ronald Reagan, approved strong gun control legislation after Black Panthers entered the state capitol with loaded weapons to protest efforts to restrict gun rights. (Reagan later adjusted his position and was endorsed by the NRA in 1980.)
–The NRA actively advocated restrictions on the ownership of firearms in the 1920 and 1930s, and as recently as the 1960s– in the wake of the assassinations of the John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and the use of guns during the urban riots of the decade– accepted the 1968 Gun Control Act as “one that the sportsmen of America can live with.”
–The hardline politically-oriented gun rights advocates who now control the NRA ousted the more moderate, hunting-oriented leadership in 1977.
The new NRA was not only responding to the wave of gun-control laws enacted to disarm black radicals; it also shared some of the Panthers’ views about firearms. Both groups valued guns primarily as a means of self-defense. Both thought people had a right to carry guns in public places, where a person was easily victimized, and not just in the privacy of the home. They also shared a profound mistrust of law enforcement. (For years, the NRA has demonized government agents, like those in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the federal agency that enforces gun laws, as “jack-booted government thugs.” Wayne LaPierre, the current executive vice president, warned members in 1995 that anyone who wears a badge has “the government’s go-ahead to harass, intimidate, even murder law-abiding citizens.”) For both the Panthers in 1967 and the new NRA after 1977, law-enforcement officers were too often representatives of an uncaring government bent on disarming ordinary citizens.
Alec adds: In a rare and hopefully never-to-be-repeated event, I find myself siding with Piers Morgan.