With each passing day, the debate for or against gun control rages on within the United States. And although the National Rifle Association (NRA) currently leads the charge for the rights of citizens to carry guns of all types with little to no interference from the government, the original gun rights advocates to take that stance were the Black Panthers.
Throughout the late 1960s, the militant black nationalist group used their understanding of the finer details of California’s gun laws to underscore their political statements about the subjugation of African-Americans. In 1967, 30 members of the Black Panthers protested on the steps of the California statehouse armed with .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns and .45-caliber pistols and announced, “The time has come for black people to arm themselves.”
The display so frightened politicians—including California governor Ronald Reagan—that it helped to pass the Mulford Act, a state bill prohibiting the open carry of loaded firearms, along with an addendum prohibiting loaded firearms in the state Capitol. The 1967 bill took California down the path to having some of the strictest gun laws in America and helped jumpstart a surge of national gun control restrictions.
“The law was part of a wave of laws that were passed in the late 1960s regulating guns, especially to target African-Americans,” says Adam Winkler, author of Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms. “Including the Gun Control Act of 1968, which adopted new laws prohibiting certain people from owning guns, providing for beefed up licensing and inspections of gun dealers and restricting the importation of cheap Saturday night specials [pocket pistols] that were popular in some urban communities.”