If I’m being completely honest, I am not *yet* ready to fly my radical flag behind gun control.
After the massacre in Oregon, the gun control debate is (yet again) making headlines. Politicians — especially those hoping to become America’s Next Chief Executive — have opined on an issue existing at the sensitive intersection between impassioned contention, constitutional interpretation, foundational cultural and moral principles, and a ridiculously powerful gun lobby that buys and sells political power with nefarious finesse and frequency.
The Tea Party’s surging scapegoat Dr. Ben Carson is the most vile, saying in a recent interview with Fox News, that he “would not stand there” and let the murderer kill him, thus implying that the victims of the massacre were cowardly and timid, and not the Christian G.I. Joe is purports to be.
On the political left, the gun control talking points are more strategic, sincere, and sensible.
Senator Bernie Sanders, a seasoned politico representing a gun-loving state, is skilled in talking about gun control in a manner that placates his voters and appeals to progressives. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton — who is under pressure to regain footing among the hardened progressives enamored with the eccentric socialist — released an agenda that forgoes congressional approval.
Perhaps the strongest words came from President Obama who, at a press conference, was visibly upset and rightfully frustrated at congressional inaction regarding gun control. He challenged media outlets to aggregate data comparing mass gun killings and terrorist related deaths. Vox was quick to respond.
— Vox (@voxdotcom) October 1, 2015
It’s clear that American exceptionalism extends to our gun problem.
If recent efforts to solve the rampant gun problem are any indication of imminent victory, then the future looks bleak. The National Rifle Association — the largest gun lobbying group with a rumored 4.5 million strong dues-paying membership — has been remarkably effective in killing gun control legislation, exerting inordinate control over power-and-profit loving politicians, and instilling and stoking tangible fear in its paranoid membership who enthusiastically believe that a tyrannical government is a’comin to take their guns away.
This layered, shape-shifting issue is one that I am unwilling to register a hardline on. Why? Because I’m unapologetically Black, which means that I approach every issue through a pro-Black racial justice lens.
Gun control — now a core unifier in the multiracial leftist value system — stems from white supremacy and anti-Blackness.
In a magnetic read from The Atlantic, legal analyst Adam Winkler describes how the modern gun control movement is the direct result of the Black Panthers and their courageous militant showmanship.
Racial tensions were palpable during the 1950s and 60s. While resounding legal victories in the federal stratosphere — such as the Brown v. Board of Education ruling (1954), the Civil Rights Act (1964), and the Voting Rights Act (1965) — were enacted, these measures didn’t remedy or reduce local racist violence from police or vigilantes.
For many Black people, these laws and their intended consequences were severely out of reach.
Panther Party founder Huey P. Newton, a San Francisco Law School student for some time, was versed in California law, especially those laws related to police and gun ownership. Newton routinely carried his legally-permitted gun in public, and trained Panther recruits in how to handle, clean, and use guns.
From 1966 – 1967, the Panthers were armed cop-watchers, much to the chagrin (and fear) of law enforcement, and to the relief of the People regularly subjected to police brutality. The tides were changing in racist Oakland. The atmospheric norm was drifting from subservience to full Black Liberation; a Liberation palpable in daily going-ons, and not bottlenecked through a clogged federal legal system that failed to make immediate socio-racial change.
Fearing this pro-Black power shift, conservative lawmakers worked to restrict access to guns. Don Mulford, an Almeada County assemblymen, introduced legislation that would ban the carrying of loaded weapons in California. Governor Ronald Reagan supported it. The Panthers opposed.
To demonstrate their opposition, the Black Panthers famously stormed the California statehouse in 1967. The Mulford Act — loaded with even more restrictions than previously proposed — passed with overwhelming support.Across the country, racial unrest prompted many Black folk to take up arms in self-defense. Guns in Black hands were used to keep law enforcement in line. A 1968 federal report called for “effective firearms controls” to ease these racial uprisings. And with the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Congress was poised to enact some of the largest gun control measures of the time.
And now, almost 50 years later, the gun control issue has taken new shape; its core forgotton as new allegiances form. Winkler writes best:
The gun-control laws of the late 1960s, designed to restrict the use of guns by urban black leftist radicals, fueled the rise of the present-day gun-rights movement—one that, in an ironic reversal, is predominantly white, rural, and politically conservative.
Black access to guns far extends the Black Panthers. America’s foundational racist core has meant that Black folk are in a perpetual state of emergency, and lack access to public safety. Since forever, we’ve had to defend ourselves.
During colonization and slavery, Black folk — both free and enslaved — were denied the fundamental right to own guns. Upon abolition and the passing of the slave codes, Black people in the South were legally restricted from owning arms. Violent racist lynch mobs — with the blessing, mentorship, and collusion of police personnel — self-deputized to implement these codes. Facing extreme violence and surveillance from lynch mobs and hate groups, arms were a necessary staple in Black livelihood.
Black people have every right to defend ourselves in this anti-Black, white supremacist society we live in.
These historical narratives are missing in current gun control dialogue, thus leading to a substandard political platform that lacks nuance, protections, and a thorough analysis of the unique relationship that Black folk have to gun ownership. In current iterations, the gun control value system refuses to acknowledge that Black people are — and have always been — in crisis, and that our Liberation will, to some extent, depend on our ability to defend ourselves with arms.
Background checks are a reform that many people support. And yet, there’s little discussion about how Black folk are more likely to have criminal backgrounds due to mass incarceration, the War on Drugs, and a corrupt criminal justice system. If background checks are meant to restrict “criminals” from accessing weapons, then I view such reform as yet another means to structurally deny Black folk access to constitutionally protected rights.
I can’t support background checks if I don’t know how this procedure will be implemented.
A constitutional argument?
The Bill of Rights protects American residents from a tyrannical government. This anti-Black governmental system is tyrannical as fuck. In 2014, police killed over 1,107 people on sight. Mass shooters executed 567 people since 1982. Sit with that.
Lemme be clear that I’m not pro-gun. Gun rights advocates are a paranoid group of conservative racists who don’t want me or my People owning guns, and have historically acted upon such anti-Blackness.
My hope is that the multiracial gun control coalition takes a serious review of the particular and necessary fusion of Black Resistance and gun ownership.
Strongly Suggested Reading: “The Secret History of Guns.” Adam Winkler, The Atlantic
*Featured Image Credit:www.thetruthaboutguns.com