When the Black Panthers Challenged Gun Control

At The Atlantic, UCLA law professor Adam Winkler previews his forthcoming book Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America. Winkler's whole essay is worth reading, but I thought I’d highlight his fascinating discussion of how the Black Panthers “launched the modern gun-rights movement” on May 2, 1967:

OPPOSITION TO GUN CONTROL was what drove the black militants to visit the California capitol with loaded weapons in hand. The Black Panther Party had been formed six months earlier, in Oakland, by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. Like many young African Americans, Newton and Seale were frustrated with the failed promise of the civil-rights movement. Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were legal landmarks, but they had yet to deliver equal opportunity. In Newton and Seale’s view, the only tangible outcome of the civil-rights movement had been more violence and oppression, much of it committed by the very entity meant to protect and serve the public: the police.

Inspired by the teachings of Malcolm X, Newton and Seale decided to fight back. Before he was assassinated in 1965, Malcolm X had preached against Martin Luther King Jr.’s brand of nonviolent resistance. Because the government was “either unable or unwilling to protect the lives and property” of blacks, he said, they had to defend themselves “by whatever means necessary.” Malcolm X illustrated the idea for Ebony magazine by posing for photographs in suit and tie, peering out a window with an M-1 carbine semiautomatic in hand. Malcolm X and the Panthers described their right to use guns in self-defense in constitutional terms. “Article number two of the constitutional amendments,” Malcolm X argued, “provides you and me the right to own a rifle or a shotgun.”

Guns became central to the Panthers’ identity, as they taught their early recruits that “the gun is the only thing that will free us—gain us our liberation.”

Read the whole thing here.

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  • Alan Vanneman||

    Damon doesn't mention that at the time a dude named Ronald Reagan said that no one should have the right to carry a loaded gun on the street. When he said "no one," I guess he meant "no strapping young buck."

  • ||

    Christ, Vanneman, even your KULTUR WAR crap is old and tired. Go review Taxi Driver.

  • ||

    Three words into the reply he all but admits to not having read the Winkler article. Indeed, Reagan is included in the Atlantic piece, which teases a book. But having only read Root's slug suddenly everyone thinks they are an expert.

  • Suki||

    Speaking of books, The Jacket and The California Cosmotarian have a new one out.

  • sevo||

    And it's pretty good.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Alan Vanneman,
    Damon doesn't mention that at the time a dude named Ronald Reagan[...]
    Alan doesn't realize that this is not a Reaganine site, and that many of us do not give a rat's ass about someone's underwhelming Appeals to Authority.

  • erm||

    Um, except it's actually mentioned in the article. RTF RTF RTF RTF

  • Pip||

    And yet Huey moved to Cuba and propagandized for Castro. Do you think the average Cuban (let alone the Afro-Cubans) have guns?

    Of course they do have manditory family picnics at the factories on Sunday, so there is that.

  • Suki||

    How do you know that Huey was not fighting for the Cubam 2nd Amendment while he was there basking in universal literacy and healthcare?

  • Pip||

    Because I saw Tom Snyder interview Newton on October 15, 1973.

  • Suki||

    Did he ask Newton directly about the 2nd Amendment fight in Cuba? Huh?

  • Paul||

    And yet Huey moved to Cuba and propagandized for Castro. Do you think the average Cuban (let alone the Afro-Cubans) have guns?

    They have free healthcare.

  • Dave||

    A much better example would be Robert F. Williams, leader of his local NAACP and one of the founders of the local NRA chapter. The Black Panthers based some of their ideas on Robert F. Williams' policy of armed self-defense, but lacked his better judgment. Williams' local constituency never killed anybody, though they did have to wound a few - and this in the face of their own members being murdered. Williams also fled to Cuba, a rational decision at the time as the alternative was almost certainly jail or assassination.

    Check out 'Radio Free Dixie' by Timothy Tyson.

  • Brett||

    That's an excellent point the Black Panthers wanted the second amendment to make possible Maoist revolution but that doesn't discredit the idea of a minority that faces police brutality instead of police protection protection carrying guns.

  • ||

    The Panthers also murdered innocent people. Does the Atlantic plan to also write a piece about the mafia and gun control? I like everyone else on this site is fully aware of the racist history of gun control. But the Panthers are hardly a good example of the right to bear arms.

  • ||

    Actually, in the context of the examples given in the Atlantic article, the Black Panthers are an excellent case study in why the right to bear arms is important.

  • Raven Nation||

    Agree. You don't have to endorse everything a group does to support some of their views. Given the behavior and attitude of the LAPD in the 1960s, Huey Newton standing in the street with a gun was a pretty close interpretation of the reasons advanced for a second amendment.

    And going back further, armed blacks protected their towns after 1877 AND armed blacks made it pretty dangerous for slave catchers to enter some parts of PA in the 1850s.

  • Suki||

    Just a wild guess here, but most of the other organized crime organizations are probably all for gun control. Especially if they sell undocumented guns.

  • jtuf||

    +1 to John

  • ||

    It's a great, eye opening essay. The Black Panthers were NRA before the NRA was NRA... who knew?

  • sarcasmic||

    The Black Panthers were NRA was NWA before the NRA NWA was NRA NWA...

    ftfy

    Fuck tha police, Comin straight from the underground. Young nigga got it bad cuz I'm brown, And not the other color so police think, They have the authority to kill a minority...

  • ||

  • sarcasmic||

    “Article number two of the constitutional amendments,” Malcolm X argued, “provides you and me the right to own a rifle or a shotgun.”

    I hate it when people say shit like that.
    The Second Amendment recognized that the right to keep and bear arms exists, and prohibits the government from infringing upon it.
    It does not say "the people are granted the right to own a weapon".
    Fuck I hate that line of thinking.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    It's the statist line of reasoning that rights are gifts granted to you through government benevolence (and can be taken away just the same), rather than inherent to every human being based on rational thought.

  • Watoosh||

    It's not necessarily a statist line of thinking. Not every libertarian is a deontological one - some are consequentialists, and some of them are even radical anti-statists (David Friedman being an example). Therefore you can, at least in principle, think "As a society we can have laws deciding what people can do with their lives and property and they're not unjust if they serve the common good. However, it happens that these laws rarely if ever do that, but we should still look into it on a case-by-case basis." (There are numerous public choice and arbitrary power problems with this, but that's a separate issue)

  • ||

    his fascinating discussion of how the Black Panthers “launched the modern gun-rights movement”

    Oddly enough, when I read it, I thought he was describing the roots of the modern gun control movement.

    A bunch of crazy you-know-whats with guns terrified the living shit out of the honkey establishment, who responded by frantically trying to make certain it could never happen again.

  • ||

    The gun control movement started a lot earlier than that, though its original roots were still racist (whites wanting to terrorize and control freed slaves after the Civil War). Also a healthy dose of xenophobia (see NY's Sullivan Law which was aimed at immigrants, esp. darker skinned ones).

  • Dave||

    Actually, the gun control movement started closer to 1800, when whites were afraid of a slave rebellion. Oddly enough, in the mid-1700s there were actually occasions when slaves were armed in South Carolina of all places to protect the frontiers.

  • Barry Loberfeld||

    From HERE:

    In the Jonesboro, Louisiana of 1964, a black man realized that in addition to Klan terrorists, there was another danger: the police, whose inaction effectively aided them. He soon organized the Deacons for Defense and Justice, who armed themselves to meet any threat. By 1965, there were over twenty chapters in several Southern states. The Deacons offer the best example of what citizen militias can provide when the constitutional order breaks down, and it is an example that can be examined fully in 2004's The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance in the Civil Rights Movement by Lance Hill.


    It is neither irony nor accident that the same interpretation of the Second Amendment can be labeled both "insurrectionist" (i.e., liberationist) and "civil rights." That's something to bear in mind when considering, among other things, 1) the history of Southern gun "control" laws that aimed at keeping blacks totally disarmed, and 2) Carl Bogus' ax-grinding fabrication that the purpose of the Second Amendment was "to assure the Southern states that Congress would not undermine the slave system by using its newly acquired constitutional authority over the militia to disarm the state militia [i.e., armed patrol gangs in the South] and thereby destroy the South's principal instrument of slave control." The Hill book should be mandatory reading for whom we might call today's postmodern liberals, who have as much disdain for [Senator Hubert] Humphrey's support for the right to bear arms as they do for his opposition to racial quotas. But an acceptable substitute would be a viewing of the 2003 film of the same title, which starred a gifted but underappreciated actor named Forest Whitaker.
  • Old Mexican||

    Malcolm X had preached against Martin Luther King Jr.’s brand of nonviolent resistance. Because the government was “either unable or unwilling to protect the lives and property” of blacks anybody [...] the [people] had to defend themselves “by whatever means necessary.”


    If he had only said that, it would have been much more accurate.

  • Suki||

    +1

  • ||

    Given that whites at the time could not only depend on the law to protect their property but to also defend there sensibilities from being hurt by having negroes owning property nearby etc, it should not be surprising that negroes might not think that white people in general did not exactly have their interests at heart.

    Godammit, there are some people here who need to get a perspective on history.

  • ||

    In other words, the government at the time was willing to protect the lives and property of whites. Many of the state governments were not willing to protect the lives and property of black people and in many cases were actively working to takes the lives and property of black people.

    The exclusivity of Malcolm X's statement in this case was entirely justified.

  • Klansman ||

    You see, I always said we need more laws to take 'dem darkies guns away.

  • ||

    True dat. You always did say it.

  • ||

    i do all i can to keep guns out of the hands of the colored folk

  • violent_k||

    Dear Spoofer,
    You are an ass.

  • Captain America||

    I think whites enjoy the idea of being about to beat and cheat blacks and having blacks pray to a white God for relief in the afterlife. When blacks ask for justice whites call it playing for white guilt or playing the race card. I don't want your guilt or your pity. Just let me live the life you would want for yourself and your offspring.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Isaiah Bradley, is that you?

  • ||

    I think whites enjoy the idea

    Nice collectivism, Captain.

  • Jeff||

    I think blacks enjoy voting for Democrats just to drive whites crazy. Leave us the fuck alone.

  • sevo||

    "I think whites enjoy the idea of being about to beat and cheat blacks and having blacks pray to a white God for relief in the afterlife. When blacks ask for justice whites call it playing for white guilt or playing the race card. I don't want your guilt or your pity."
    vs.:
    "Just let me live the life you would want for yourself and your offspring."

    So racist crap is ok from you, but you don't want any of it from someone else?
    Dunno but you sound like you're of the hypocrite race.

  • Captain America||

    Not sure what was racist about that statement but ok.

  • Fire Tiger||

    Thread Jack
    In response to the recent rioting in England, police begin arresting people for planning water fights.

  • ||

    Gun control actually has its roots in the Jim Crow era as a way of keeping the black community subservient. I strongly recommend Kenn Blanchard's book BLACK MAN WITH A GUN. It tells the story on gun control's racist past.

  • sevo||

    Got it ordered. Thanks.

  • jtuf||

    I think the NRA was made in response to the Jim Crow restrictions on gun ownership by Blacks.

  • ||

    The NRA was actually founded in 1871 by magazine editor William Church. Many of its early leading members were Union Civil War veterans. Its first president was Union General Ambrose Burnside. Its early activities centered around marksmanship training.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    And now it's turned in to a Team RED, Law&Order;, cops are the best, rah rah rah organization.

    The NRA sucks.

  • Underzog||

    Is it true you guys like the Black Panthers so much because they murdered that friend of David Horowitz? Horowitz is a defender of the "Zionist entity" that you want destroyed, so Horowitz's friend, Betty Van Patter, getting her head bashed in and thrown in the river by the panthers would be a good thing for you Rhoemites.

    "There's no need to fear. Underzog is here."

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