In my column last week, I noted that the National Rifle Association had backed away from criticism of the open carry movement in response to objections from Second Amendment activists. Despite differences over tactics, said Chris Cox, the NRA's chief lobbyist, "the National Rifle Association supports open carry…unequivocally." One reason some critics view the NRA as insufficiently zealous in protecting gun rights is that the organization, contrary to its current reputation, has a history of accommodating demands for gun control. Back in 1967, for instance, the NRA supported the Mulford Act, which banned open carrying of loaded firearms in California. The law, a response to the Black Panthers' conspicuous exercise of the right to armed self-defense, also was supported by Gov. Ronald Reagan, whom the NRA endorsed for president in 1980 as a reliable defender of the Second Amendment.
Charles Nichols of California Right to Carry recently shared with me two constituent letters in which Assemblyman Don Mulford (R-Oakland), chief sponsor of California's open-carry ban, noted the NRA's support for his bill. "I am sure you are aware that I am very grateful to the National Rifle Association for its help in making my gun control bill, AB 1591, a workable piece of legislation, yet protecting the Constitutional rights of citizens," Mulford says in a letter dated June 15, 1967. "The bill enjoyed the full support of the National Rifle Association," he says in another letter with the same date. "I must disagree with you that present laws have given excellent coverage in this field," he adds. "If this were true, we would not have armed bands of citizens frightening school children, invading courts, invading police departments, invading the halls of the Legislature, with loaded weapons." Or as Mulford put it in a 1989 interview, "Don't forget in those days…you had the Black Panthers running around with loaded guns in the streets and a number of other acts of violence or near violence."
According to Mulford, then, openly carrying a gun is an "act of violence or near violence." Apparently Reagan and the NRA agreed.