Washington DC – On July 28th, 1967, California’s governor, Ronald Wilson Reagan, signed the Mulford Act, instituting a state-wide ban on the right to publicly carry loaded firearms without a permit–and, in the process, received full backing from the NRA…Without context, this might sound like an ill-timed attempt at satire, but within context, it simply exposes another chapter in America’s sordid history of firearm regulation–and serves as another reminder of the nation’s cold and backward relationship with gun violence and the victims it claims.
The Mulford Act was established in reaction to Huey P. Newton’s formation of the Black Panther Party in Oakland on October 16th, 1966. As part of the organization’s work, the Panther’s initiated patrol groups outfitted with loaded firearms to monitor Black civilian engagements with law enforcement to prevent acts of police brutality. At this time in California, bearing loaded arms in public spaces without a permit was perfectly legal–but there was something about the existence of an organized militia of Black men and women exercising their 2nd amendment right that stirred an immediate and restrictive response from 2nd amendment supporting, NRA subscribing politicians and the lobbyists.
The California legislative body wasted no time creating gun control. Republican assemblyman Don Mulford introduced the bill on April 28th, 1967. By June 8th, it passed the California State Assembly, and by July 27th, it pushed through the California State Senate. And on July 28th, Reagan signed the bill into law, saying, “There is absolutely no reason why, out on the street, today, a civilian should be carrying a loaded weapon.”
America’s Last Attempt at Gun Reform
The following year in the United States marked one of the most significant periods of gun reform in the country’s history. Rising civil unrest, violence, riots, and multiple high-profile assassinations were enough to shift political opinion into open consideration of gun legislation stuck in political purgatory since John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963.
In 1968, Lyndon Johnson signed the Gun Reform Act into law. And while many saw the bill to be a step in the right direction–such as the measures to ban interstate mail orders, raising the age to purchase handguns to 21, extending wait times for background checks, and prohibiting those with histories of crime, drug abuse, and mental illness from gun ownership–the final cut left out crucial parts of legislation. Among these vital elements were national firearm registration laws and federal licensing requirements.
Upon signing the Gun Control Act, President Johnson stated:
“But this bill–as big as this bill is–still falls short because we just could not get the Congress to carry out the requests we made of them. I asked for the national registration of all guns and the licensing of those who carry those guns. The fact of life is that there are over 160 million guns in this country–more firearms than families. If guns are to be kept out of the hands of the criminal, out of the hands of the insane, and out of the hands of the irresponsible, then we just must have licensing. If the criminal with a gun is to be tracked down quickly, then we must have registration in this country.”
Reporting on the outcome of the Gun Reform Act, Time Magazine concluded its analysis by stating, “It may take another act of horror to push really effective gun curbs through Congress.”
The Radicalization of the NRA
Since the Gun Control Act of 1968, the possibility of gun restriction has sharply diminished. In 1977, the NRA(i.e National Rifle Association)–which up until that point had focused mainly on how the association could benefit and educate gun-owning hobbyists–took a dramatic turn when they coronated Harlton Carter as their new president. Under Carter, the organization rallied behind growing resentment towards recent gun control measures and took the NRA through a Reformation-scale attitude adjustment. Any hint of the old guard was thrown aside, and the new mission was unquestioningly institutionalized. In a letter to NRA members, Carlton stated: “We can win it on a simple concept —No compromise. No gun legislation.”
The Current State of American Gun Reform
Looking at today’s issues, gun control advocates are further from accomplishment than at almost anytime in American history. Conservative-leaning states– from Texas to Ohio–continue to advertise and pass state laws for looser restrictions, such as permitless carry and less invasive background checks. And with a 6-3 conservative Supreme Court majority, the federal opinion on the 2nd amendment is likely to reverse state decisions that protect restrictive gun laws.
To gain legal perspective on the current condition of US gun laws, the Current Affairs Times interviewed Ryan Campbell, a human rights lawyer who has written on the relationship between federalism and state’s rights concerning the 2nd amendment.
In response to a question about the 2008 decision of District of Columbia vs. Heller, Campbell said, “Heller established a personal right to own and operate a gun inside the home. Although, in this case, they declined to extend that right. In a subsequent case, they could look to extend the scope of this ruling. For example, is it a constitutional right to bring an AR15, loaded and visible, into a bar? If some regulation is drawn back, this could establish a right to open-carry a loaded firearm in public, allowing minors concealed carry, etc.”
Currently, the Supreme Court is forming a decision on NY State Rifle & Pistol Association vs. Bruen, which challenges NY State law requiring citizens to establish “proper cause” if they want to carry a concealed weapon for self-defense purposes.
In response to the potential implications of the Bruen ruling that arrives at the end of June, Campbell said:
“If they say the second amendment affords the personal right to carry a gun, it will render unconstitutional the regulations that aren’t consistent with the ruling. This depends on how broad or narrow the court is willing to go. Such as is the second amendment right something that follows you everywhere, wherever you go?… The laws on the books could be overturned and declared unconstitutional, which would lead to even fewer regulations, which would further reduce the rules around purchasing military-grade firearms, who can buy them, and where they can be taken.”
Thumbnail Credits: Stephanie Frey/Fotolia
- Current Affairs Times spoke with Ryan Campbell
- The NRA Supported Gun Control When the Black Panthers Had the Weapons
- The Original No Compromisers
- Remarks Upon Signing the Gun Control Act of 1968.
- How the Gun Control Act of 1968 Changed America’s Approach to Firearms
- How NRA’s true believers converted a marksmanship group into a mighty gun lobby
- Texas relaxed gun laws after recent mass shootings
- As mass shootings continue, Ohio is about to significantly loosen its gun-control laws