Like in the days of Gandhi and King when folks filled the streets in non-violent protest, what if (en masse) black & brown folks inundated the governmental granting agencies with applications for “conceal & carry” permits, packed public and private dealerships, and gun shows as informed consumers in an effort to exercise their 2nd Amendment Right to “bear arms?”
Just think and visualize about that for a moment? Do you think it would attract attention? Do you think it would impact or affect the public discourse around gun violence or infringement on the 2nd Amendment? I recognize both Gandhi and King were iconic symbols of non-violence and peace. I am not in any way suggesting that they would approve of my experiment; I just want to consider the question.
Scholars and historians contend that the reason the 2nd Amendment was ratified was to preserve the Slave Patrol Militias in the Southern States. At the time, Virginia’s population was more than 50% enslaved Africans. The 2nd Amendment’s historic connections to slavery are undeniable. Whereas the amendment’s language uses well-regulated Militias, in the South, they were also called Slave Patrols and were regulated by the states. In an article published in the U.C. Davis Law Review, titled The Hidden History of the Second Amendment, Carl T. Bogus contends, the 2nd Amendment insured that Congress would not undermine the slave system by disarming the militia (Slave Patrols) as the primary tool of controlling the slave population throughout the South. Bogus is a Professor of Law at the Roger Williams University School of Law in Bristol, Rhode Island.
In California prior to 1967, it was legal to carry a loaded weapon in public as long as it was registered, not concealed and not pointed in a threatening manner. After the assassination of Malcolm X in 1966, Huey P. Newton and several others founded the Black Panther Party. The original name was the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The basic tenets of the Black Panthers were articulated in a 10-point platform that called for a redress of the fundamental grievances had by Black people living in America. They asserted that Blacks were still living under injustice, brutality, and lack of access to the rights and privileges of full citizenship in American society. The Panthers demanded the right to self-determination and self-defense. They demanded social justice and change in America.
The Black Panthers instituted breakfast programs and food banks in the community to assist poor children and struggling families. Numerous extra police patrols sprung up in response and actively antagonized and attempted to disrupt the Panthers from pursuing their social-political agenda. The police would raid churches and community kitchens used by the Panthers to administer their food and literacy programs. They would actually destroy property and smash supplies in attempts to intimidate the Panthers and provoke them into engaging with the police. As police continued to harass, brutalize, or intimidate community members, the Panthers began to show up armed with law books and displayed legal weapons in compliance with the law. Their revolutionary platitudes were in direct contrast to the non-violent resistance of King. The Panthers embraced their 2nd Amendment Rights. In 1967, Governor Ronald Reagan signed into law the Mulford Act. The bill prohibited the public carrying of loaded firearms. It gained national attention after the Black Panthers marched on the California Capitol to protest the bill with loaded weapons publicly displayed.
Today, what would happen to the public discourse regarding gun control and the 2nd Amendment “right to bear arms” if groups of black & brown people took up arms to defend themselves and their communities or embraced the “Stand Your Ground” legislation? The Panthers were not afforded their “right to bear arms” regardless of the 2nd Amendment’s guarantee. The resistance to reasonable gun control and critical discourse around gun violence in this country is situational, unfortunate as that may be. What do you think? What will it take to make any real change?
Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, Ph.D.
Artistic Director and Founder of The Conciliation Project www.theconciliationproject.org and a Professor of Theatre at VCU
Up next week- The Dilemma of Black History Month