Did You Know The NRA Supported Gun Control When The Black Panther Party Was Armed

·5 min read

In the wake of two high-profile mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, the gun control debate in America continues. Mass shootings in the U.S. occur at an alarming rate. In the first 22 weeks of 2022, there were around 246 mass shootings in America. Even with outrageous numbers like that, gun control is still a divisive point of discussion in American society. But this discordance around guns is nothing new — gun restriction debates have always been part of America’s history.

The Second Amendment in the U.S. Constitution gives Americans the right to bear arms, stating: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” And while the amendment is arguably ambiguous, one organization has explicitly honed in on the “right of the people to keep and bear Arms” clause. Within the last few decades, the National Rifle Association has been an adamant force for gun rights — insistent that the right to bear arms trumps any attempts at regulation.

Days following the tragic killings at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre vowed that the NRA would continue to fight to expand gun rights — “and not just in the face of tragic, horrible events when politicians and demagogues try to scapegoat us … but every day — for weeks, for months, for decades.”

No matter the circumstances, one might assume that the NRA has always been a stark gun rights advocate that is positioned against gun control. But you may be surprised to learn that there was actually a time in American history when the NRA was in support of strict gun control regulations.

In the late 1960s, the Black revolutionary organization the Black Panther Party was beginning to spread its message of Black empowerment across the U.S. Among various causes it supported, the BPP was determined to combat the rising number of police attacks against Black people by arming themselves with rifles. Using their Second Amendment rights, members of the BPP would often openly carry their rifles in the streets. But in a social and political system that was heavily based on racism and fearmongering, this made many white Americans uneasy, including the NRA. In an attempt to disarm Black Americans, the NRA took a racially motivated approach to gun control.

Learn how the NRA, politicians and law enforcement all worked together to sabotage the Black Panther Party and take away their gun rights in the late 1960s.

Don Mulford introduced a bill that would prohibit citizens from openly carrying loaded firearms in public spaces.

The rising presence and influence of the Black Panther Party in California was beginning to make some California lawmakers, law enforcement, and the NRA nervous. In response, Republican legislator Don Mulford introduced the Mulford Act — a bill that would prohibit citizens from openly carrying loaded firearms in public spaces.

The Black Panthers conducted an armed protest at the California statehouse.

On May 2, 1967, 30 fully armed Black Panthers came to the California state Capitol to protest Mulford’s gun control bill, which they felt aimed to infringe on Black people’s right to bear arms. According to news reports, Bobby Seale (co-founder of the BPP) read a written statement on the Capitol steps in front of Governor Ronald Reagan: “The American people in general and the Black people in particular [must] take full note of the racist California legislature aimed at keeping the Black people disarmed and powerless,” Seale declared, “at the very same time that racist police agencies throughout the country are intensifying the terror and repression of Black people.” Seale concluded his speech by stating: “The time has come for Black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late” and that “the pending Mulford Act brings the hour of doom one step nearer.”

The BPP protest helped pass the Mulford Act.

The BPP protest received national coverage and helped elevate the group’s message. But ultimately it had the reverse effect than what the group had intended. Instead of deterring the passage of the Mulford Act, the demonstration accelerated its progress and encouraged Mulford to make the bill even stricter. The bill passed both the state Assembly and Senate, with support from the NRA. California Gov. Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law on July 28, 1967. Reagan later commented that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.”

he Mulford Act had a residual impact on police power and U.S. gun control.

The passage of the Mulford Act was a blatant demonstration of America’s resolve to cripple Black dissent during the 1960s. According to Adam Winkler, author of Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms, while the bill was effective in disarming the Black Panthers, it didn’t have much effect in reducing gun violence. Furthermore, it gave more power and leverage to law enforcement, which many members of the BPP viewed as its biggest threat.

After the Mulford Act was passed, many rural white conservatives began fearing that their own gun rights would be restricted. And while the NRA was brazenly against the rights of Black Americans to bear arms, when it came to white conservatives, the NRA became flagrant supporters of gun rights — fueling the present gun rights movement.