The blog Bleedingheart Libertarians reports,
The most recent issue of The Atlantic has a fascinating article by Adam Winkler on “The Secret History of Guns.” It’s worth reading in its entirety, but I was especially impressed by Winkler’s account of the role played by the Black Panthers in opposing gun control in the late 1960s. The article begins with a brief account of the Panthers’ famous 1967 demonstration at the California state Capitol, where around 30 young black men and women showed up carrying “.357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45 caliber pistols” — loaded.
But an even more striking anecdote involves an encounter between Huey Newton and the Oakland police. Newton had discovered during his time in law school that carrying guns openly in public was legal, and the Panthers began doing so as a matter of course.
In February of 1967, Oakland police officers stopped a car carrying Newton, Seale, and several other Panthers with rifles and handguns. When one officer asked to see one of the guns, Newton refused. “I don’t have to give you anything but my identification, name, and address,” he insisted. This, too, he had learned in law school.
“Who in the hell do you think you are?” an officer responded.
“Who in the hell do you think *you* are?,” Newton replied indignantly. He told the officer that he and his friends had a legal right to have their firearms.
Newton got out of the car, still holding his rifle.
“What are you going to do with that gun?” asked one of the stunned policemen.
“What are you going to do with *your* gun?,” Newton replied.
The altercation continued, drawing a crowd of onlookers. And even after Newton (loudly) informed the officers that “if you try to shoot at me or if you try to take this gun, I’m going to shoot back at you, swine,” the Panthers were allowed to go on their way. Newton was correct – they hadn’t committed any crime.
For the Black Panthers, the right to own and carry weapons was more than just an important civil liberty – it was the guarantor of liberty, the last effective block against tyranny. The gun, they claimed “is the only thing that will free us – gain us our liberation.” On the Capitol steps, Bobby Seale proclaimed that
The American people in general and the black people in particular [must] … take careful note of the racist California legislature aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless. Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned, demonstrated, and everything else to get the racist power structure of America to right the wrongs which have historically been perpetuated against black people. The time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late.