Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Mulford Act

Charles P. Pierce provides an interesting and timely look at how the politics of gun control have changed.
Once upon a time in California, the police were knocking off black folks with an alarming regularity. In 1967, a black man named Denzil Dowell was blown away by a shotgun wielded by the police in North Richmond, an impoverished, largely black suburban community outside Oakland. According to the official police account, Dowell had been caught while breaking into a liquor store. He had then refused a command to stop and, therefore, was riddled by police who considered themselves threatened by him. Members of the community believed, with some justification, that Dowell had been killed while raising his hands to surrender. At the same time, the Black Panther Party in Oakland had been operating what it called Black Panther Police Patrols. The members of the patrol would listen to police scanners and then hustle to the scene of an arrest, where they would remind the suspect of his legal rights. They also showed up armed, because California then was an open-carry state because, of course, freedom.

This scared the bejesus out of white people, and the cops weren't too enthusiastic about it, either. So along came a Republican state assemblyman named Don Mulford, and he proposed a bill that would ban the carrying of loaded weapons in public throughout California. The Panthers enlivened the debate by showing up at the state capitol in Sacramento while exercising their god-given right to bear arms, which again scared the bejesus out of people. (I think it was the shades and the berets myself.) Speaking in language that today would make Wayne LaPierre cry like a child -- the NRA of the time was curiously supportive of the Act in question -- Don Mulford said he was proposing his law to keep us safe from "nuts with guns," especially the ones who lived in "urban environments." (No, you don't need the Enigma machine to decode that one.) The law passed. Governor Reagan signed it, and that's how history was made.

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