It may seem hard to believe, but the modern-day gun-rights debate was born from the civil rights era and inspired by the Black Panthers. Equally surprising is that the National Rifle Association — now an aggressive lobbying arm for gun manufacturers — actually once supported, and helped write, federal gun-control laws.
In light of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre that claimed the lives of 20 children as well as escalating violence in cities like Chicago, which saw 500 homicides in 2012 alone, President Barack Obama recently unveiled his plan for stricter gun control. The proposal calls for a universal background check and a ban on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, along with 23 executive orders. But these efforts — no matter how reasonable — are not without their critics.
In a statement released last week, the NRA expressed its disappointment that “the task force spent most of its time on proposed restrictions on lawful firearm owners.” Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) went so far as to threaten impeachment if President Obama used executive action. The conservative entertainment complex — from Fox News and the Drudge Report, which likened gun control to Nazi Germany, to talk-radio host Alex Jones, who invoked the Tea Party insurrection of 1773 — employs propaganda tactics to convince Americans that Obama wants to take away their guns. Nothing could be further from the truth, and the history of this debate is a curious one.
It is ironic that the modern-day argument for citizens to arm themselves against unwarranted government oppression — dominated, as it is, by angry white men — has its roots in the foundation of the 1960s Black Panther movement. Huey Newton and Bobby Seale became inspired by Malcolm X’s admonishment that because government was “either unable or unwilling to protect the lives and property” of African Americans, they ought to defend themselves “by any means necessary.”