The Black Panther Party's (BPP or the Panthers) call for self-defense of the black community (from police brutality) was the basis of the modern gun's rights movement. These politically-conscious black men argued it was their constitutional right to bear arms. When the California legislature met to enact a gun-control law, the Panthers made their presence felt in the statehouse as they entered with loaded guns. The NRA supported the California law despite the fact the Panther's justified their actions on constitutional ground. But the aggregate events of the sixties--the emergence of black power groups, the riots in urban centers (where youth with guns battled police), the assassinations of King and Robert Kennedy--led to the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968. Even after the passage of this law, handgun violence and the fear of black militancy continued to rise, and these factors along with the increasing identification of black males with crime, caused an exponential rise in white gun ownership. And we are not talking about guns for hunting; we are talking about guns for protection—and particularly protection against blacks, whom many whites began to blame for the turmoil of the period.
Recently, a major gun advocate, Larry Ward, chairperson of Gun Appreciation Day, stated: if African Americans had been given the right to bear arms, "slavery might not have been a chapter in our history." Ward is either being disingenuous or he is a fool, because it is precisely for the reason he stated that Afrikan Americans, enslaved or free, were not given the right to bear arms. It was feared that this might lead to revolts. Conversely, whites were given guns to be part of a militia, a militia that would be used to put down those same revolts. Southern militias simultaneously served as the slave patrols. Yes, slave patrols and state militias were one and the same. Hence, this amendment is another constitutional compromise over slavery. Southern governments wanted to ensure that they had the capacities to quell slave uprisings. That is what the 2nd amendment is all about. White gun ownership was not just for protection against other whites or Native Americans, but from potential slave rebellions. In areas where the Native American threat had been removed, and there were few Afrikan Americans, like in the West, you'll find some of the most severe gun control policies in the nation. It's whenever there is an enslaved population, that the white populace must be armed, and gun-control is less restrictive. Even in the south after the Civil War, Black Codes were designed to disempower blacks and reestablish white rule. And this included limiting their access to firearms. The early Ku Klux Klan, who terrorized black communities, made every effort to disarm those communities. (This process was halted by the 14th Amendment, which through its due process clause extended the Bill of Rights, of which the 2nd Amendment is part of, to all Afrikan American citizens.)
From the days when political leaders would settle their differences by dueling, to today's gun-loving American, firearms have always played an important part in American life. However, gun control has never been an important federal legislative issue until during the Civil Right-Black Power movements. A coincidence? I don't think so. The Gun Control Act of 1968 more than anything else, especially in its timing, played on the racial fears of white America. As Afrikan people pressed society for change and inclusion, the forces opposed to change countered. Or maybe it was deeper than that. Did whites view the urban rebellions of the 60's as [slave] revolts? These revolts put many whites into a militia state of mind, and it is at this point we hear talk of the 2nd Amendment. If you think about, it's quite logical: the 2nd Amendment was based on racial fear in the first place--fear that an enslaved population might rise up and kill their white oppressors. Maybe white folks knew the historical back story of the 2nd Amendment.
Much has changed in American society since the writing of the 2nd Amendment but the power relationships have remained the same. Yes, there are differences, for example, the victim is still black but the enslaved has been replaced by the black "criminal." The white populace or militia that feared an uprising is still armed, still viewed as the innocent, law-affirming citizenry. Only now the NRA has become their mouthpiece. So the next time you hear someone talking about the 2nd Amendment, he might be arguing for his right to hunt or he might be a racist. He might even be a racist who wants to hunt black folks. I just thought I'd give you a little food for thought.