What Don Lemon Doesn't Get About Gun Rights
Individual gun rights were wrapped up in race ever since the Civil War
This morning there was an exchange on CNN between host Don Lemon and presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy that provides a great lesson in how so much of our modern conversation about guns is bereft of knowledge of our political and legal history.
The two clashed over, among other things, the importance of gun rights for black Americans. It's a pretty standard left-right binary, with Lemon giving outsized credit to Reconstruction and government programs, and Ramaswamy emphasizing the individual rights secured—despite the efforts of the KKK and other like-minded groups—by black Americans after the Civil War and in the decades that followed.
It's one of the oddities of history that we have a direct through-line from the fight against open carry and the armed protests by the Black Panthers at the California capitol in Sacramento. In 1967, when the Black Panthers showed up to protest the pending Mulford Act, it was because they saw it as a reintroduction of post-Civil War policies that kept black Americans from owning guns—and they believed they had an individual right to bear arms, and stood up for it.
The whole thing prompted California's then-Governor Ronald Reagan (you can see footage of him around the 5 minute mark) to push for more gun control, followed in short order by the 1968 gun control act (prompted politically by the dual assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy) which dramatically increased gun control policies.
There's a direct through-line from the open carry insistence of the Black Panthers, the backlash to an individual right to bear arms by the federal government, and the shift by the National Rifle Association—to that point, largely an entity for businessmen hunters promoting marksmanship and the like—to engage in lobbying through the founding of the Institute for Legislative Affairs in 1975.
Without that effort, you probably never get to the point where Dick Heller forces the Supreme Court to acknowledge that individual right.
If you want a great introduction to this story, featuring interviews with many of the people who participated in all these events personally, I strongly recommend listening to Radiolab's "More Perfect" episode on the subject from 2017: The Gun Show.