By Ben Christopher | Jan. 31, 2019 (Updated June 25, 2019)
The modern American gun debate began on May 2, 1967, when 30 protesting members of the Black Panther Party marched into the California Capitol with loaded handguns, shotguns and rifles.
As photos of gun-toting radicals from Oakland hit front pages across the country, many Americans were shocked to see who was embracing the Second Amendment. In California, as in most states at the time, there were few restrictions on carrying loaded weapons in public.
That soon changed. The Panthers’ efforts to “police the police” already had led Republican Assemblyman Don Mulford to propose legislation to ban the “open carry” of loaded firearms within California cities and towns. After the Panthers showed up in the Capitol, his bill sailed through and was signed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. (Yes, that Reagan). It’s hard to say which now seems more unlikely: that two dozen revolutionaries could legally stroll into the state Assembly chamber with semi-automatic rifles, or that a Republican governor would champion stricter gun control.
In the years since, California’s progressive politicians have layered on restrictions while gun owners and manufacturers continue to try to find their way out of them.
The battle continues. New Gov. Gavin Newsom denounced “a gun lobby willing to sacrifice the lives of our children to line their pockets.” A National Rifle Association spokesman predicts the Trump-altered Supreme Court means “winter may very well be coming for gun laws in California.” Now, thanks to a 2016 ballot measure championed by Newsom, on July 1 the state will be the first to require background checks to purchase ammunition. That rule is already being legally challenged and another provision of the measure, which banned high-capacity magazines, has stalled after a district court judge declared it unconstitutional. So while the governor and the Democratic Legislature try to add new restrictions, gun advocates are going to court to overturn existing ones.