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A San Francisco police holds an anti-gun poster during a press conference announcing the city's new anti-gun initiatives on June 27, 2008, just a day after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that American citizens have the right to own firearms and just hours after the National Rifle Association filed suit against the city to overturn the city's gun ban in public housing.
“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” That constitutional phrase has fueled one of the biggest controversies in modern America. The complexities of the contemporary gun control debate are well known, but the historical origins are less so.
The Founding Fathers denied gun ownership to freedmen, slaves and those unwilling to swear loyalty to the Revolution; the post-Civil War South prohibited all blacks from wielding guns with its racist “Black Codes;” and in 1967, California passed the Mulford Act restricting gun ownership after the Black Panthers’ harshly-criticized armed protest at the state Capitol.
Before 1977, the National Rifle Association even supported federal gun regulations, most notably after Harvey Lee Oswald fatally shot Kennedy with a gun purchased by mail-order through the organization’s American Rifleman magazine.
Does the nation’s history of gun control show its frequent use as a tool of oppression? And how have more extreme attitudes about gun rights gained prominence since the 70s?
Adam Winkler, constitutional law professor at UCLA; author of Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America; he writes for The Huffington Post & Daily Beast