By Kathleen Parker
WASHINGTON – Unlike many who recently have joined the debate about gun rights, I have a long history with guns, which I proffer only in the interest of pre-empting the “elitist, liberal, swine, prostitute, blahblahblah” charge.
I grew up in a home with guns, lots of them, and was taught early how to shoot, care for firearms and treat them respectfully. My father’s rules were simple: Never point a gun at someone unless you intend to shoot them; if you intend to shoot, aim to kill.
Dear ol’ dad was a law-and-order guy – a lawyer, judge and World War II veteran who did everything by the book – except when it came to guns. Most memorable among his many lectures was a confidence: “There is only one law in the land that I would break,” he told me. “I will never register my guns.”
By today’s standards my father would be considered a gun nut, but his sentiments were understandable in the context of his time.
But the history of gun control laws is not without contradictions and ironies. In fact, the federal government of our Founders made gun ownership mandatory for white males, while denying others – slaves and later freedmen – the privilege.
Today, the most vociferous defenders of gun rights tend to be white, rural males who oppose any regulation. But theirs was once the ardently held position of radical African-Americans. Notably, in the 1960s, Black Panthers Bobby Seale and Huey Newton toted guns wherever they went to make a point: Blacks needed guns to protect themselves in a country that wasn’t quite ready to enforce civil rights.
In one remarkable incident in May 1967, as recounted in The Atlantic by UCLA law professor Adam Winkler, 24 men and six women, all armed, ascended the California capitol steps, read a proclamation about gun rights and proceeded inside – with their guns, which was legal at the time.
Needless to say, conservatives, including then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, were suddenly very, very interested in gun control. That afternoon, Reagan told reporters there was “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.”
The degree of one’s allegiance to principle apparently depends mainly on who is holding the gun.
The Second Amendment debate about what the Founders intended was clarified in 2008 when the U.S. Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller determined that the right of the people to keep and bear arms included individuals, not just a “well-regulated militia.” However, as Winkler pointed out, Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion left wiggle room for exceptions, including prohibitions related to felons and the mentally ill.
This still leaves open the loophole of private sales that do not require background checks, which President Obama wants to close.
One also imagines that the old Reagan would say there’s no reason a citizen needs an assault weapon or a magazine that can destroy dozens of people in minutes. He would certainly be correct and, in a sane world, possibly even electable.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.