Adam Winkler reminds us of something always worth remembering: Ronald Reagan advocated for gun control.
Republicans in California eagerly supported increased gun control. Governor Reagan told reporters that afternoon that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” He called guns a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” In a later press conference, Reagan said he didn’t “know of any sportsman who leaves his home with a gun to go out into the field to hunt or for target shooting who carries that gun loaded.” The Mulford Act, he said, “would work no hardship on the honest citizen.”
Now of course context is always important. Reagan was responding to black people defending themselves against institutionalized racism by carrying firearms. As Winkler notes, the history of gun control and race in this country is deeply intertwined as racists and conservatives wanted to ensure their power over African-Americans by keeping the weapons in the hands of whites. Challenging that paradigm was central to the Black Panthers’ ideology. How many of today’s gun nuts would be happy to pass laws restricting the rights of black people (or liberals) to own firearms remains unknown, but there’s no question that at the center of today’s gun culture, with an increasing divide between gun owners and non-gun owners that reflects larger partisan divides in American politics and life, that the need and even requirement to use violence to protect “our way of life” (read white, Christian, conservative) is at the heart of the movement. Thus the threats against President Obama, the very real and non-metaphorical eliminationist language, and the deep-seated fear at the heart of the rhetoric.
It’s also very much worth noting that the NRA traditionally supported gun control as well. The organization’s current extremism only dates to the 1970s, a period where not coincidentally, conservative whites were increasingly nervous about the direction of the country, what with the blacks and the gays and feminists and the UFW hunger strikes and such.
I also appreciate Winkler closing his piece with a shot at Scalia’s so-called originalism, which of course means nothing more than the august jurist claiming the Founders believed the current Republican policy positions of the moment.