One of the more ironic, if not disturbing, aspects about the CCW controversy in California is how the state even got to this point. The 1967 Mulford Act, which banned the open carry of loaded firearms in California, was brought to the legislature by Don Mulford, a Republican assemblyman from Alameda County. Like many white people at the time, Mulford was scared of the Black Panthers' purposeful, in-your-face armed police patrols. Before his bill was signed into law, it was completely legal to openly carry loaded weapons in the state, provided they weren’t pointed at anyone in a threatening way. The Panthers took advantage of this to protest police harassment in Oakland’s black community, armed to the teeth and shouting legal advice at those being arrested.
In response to the proposed ban, the Panthers marched onto the steps of the state capitol, carrying shotguns and pistols. As Adam Winkler wrote about the incident in The Atlantic, “The radicals walked straight into the state’s most important government building, loaded guns in hand. No metal detectors stood in their way.” Of course, the presence of armed black radicals terrified the older, white, male politicians. The passage of Mulford’s bill was expedited and “eagerly supported” by Gov. Ronald Reagan and fellow conservatives.
As seen in other states, looser concealed weapon restrictions have led to subsequent laws that almost encourage confrontation. In Florida, the state responsible for issuing the most concealed weapon permits in the country, legislation has allowed for the brandishing of weapons and firing of warning shots. "Stand your ground” laws, first passed in Florida and since expanded to two dozen states, enshrine the right to use of deadly force by those who feel their lives are being threatened. In the trial of Trayvon Martin’s killer, the judge specifically instructed the jury that George Zimmerman “had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another.”
Mother Jones found that between 2005 and 2010, “justifiable homicides by civilians using firearms doubled in states with the [stand your ground] laws, while falling or remaining the same in states lacking them." The number of “justifiable homicides” by members of the public doubled in 2010 and nearly tripled by 2011, according to the report.
Combs, of the Calguns Foundation, says his group has no plans to push a similar style law here, because California has a "pretty strong castle doctrine,” a concept similar to stand your ground, though it only protects the right to use deadly force in one’s home, not in public.
But just as old, conservative and mostly white men were motivated to change the laws to protect themselves from the Panthers, they’re now attempting to facilitate greater access out of a similar fear. These laws are not designed for everyone in society, but a select few.
John Crawford, a 22-year-old black man in Ohio, picked up a BB gun in a Wal-Mart and was shot to death by police. Tamir Rice, just 12 years old, was shot by Cleveland police last summer just seconds after an officer arrived on the scene and saw him carrying an airsoft gun. Lavar Jones was shot during a traffic stop in South Carolina last fall as he attempted to hand the officer his wallet. These incidents are not happening in White America, which overestimates the amount of crimes committed by black people, according to a 2012 study by the University of Albany. Polling indicates that around half of white people think the rate of violent crime has gone up in the last 20 years, when, in fact, it has dropped by around 50 percent.
LaDoris Cordell, a retired judge and San Jose’s Independent Police Auditor, suggests the support for changing California’s rules on CCWs would be split if a certain demographic of people were requesting relaxed laws, rather than the NRA.
“If you had a million black men issued concealed weapon permits we’d have gun control tomorrow,” Cordell said.
Concealed carry would be a fraught situation for black men interacting with police, though, as recent shootings have shown that officers need only the suggestion or hint of a weapon—and many times not even that—for deadly interactions to occur. All people are not armed equally. Some get the benefit of the doubt. Some get shot.
The contemporary rallying cry for greater access to guns rarely comes from the nation’s most vulnerable citizens—young people of color or LGBTQ groups like the Pink Pistols—but from those with economic and social power.