2024 promises to be a year rich in breathtakingly stupid takes from our political class, and Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones has already done his part. The Nashville Democrat, who was one of two members expelled by colleagues after holding a gun control protest on the House floor last year before voters in his district sent him back to the state capitol in a special election, was once again demanding more restrictions on lawful gun owners this week. This time Jones was objecting to a slate of rules for the House this session, which includes allowances for concealed carry in committee hearings.
Jones wanted to see the rules changed to prohibit gun owners from lawfully carrying in those hearings; a move that the Rules Committee roundly rejected. Nothing unusual there, in either regard, except for one thing: Jones made his call to disarm on the grounds of the capitol while wearing a jacket that paid tribute to the Black Panthers; the same group whose members openly carried firearms at the California capitol in 1967.
The white denim jacket that Jones wore as he demanded the carry ban was emblazoned on the back with the Black Panthers logo and the words “All Power to the People” in large print, with “Oakland” and “Maintaining the legacy of the Black Panther Party” in smaller letters underneath.”
I don’t know what makes Jones believe he’s maintaining the legacy of the Black Panthers, but in actuality, he’s channeling the late California Assemblyman Don Mulford, who led the charge to ban open carry in California in the late 1960s. While many folks think that the Mulford Act was introduced after a contingent of Black Panthers showed up in Sacramento on May 2nd, 1967 openly carrying handguns, shotguns, and rifles while declaring “the time has come for Black people to arm themselves,” it was the introduction of the Mulford Act that led them to the capitol in the first place. As Cynthia Deitle Leonardatos detailed in a 1999 article for the San Diego Law Review:
At the time, carrying loaded firearms in public was a common occurrence in California. Nevertheless, the police had begun confiscating guns from the Black Panthers, charging them not with weapons violations, but with disturbing the peace. Six Panthers, including Bobby Seale, were convicted of this crime. ‘ However, the Panthers religiously adhered to the tenets of the California Penal Code regarding weapons possession. They carried their loaded weapons in an unconcealed manner on their person, which was legal, and when they had to transport their firearms in vehicles, they would carry the firearms and ammunition separately, which was also legal.’ California Attorney General Thomas C. Lynch was quoted as saying that while he was not specifically concerned about the Black Panthers, he was not going to tolerate “‘Wild West’ exhibitions of firearms.”‘As a result of the altercations between the Panthers and the Oakland Police Department, the campus speeches that led to riots, and the repeated call of the Panthers to arm the black community, State Assemblyman Donald Mulford introduced legislation to outlaw carrying firearms within city limits.’ Attorney General Lynch announced that “[t]he time has come.., when we have to legislate against carrying or exhibiting guns in public places.”‘”
The Panthers obviously opposed this legislation, and they made their feelings known. On the day the Assembly was scheduled to hear the bill, a group of Black Panthers members actively protested by walking into the Assembly Chamber in Sacramento carrying pistols, rifles, and shotguns. As Jerry Rankin wrote in The Los Angeles Times: It was one of the most amazing incidents in legislative history-a tumultuous, traveling group of grim-faced, silent young men armed with guns roaming the Capitol surrounded by reporters, television cameramen, stunned state police and watched by incredulous groups of visiting school children.
As the Panthers entered the Assembly Chamber, Jim Rooney, one of the three sergeants-at-arms who were manning the swinging gates that block off the Assembly door, was knocked into a chair. Assembly Speaker Pro Tern Carlos Bee could see only the television cameras at first and he ordered them to be removed. Standing in the doorway to the Assembly, Bobby Seale gave the following statement as the police unloaded the Panthers’ weapons:
Statement of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense calls on the American people in general and the black people in particular to take full note of the racist California legislature aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless at the very same time that racist police agencies throughout the country are intensifying the terror and repression of black people. At the same time that the American Government is waging a racist war of genocide in Vietnam, the Concentration Camps in which Japanese Americans were interned during World War Two are being renovated and expanded. Since America has historically reserved the most barbaric treatment for non-white people, we are forced to conclude that these concentration camps are being prepared for black people who are determined to gain their freedom by any means necessary. The enslavement of black people from the very beginning of this country, the genocide practiced on the American Indians and the confining of the survivors on reservations, the savage lynching of thousands of black men and women, the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and now the cowardly massacre in Vietnam, all testify to the fact that towards people of color the racist power structure of America has but one policy: repression, genocide, terror, and the big stick. Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned, demonstrated and everything else to get the racist power structure of America to right the wrongs which have historically been perpetuated against black people. All of these efforts have been answered by more repression, deceit, and hypocrisy. As the aggression of the racist American Government escalates in Vietnam, the Police Agencies of America escalate the repression of black people throughout the ghettos of America. Vicious police dogs, cattle prods and increased patrols have become familiar sights in black communities. City Hall turns a deaf ear to the pleas of black people for relief from this increasing terror. The Black Panther Party for Self Defense believes that the time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late. The pending Mulford Act brings the hour of doom one step nearer. A people who have suffered so much for so long at the hands of a racist society, must draw the line somewhere. We believe that black communities of America must rise up as one man to halt the progression of a trend that leads inevitably to their total destruction.
The Mulford Act was approved just a few months later by a unanimous vote in the Assembly and a 29-7 bipartisan vote in the Senate, with Republican Gov. Ronald Reagan signing into law on July 28th of that year.
For most gun owners today (including this one), the Mulford Act was a shameful piece of overreach and reaction to growing concerns about lawlessness and an increase in violent crime in the late 1960s, regardless of whether the Black Panthers were the sole impetus for the bill or just one of the reasons for its passage. Deitle Leonardatos pointed out that the Senate vote came three days after riots broke out in Detroit, which eventually left 23 citizens dead and hundreds wounded; including dozens of Detroit police and firefighters, members of the Michigan National Guard, and soldiers with the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. Those riots were cited by several lawmakers in support of California’s open carry ban, and multiple Democrats maintained the legislation wasn’t aimed exclusively at leftist organizations like the Black Panthers. Democrat Assemblyman Leon Ralph, for instance, argued that legislation also targeted “Nazis, the KKK, the Minutemen and others, and should be applied equally to all, black or white”.
At the very least, the Black Panthers who were open-carrying at the capitol didn’t hurt the Mulford Act’s chances of passage, and may well have given some lawmakers a ready excuse to vote in favor of the gun control bill. I’m not sure if Rep. Jones was simply making a fashion statement, trolling his colleagues and the public by lionizing the Black Panthers while demanding a carry ban, or is honestly clueless about the group and the right to keep and bear arms, but the result was that he ended up looking like a fool and failed to convince his fellow legislators to channel their own inner Mulfords and enact a carry ban in committee hearings.