LA Times wonders: Are progressive Californians ready for gun-totin' black people?

(AP Photo/File)

Er … wut? Don’t let the headline throw you entirely because Erika Smith scores real points in the column, but that headline alone is worth attention in the wake of the Bruen decision last week. Let’s screencap it just in case someone at the Los Angeles Times thinks twice about the message it actually sends, rather than whatever it is they intended. Assuming those are two different things, that is:

Are they two different things? YMMV, but that headline strongly implies that the oh-so-progressive state of California is pretty danged racist, no? Actually yes, as Smith argues, and it’s not limited to the rapidly decreasing number of conservatives in the Golden State. Smith has a strong enough point to sustain that headline, emphasis mine:

California Democrats are scrambling to craft and enact new legislation this week that would somehow salvage the requirement — assuming local law enforcement continues to enforce it — that residents get a permit before carrying a concealed weapon.

“Our state will continue to lead in the fight to keep our people safe,” Gov. Gavin Newsom insisted on Thursday. Indeed, of all states, we have one of the lowest rates of dying by a bullet.

But the governor and lawmakers could fail, and the Supreme Court’s ruling could stand. And then, California could be forced to confront a reality that has long made many self-proclaimed liberals uncomfortable: Black people — potentially a lot of us — legally carrying guns in public.

And to be fair, Smith has a historical record on which to rely, although it tracks rather far back. When the Black Panthers organized in the late 1960s, they made full use of their 2nd Amendment rights to open-carry in their neighborhoods, less for personal self-defense and more to supplant the police department in enforcing the law. It was a quasi-CHAZ project (called “copwatching” at the time) that by 1967 had drawn the attention of the state legislature, which floated a gun-control restriction to require permits for carrying loaded firearms in California. The Black Panthers responded by conducting an open-carry rally at and in the state capital, which backfired by convincing legislators to pass the bill and then-Governor Ronald Reagan to sign it.

The Mulford Act created the kind of permit regime in California that Bruen knocked down in New York. Did that infringe on the constitutional rights of the Black Panthers at the time? Undoubtedly. Will the Bruen decision mean anyone can open carry in California? Not really.  Bruen still doesn’t revoke the permit process entirely. It only requires that such permits be granted unless the applicant fails specific and objective prerequisites that rationally relate to public safety, such as previous felony convictions, mental-health committals, and other such potential bars to permits.

California can still require permits for carrying loaded firearms in public. They can even ban open-carry if they like. What they can’t do, according to Bruen, is to require anyone — black, white, or Hispanic — to convince some bureaucrat that they have a special need to do what the Constitution explicitly allows them to do: bear arms.

Smith accepts this, at least tacitly, and spends a lot of time discussing how black men and women have already begun arming themselves and organizing for community safety. That’s not much different than how other law-abiding Americans handle their use of firearms either. The issue, those organizers say, is the pushback not from conservative bigots but more from their nominal liberal allies:

Jones sees it as part of the mission of the Black Gun Owners Assn. to challenge preconceived notions many Americans have about who should and should not be able carry a gun. But he laments that this is the reality, even in liberal California.

“It’s, ‘We’re all for equal rights and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,’ but they are still uneasy when it comes to the idea of Black folks being legally armed,” he said.

I’d suspect that their liberal allies will try their best to get around this in other ways. Jazz wrote an excellent post this morning about the state’s attempt to draft a permit regulation that would allow for denials on the basis of ideology, which could also cut a number of different ways. After all, the Black Panthers themselves could have easily been described as an organization based on “racism” or even “hatred,” which would have allowed California at that time to broadly deny the right to self-defense to any of its members. (And now too, for that matter.) Plus, Jazz adds this on Twitter:

That doesn’t sound very … progressive. At least, not in the way progressives like to think.

Smith also notes Clarence Thomas’ lengthy dissertation on the reliance that black people had on the Second Amendment in the aftermath of the Civil War, and how gun control too often aimed at disarming them:

Even before the Civil War commenced in 1861, this Court indirectly affirmed the importance of the right to keep and bear arms in public. Writing for the Court in Dred Scott v. Sandford, 19 How. 393 (1857), Chief Justice Taney offered what he thought was a parade of horribles that would result from recognizing that free blacks were citizens of the United States. If blacks were citizens, Taney fretted, they would be entitled to the privileges and immunities of citizens, including the right “to keep and carry arms wherever they went.” Id., at 417 (emphasis added). Thus, even Chief Justice Taney recognized (albeit unenthusiastically in the case of blacks) that public carry was a component of the right to keep and bear arms—a right free blacks were often denied in antebellum America.

After the Civil War, of course, the exercise of this fundamental right by freed slaves was systematically thwarted. This Court has already recounted some of the Southern abuses violating blacks’ right to keep and bear arms. See McDonald, 561 U. S., at 771 (noting the “systematic efforts” made to disarm blacks); id., at 845–847 (THOMAS, J., concurring in part and concurring in judgment); see also S. Exec. Doc. No. 43, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., 8 (1866) (“Pistols, old muskets, and shotguns were taken away from [freed slaves] as such weapons would be wrested from the hands of lunatics”). …

On July 6, 1868, Congress extended the 1866 Freedmen’s Bureau Act, see 15 Stat. 83, and reaffirmed that freedmen were entitled to the “full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings concerning personal liberty [and] personal security . . . including the constitutional right to keep and bear arms.” §14, 14 Stat. 176 (1866) (emphasis added). That same day, a Bureau official reported that freedmen in Kentucky and Tennessee were still constantly under threat: “No Union man or negro who attempts to take any active part in politics, or the improvement of his race, is safe a single day; and nearly all sleep upon their arms at night, and carry concealed weapons during the day.” H. R. Exec. Doc. No. 329, 40th Cong., 2d Sess., at 40.

Of course, even during Reconstruction the right to keep and bear arms had limits. But those limits were consistent with a right of the public to peaceably carry handguns for self-defense.

Most people have no fear of law-abiding citizens who carry responsibly for their own self-defense. And most of those people don’t worry about pigment when it comes to that support. But to the extent that is a concern, it’s revealing wherever and however it takes place.