Guns became central to the Panthers’ identity, as they taught their early recruits that “the gun is the only thing that will free us — gain us our liberation.”
The Panthers responded to racial violence by patrolling black neighborhoods brandishing guns — in an effort to police the police. The fear of black people with firearms sent shockwaves across white communities, and conservative lawmakers immediately responded with gun-control legislation.
Then Gov. Ronald Reagan, now lauded as the patron saint of modern conservatism, told reporters in California that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” Reagan claimed that the Mulford Act, as it became known, “would work no hardship on the honest citizen.” The NRA actually helped craft similar legislation in states across the country. Fast-forward to 2013, and it is a white-male dominated NRA, largely made up of Southern conservatives and gun owners from the Midwest and Southwestern states, that argues “do not tread on me” in the gun debate.”