California Republican state assemblyman Don Mulford wrote a bill that was signed into law and enacted in 1967. The Mulford Act was the repeal of the “open carry” firearms law in California.
Mulford championed the limits of open-carried weapons. Open carried rifles increased due to the perceived hostile treatment of blacks in the black community. The political and civic environment was more than some whites could bear. The state legislator with the support of the governor drafted a bill with the support of the National Rifle Association.
The Black Panther Police Patrol began to carry weapons following the shooting death of Denzil Dowell. Dowell served as a security escort for Betty Shabazz (the wife of Malcom X). He was killed by a sheriff’s deputy from Contra Costa County, California on April 1, 1967, in an alleged robbery of a liquor store.
Don Mulford (August 27, 1915 – March 20, 2000) was a native of East Oakland. He was passionate in his stance against the anti-war (Vietnam) protesters. In 1967 more than 11,000 Americans were killed in Vietnam. Protests were a frequent occurrence on college campuses. Mulford advocated the expulsion from school (University of California at Berkeley), of students participating in anti-war demonstrations. He actively campaigned against judges that refused to jail protesters and was a political ally to both Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, the former and then current governors of the state. Also in 1967, Thurgood Marshall become the first African-American justice on the United States Supreme Court. Some thought the appointment of Marshall to the Court was an endorsement of minority rights.
After the questionable shooting of Dowell, the Black Panthers organized a self-defense group. Many eyewitnesses claimed that Dowell’s hands were raised, surrendering to the police when he was shot. Beginning in 1966, before the Dowell shooting, Panther Police Patrols were formed. Members were to rush to the scene of an arrest with their loaded weapons and notify the person being arrested of their constitutional rights. The Defense force believed that the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution gave Americans the right to bear arms openly. This sounds similar to the NRA (National Rifle Associations) position today. In 1967, the NRA supported the Mulford Act, (an un-licensed open carry position) 180-degree opposite of their position today.
The Mulford Act essentially ended the Panther Police Patrol. In a overt act defying the pending legislation, the group carried loaded rifles and shotguns publicly. The force displayed the rifles and entered the State Capitol building to read aloud the groups opposition to the Mulford’s bill before it was enacted.
One of the leaders of the movement was Huey P. Newton (February 17, 1942 – August 22, 1989) co-founded the Black Panther Party (Minister of Defense) in 1966 along with Bobby Seale. Newton was charged in the killing of a police officer. A charge of which he was later acquitted. Newton went on to earn his PhD in social science.
The legislature responded by passing the bill. It was signed into law by then Governor Ronald Reagan. A few years later, the NRA endorsed Reagan’s bid for the White House.
In recent years open-carry laws have changed. Some states allow unloaded or even loaded weapons to be openly carried without a permit, some with permits and others not at all. The recent targeting of federal agents by supporters of a rancher in Nevada brought no charges by authorities.
The right to self defense has changed since the days of the Black Panthers. “Stand Your Ground” laws and “Stop and Frisk” laws are just examples of the response the majority community has taken to an ever more politically, socially and economically stronger minority community.