December 2, 2020

The (civil) right to bare arms

Historically the 2nd Amendment was created for strategic reasons. One was to maintain readiness against the British from whom the American colonies declared independence. The other was to maintain military supremacy over the “merciless Indian Savages” and African slaves. As civil rights gains were made centuries later by those Native and African Americans, leaders such as Malcolm X, Reies Lopez Tijerina, and groups like The Black Panther Party, the Brown Berets, and the Young Lords advocated for self defense citing the 2nd Amendment as a civil right. This history is conveniently overlooked in mainstream narratives of the Civil Rights movement in favor of Dr. King’s non-violent approach.

Their idea of self defense developed not only as a means of protection from domestic terror groups like the Ku Klux Klan but to protect people from the state itself. Such was the case when the Black Panthers descended on the California State Capitol with rifles, exercising their 2nd Amendment rights to make a political statement. As a result the state responded by passing the Mulford Act which barred openly carrying rifles. That law was signed in 1967 by Republican Governor Ronald Reagan, the same politician who campaigned as a champion of the 2nd Amendment, and was backed by the National Rifle Association. The same NRA that today is against sensible reforms like universal background checks and who back the very politicians pushing for oppressive policies towards brown and black communities. 

The threat at home

Today there are still groups terrorizing black and brown communities. Except now it’s not the KKK but street and prison gangs that control and influence street politics and violence. Years of failed government policy like the War on Drugs, Three Strikes Laws, and Minimum Sentencing Laws have fed mass incarceration creating these groups who prey on their own communities. They are heavily armed and do not respect the rule of law. They have weapons usually reserved for foreign battlefields.

Police departments are often stuck enforcing laws that do not stem the flow of illegal weapons criminals acquire or the violence they propagate. Laws passed by politicians who have armed security. Politicians who are silent about the billions of dollars our nation reaps from selling weapons around the world. Nor do they comment on the Obama Administration’s Department of Justice allowing high powered weapons to flow across the border to Mexican drug cartels in Operation Fast and Furious. Now that those chickens have come home to roost, the nation’s citizens are not allowed to defend themselves. Regardless of philosophy, this is the reality poor black and brown communities’ battle daily.  

Police are not just ill equipped or ill trained can opt out. Even the Supreme Court ruled in 2005 in the case of Castle Rock v. Gonzales that police have no Constitutional obligation to protect anyone from harm. These same officers get to go home after their shift, more often than not, to a safer neighborhood in a safer city. Meanwhile, we live in these communities daily. Where do we go?

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About The Author

Motecuzoma P. Sanchez is a father, entrepreneur, community advocate, political activist, author, artist, and USMC veteran. Born and raised in Stockton, California he has been part of actions and movements for two decades. Beginning with student led movements to founding a nonprofit and media company and organizing the community around issues essential to social justice, empowerment, and equity. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Ethnic Studies with a Concentration in Chicano Studies from Sacramento State where he graduated graduated magna cum laude and a Masters in Public Administration from USC.

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