In 1967, California codified into law A.B 1591, otherwise known at the Mulford Act. Sponsored by Oakland assemblyman Don Mulford, A.B. 1591 made it a felony to publicly carry any firearm—either openly or concealed—in public places without a governmental license to do so. The law came about after the events of May 2, 1967, when a group of thirty Black Panthers appeared visibly armed at the California State Capitol building to protest an earlier version of A.B. 1591. At that time, there was nothing in California law that expressly prohibited the open carriage of firearms, either in public or private. A.B. 1591 effectively closed this loophole.
Ninety years ago today, in the December edition of American Rifleman, the National Rifle Association (NRA) published the editorial “Merry Christmas—And Gun Laws.” The editorial’s anniversary is noteworthy for two reasons. First, its publication marked the first time that the NRA provided guidance as to the types of firearms legislation the organization would and would not endorse. Second, the editorial highlights a key issue of dispute between the parties in this week’s Supreme Court case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York.
To say the history of gun rights is full of hyperboles, misnomers, and myths would be an understatement. Time and time again, when historians examine the history of gun rights, it turns out that what is long claimed to be settled history is more nominal than real. There is an abundance of examples of this, several of which are outlined in my book Armed in America: A History of Gun Rights from Colonial Militias to Concealed Carry.
My recent research trip at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library shed much light on another historical hyperbole—that Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Eisenhower each, on their own volition, sent the National Rifle Association (NRA) laudatory messages of support.