By Dan Gifford
First published in Firing Line Magazine
How I wish the answer to the above question was a definite "yes!"
But my personal anecdotal experience in the wake of the 1965 Watts Riot, the 1968 Baltimore Riot following Martin Luther King's murder and the 1992 Rodney King Riot say otherwise.
I want the answer to be "yes."
I want the first time gun buyers who suddenly realized they and their families and property could be at deadly risk from wanton criminal mobs to realize the value of the Second Amendment's right.
I want them to learn how to safely and effectively use whatever they
And I especially want them to join the ranks of the NRA, Second
Amendment Foundation and others who oppose the infringement of Second rights by politicians, activists and especially police who gleefully follow orders to enforce heinous, constitutionally questionable anti firearm rights laws. I want them to become voters who will remind police that the "just following orders" argument was rejected at Nuremberg.
But personal experience tells me that's unlikely.
While visiting Los Angeles after the Watts Riot, I went to some stores where guns were sold (as opposed to "gun stores") with my uncle. What we saw at those hardware stores and pawn shops that had not been looted by the rioters of guns and everything else was largely a stream of people selling guns back to the store where they bought them after the riot was over. That was remarkable considering what had just happened.
As accurately described in the book Asian American Politics: Law, Participation, and Policy: "They [the rioters] looted stores, set fires and beat up white [and other non black] passerby whom they pulled from stopped cars, many of which were turned upside down and burned, exchanged shots with law enforcement officers, and stoned and shot at firemen. The rioters seemed to be caught up in an insensate rage of destruction."
In California then, it was legal to carry a loaded rifle or shotgun anywhere -- even the Governor's mansion or State Capital building. But buyer's remorse and angry wives soon had riot inspired gun owners back at the store counter to sell for whatever they could get. Some weren't even bought at stores. They were military surplus rifles bought by mail, no questions asked. That would not be illegal for another three years.
Those same scenes happened after the '68 Baltimore Riots where I was a reporter. Stores where guns were sold were busy. But like those in '65 LA, most seemed there to sell whatever they bought while feeling terrorized back to the dealers at a fraction of whatever they paid for it. That was a story Baltimore's powers that be wanted publicized because it backed their crafted political perception that gun ownership was somehow irresponsible, dangerous to the public safety and contrary to the establishment line that government had the only legitimate power of deadly force.
The stories of the newbie buyers did not disappoint the politicos. "It was an impulse buy." "I don't need it now." "It's dangerous to have in the house." "I've never fired a gun and find them scary." "My wife wants the money for something else," etc ... The newbie buyers also had a bitch: Maryland had and still has a three day waiting period to take possession of a purchased firearm. "Why the hell did I have to wait?" was a common question. The answer none wanted to hear was in the mirror.
Like 1965 Los Angeles, I found many Baltimore buyers were also at the store to sell what they purchased by mail. They were usually military surplus rifles that got bought because they were cheap or looked "neat." Other military arms were on the dealer counters too. They were usually war souvenirs -- some of them fully automatic -- that had been under beds or in closets and many are probably still there.
My last personal experience about riot related gun buys occurred when I moved to Los Angeles from New York City as the dust from the Rodney King Riot was settling.
Those left without police protection in Koreatown had learned a lesson about who matters in the world of the Los Angeles Police Department. Noted Chang Lee, a widely quoted Korean shop owner: "The LAPD powers that be decided to protect the 'haves' and the Korean community did not have any political voice or power. They left us to burn."
Koreans are a tough lot and refused to do that. So they fought back with whatever guns they had or could borrow. Kee Whan Ha owns the Hannam chain stores and helped organize other store owners to defend their businesses.
Many had military experience from serving in the Republic of Korea Armed Forces before emigrating to the United States. Open gun battles were televised, including an incident in which Korean shopkeepers exchanged gunfire with groups of armed looters, and forced their retreat.
The LAPD response was to arrest as many Koreans as possible.
The politics that made that disgusting absurdity possible were expressed by an upscale woman I encountered a few days later at the Big 5 Sporting Goods store in Santa Monica.
She was carrying a 12 gauge shotgun she was clearly too frail to handle to the gun section. Like so many other previously scared buyers I'd seen, she was returning her gun and delivering an angry rant along with it about the lack of police protection. The Big 5 salesman explained that she would need to vote for politicians who agreed with her.
She wasn't about to do that, I found from talking to her. Her views
indicated she was an uber liberal Democrat who would continue supporting politicians who are not Second Amendment friendly and against armed self defense. But even if she and millions of others like her did change, it would not have helped. A few years later, establishment Republicans and other conservatives enacted a 10 day waiting period to take possession of a purchased firearm. That meant those who did not already own an arm if a riot started were outta luck. It was a move consistent with the attitudes of both California's Republicans and Democrats since they were establishment statists who were afraid of and or disliked blacks.
Hawthorne and some other California places were "Sundown Towns" where blacks risked death after darkness came. That fear of blacks was a common reason for what gun laws there were in the South where I grew up and California was no different.
So when these Black Panthers walked into the Sacramento State Capital building in 1967 to make a valid political point while armed about police brutality and racism, they scared the hell outta the white power political machine even though what they did was legal.
Have gun buyer fears swelled the ranks of the NRA and other pro Second organizations? Headlines appear to indicate they have.
* "NRA is back, ‘highest ever’ membership"
* "Membership in Gun Groups Is Spiking After the Florida Shooting"
Those membership spikes are no surprise. They now happen whenever people are scared and or feel their Second Amendment rights are under threat. More than a dozen gun rights organizations and shooting associations coast to coast report membership jumps after highly publicized shootings and the anti Second law activist demands that always follow.
* Patrick Parsons, the head of Georgia Gun Owners, said his 13,000
membership had suddenly increased by more than 1,000.
* Dudley Brown, the president of the National Association for Gun
Rights, claims more than 4.5 million members and said membership
applications have jumped 30%.
NRA Board of Directors member Charles Cotten wants to see Association membership triple because of the gathering anti Second storm he correctly sees coming: “The NRA better be 15 million strong soon, or this is only going to get worse ... Michael] Bloomberg and Hollywood are pouring money into this effort and the media is helping to the fullest extent. We’ve never had this level of opposition before, not ever. It’s a campaign of lies and distortion, but it’s very well funded and they are playing on the sympathy factor of kids getting killed. If you really want to make a difference, then start recruiting NRA members every single day.”
His lips to God's ears Cotten's goal is achieved. But even if it is, will that mean enough activism and votes to counter the huge amount of billionaire bucks being spent by George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer and others to nullify Second Amendment rights both directly and by asymmetrical political warfare to, for instance, elect radical leftist attorney generals, district attorneys, sheriffs and other police who will manipulate laws to attack firearm owners?
There's simply no way to know for sure.
What is known for sure is that those against Second Amendment rights see the Coronavirus pandemic as a God send -- assuming they believe in God -- to diminish the number of gun owners and the NRA's membership. They know many NRA members are "older" and likely more vulnerable to the virus.
Vulnerable or not, anti second activists have conceded NRA Executive Director Wayne LaPierre with a an eerie premonition of our present apocalypse. Around 5 years ago, LaPierre mentioned how America could find itself under attack by “vicious waves of chemicals or disease that could collapse a society” as one of the many reasons why every American needs a firearm handy.
Fingers crossed those who bought in a panic don't forget.
Dan Gifford is a national Emmy-winning,
Oscar-nominated film producer and former
reporter for CNN, The MacNeil Lehrer
News Hour and ABC News.