Breath of Clarity

Gun Control: A Historical Basis is Crucial to Understand Current Conditions


In Gun Rights, Adam Winkler theorizes a gun rights historical account brings increased understanding of racial problems into the debate, and makes it more difficult to justifiably create a practical gun control system in the face of modern violence. Adam Winkler writes, “the found- ing fathers were also willing to impress guns from law abiding black citizens, even if those citi- zens were left without guns to defend themselves from a criminal attack”.1 Winkler ponders in- terpretations of the second amendment several moments in the text. For example, Winkler identi- fies a critical shift in the mission and tactics of the National Rifle Association in the 1970s, when the organization’s purpose shifted from promoting gun safety and a tradition of hunting to a fo- cus on protecting an individual’s right to bear arms for self-defense.1 Yet today, the power of the NRA is greater than ever and Americans remain much less favorable in their view of gun control than was the case in the past. The author contemplates whether the attempt to tie modern debates on policy to the original intention of founding fathers and reflect an attempt to keep policy in line with the respect for the law manipulates the text or attempts to honor the past in a utopian fash- ion. The author’s proposition outlines guns rights benefit, as it addresses the public’s need to pro- tect themselves against the racist and power-seeking government which history truly reveals.

However, preferences are still inconsistent among the American public opinion. John Kingdon outlines the Garbage Can Model to explain organized anarchy decision-making. The Garbage Can Model is described as being a system in which when participants do define their preferences with a modicum of precision, they conflict.2 Consequentially, the organization is a unlinked group of ideas comparable to a coherent structure. Winkler supplementally outlines a lot of examples of pro-gun extremism. In Chapter 7 of Gunfight, Winkler describes the emer- gence of America’s first federal gun control policies as part of the New Deal. Winkler notes that these policies not only resulted in legal sale of such guns nearly ending, but also significantly reduced the number of people who owned such guns over time.1 Although personal defense still is a concern for many Americans, the Americans who buy guns tend to be at among the lowest risk populace. He quotes Ron Paul saying that laws banning guns on airplanes created “an open- ing for people who wanted to do us harm,” and that a “lack of respect for the Second Amend- ment contributed to a whole lot to the disaster of 9/11”.1 However, Winkler’s later chapters about The Black Panther Party identified racism as prevalent concern among the current legislature. They deemed it to be “…aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless at the very same time that racist police agencies throughout the country are intensifying the terror and re- pression of black people”.1 Due to strong preferences about a decision impacting every individ- ual American’s safety, the debate continues to be at the top of America’s agenda.


In Chapter 5, Adam Winkler speaks about the gun debate atmosphere during the Civil War era. A few decades before the war began, racism and institutional slavery were emerging as important topics in the south, where certain laws were being enacted by municipal and state gov- ernments that strictly forbade blacks from gun ownership.1 John Kingdon’s three-streams model explains the crucial historical course which contributes to our modern-day conditions. The 3 ma-jor process streams in the federal government are “problem recognition, formation and refining of policy proposals, and politics”.2 According to this model, there must exist a specific policy window in which all three streams can be coupled for a new policy to emerge.

Initially the problem was framed to instigate fear of a black rebellion. Winkler explains it’s achieved by use of a focus event, specifically Nat Turner’s incident in New Orleans “con- vinced southern leaders that guns were for whites only – an attitude reflected in the hardening of founding era laws restricting gun ownership for blacks”.1 It’s evident the problem stream directly impacted the policy made shortly thereafter, as “slaves were already barred from possessing firearms without their owner’s permission, so after the 1811 uprising New Orleans passed a law forbidding slaves from carrying so much as a ‘cane or stick’ in public… Where they had once been allowed to have guns if they obtained permission from local officials, free blacks were in- creasingly prohibited from possessing any type of firearm”.1 Kingdon would insert a key point that government officials see different conditions as “appropriate for governmental action”.2 Kingdon describes the differences in action we might see based on what we view to be rights. It’s evident we see the problem image directly impact the policy set.

Further more, politics is described to hold strong influence over the former two problem and policy streams. Winkler asserts, “as the North Carolina Supreme Court explained, the ‘only object’ of disarming the block population ‘is to preserve the peace and safety of the community from being disturbed by an indiscriminate use on ordinary occasions, by free men of color, of fire arms and other arms of an offensive character”.1 In this case, the USSC worded the problem as a safety threat when black men are armed. Realistically, the racist image was framed this way to preserve the government elite’s power. Moreover, the policy is additionally impacted by the political stream. In 1825, the problem image warranted a law to be enacted in Florida which “specifically authorized patrols to ‘enter into all negro houses’ and to ‘lawfully seize and take away’ and ‘arms, weapons, and ammunition”.1 Black safety is compromised because of the politi- cal hierarchy of the public actors involved.

The gun rights problem image transcends into the black citizenship debate when Roger Taney wrote his opinion for the Dred Scott case. Taney asserts that blacks were “unfit to as- sociate with the white race” and “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect”.1 It demonstrates the underlying issue is a right to be a citizen because the gun rights privilege allows for self-protection, under the assumption a life is worthy enough to preserve supported by law. The Civil War was a crucial focus event which completely shifted the politics and consequential- ly reframed the problem image to emancipate black human beings. Following the proclamation, the policy stream was impacted by the fresh positive image which resulted in the enactment of the 14th amendment. As a result, the politics shifted a bit and created a window for the Civil Rights Movement to construct a completely flipped problem image, as now whites seem to de- prive blacks of their human rights and safety. From there, it was much easier for policy to be cre- ated supporting civil rights beyond gun ownership.


The text’s most compelling section is Winkler’s examination of the gun control’s early history. With this framework it becomes evident race is a predominant concern. Originally, Win- kler sheds light on the Founding Fathers, depicting them as people who “understood that gun rights had to be balanced with public safety needs”.1 However, it isn’t until he dives into the de-

cision deeper where it’s evident the elite framed the problem image in a fashion which “support- ed forcible disarmament of slaves, free blacks, and people of mixed race out of fear that these groups would use guns to revolt against slave masters”.1 With this approach, Winkler positions the audience so that they hold a similar perspective to the citizens at the time. This technique sparks a proposition that perhaps the modern government’s assertion that gun control may be used to keep civilians safe may be a methodology the elite uses to gain armed advantage over its subjects. Winkler says that before the Revolution, “colonial governments prohibited any white person unwilling to affirm his allegiance to the British Crown from collecting firearms”.1 So, now it’s clear the problem which sprouted out white people’s need to establish racial superiority is derived from deprivation of those who wouldn’t declare their government allegiance. Follow- ing the Dallas shooting, it’s scary to consider whether the police will respond to power threats with the fearful illogical parameters they set in place during the revolution’s era.

Winkler made a strong claim about the N.R.A. which portrays them as a moderate actor, contrary to their image as a gun rights advocate with the primary intent to sell. Winkler explains the N.R.A. was not originally an absolute gun control opponent.1 Before the issue became in- creasingly polarized, the institution actually supported reasonable gun safety laws. Perhaps, it’s because they didn’t want the issue to reach the extreme point where total gun control would oc- cur. More specifically, Winkler explains N.R.A. leaders pushed states to pass legislation in the Prohibition era when gangsters were seen as a threat to the police. They supported the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Federal Firearms Act of 1938, which “taxed certain firearms heavi- ly, required some gun owners to register their weapons, and created a licensing system for deal- ers sending guns across state lines”.1 Unfortunately, with an increasingly overwhelming collection of institutions (correction facilities, mental institutions, criminal records), it would not be possible to proceed to the next step, essentially creating a background record and check system, because they would most certainly be too incomplete for function.

While Winkler’s text thoroughly exemplifies Kingdon’s three-stream model, his account is filled with a few gaps. Winkler skims lightly over events like the sieges at Waco (Texas) and Ruby Ridge (Idaho), which fueled the militia movement. Although it may be due to his assertion that the militia argument is a bit more outdated than other sub-arguments, the author also treats the Columbine and Virginia Tech massacres with equally limited attention. Kingdon asserts “fo- cusing events need accompaniment” and explains that a disaster or crisis needs to be followed up with more widespread evidence to really take hold.2 So, perhaps Kingdon would support Win- kler’s lacking focus on the shootings if they didn’t contain supplemental evidence worth noting. However, if we consider the America’s current circumstances with the three recent shooting inci- dents, I still think failure to offer a complete account of the massacres’ impact is a major weak- ness. Moreover, Winkler fails to emphasize factors which contributed to the N.R.A. rise as an influential political force, both among the public opinion and making their way into Washington. Winkler didn’t suggest a link between the NRA and other pertinent topics such as USSC nomi- nees and campaign finance.


Understanding the history of gun control is crucial in making informed decisions about where to stand on the gun control preference spectrum. It’s important to view the modern gun rights debate from a historical perspective, as we consider racism’s role as ever-present since

America’s original establishment as one nation. Perhaps the gun control debate is based under the interests of the elite policymakers desire to protect their own power, and for this reason we see Kingdon’s claim that the politics stream is extremely influential be exemplified. Winkler’s chapter on the Wild West and its gun mythology highlight that the premise that gun rights were borne out of a need for individual protection on the frontier was probably based on false notions of black violence and justified racism.1 Adam Winkler often cites various reasons for why Amer- icans are so protective of their guns, mainly self-defense and a protection against tyranny. In Winkler’s text, Justice Clarence Thomas asserts race relations in American history show strip- ping citizens’ gun ownership will dangerously strengthen the few who are armed.1 With the sec- ond amendment’s abolishment, the armed will consist of the government and people who acquire guns via underground markets. It will be interesting to see which factors (i.e. race, political party, income, networking, etc.) will impact how the public divides into two groups (owners and non- owners) and what the consequences will be. Winkler’s text suggests the patterns we witnessed in history are perhaps cyclical and present the opportunity for Americans to be proactive about our perception of power dynamics surrounding gun control moving forward.

Works Cited:

Kingdon, John W. Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies. Boston: Little, Brown, 1984.

Winkler, Adam. Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America. New York, NY: W.W. Norton &, 2011.