Some Convenient Lies About Assault Weapons
Several years ago Halifax police joined most other police forces across Canada acquiring semi-automatic carbines. These are the exact same firearms Canadians can buy after completing the restricted license system mandatory course and in-depth police background checks, Civilians can only use these restricted versions on accredited shooting ranges. Canada’s national law enforcement magazine indicates these types of firearms are not 'assault weapons'.
Gun control and claims about gun misuse in Canada
As previously mentioned, with claims of an increase in criminal use of guns, gun control is set to become an issue in Canada after the 2019 election, and rhetoric around gun ownership and use of firearms is ramping up. As the Liberal Party of Canada website claims, “We will take action to get handguns and assault weapons off our streets.”
Several statements about firearms use and misuse have been made by the governing Liberal Party of Canada, and by gun-control lobby groups, even as the Liberal government mulls a complete ban on handguns and possibly also on so-called “assault weapons,” which are modern semi-automatic sporting rifles.
With an election behind him, Prime Minister Trudeau is studying a possible ban on handguns and certain types of long guns. Many lawful gun owners say the liberals seem to ignore facts on the issue and they’re being targeted unfairly.
“When a man uses a van to run down and kill people, the public and media blame the man not the van, but a punk or madman uses a gun to kill someone, they blame the gun, not the man.”
- Quote by an anonymous Range Safety Officer, Quebec, January 2019
Long guns involve semi-automatic technology that has been around for more than 100 years, and in common use for about 80 years. Modern sporting rifles have adopted this widely used technology but have combined it with modern ergonomics and materials. Long guns also involve plastic components instead of wood. This plastic or synthetic material is becoming the standard for most rifles and even handguns in order to keep costs down. Modern sport rifles commonly use these materials, often black in color which has led to them also being nicknamed as “black guns”, although they have been produced in other colors, tan, green, blue, and even pink.
Firearms hobby groups like the CCFR say more girls and women are getting licenses to enjoy shooting sports.
Heidi Rathjen, the co-founder of the Coalition for Gun Control lobby group, commented,
"These are guns designed to kill humans quickly and efficiently. They are designed for military contexts."
Firearms hobby and sporting advocacy groups often feel they are not contacted by the media on the gun-control issue to the same extent as gun control lobbyists. Their responses to public statements made by groups seeking to ban guns present a very different picture to the opinions and claims of the gun control advocates.
Heidi Rathgen, who heads the gun-control lobby group Polysesouviens, holds a photo of Kel-Tec RDB. “It’s not a hunting weapon. It’s not a sport pistol. It’s a weapon of war, and it is non-restricted.” (The exclusive Canadian importer of Kel-Tec told RCI that the photo, in fact, shows a “restricted” version they have never imported to Canada. Sporting goods stores have responded to RCI that the Canadian non-restricted version is indeed popular among hunters as they are light and their overall length makes them easily handled when walking through the bush.)
Alex Norris, Montreal city councilor, stated on Global TV News on Aug. 20, 2018, “We believe there is no good reason that a law-abiding citizen of Canada needs to own a handgun or assault rifle. These are weapons that are designed to kill people.”
The federal Liberal government, some municipal politicians and anti-firearms lobby groups have made statements similar to that of Montreal councilor Norris above.
It is interesting to note that almost all police forces in Canada have the exact same firearms that properly licensed and vetted Canadians can buy. While politicians and anti-firearms lobby groups call these firearms 'assault weapons,' the police themselves do not.
The police instead label them as 'patrol carbines'. To quote from Canada’s national law enforcement magazine Blue Line, “Police carbines are not military-style ‘assault rifles’ because they have no full-automatic capability.” (Blue Line, Dec. 15, 2017)
According to sports stores asked, the 'bullpup' style is a popular type of hunting rifle as it’s easy to use in the bush.
Radio Canada’s Report on Gun Safety
In light of the debate about new and popular styles of sporting rifles that are entering the marketplace, we asked several expert groups the following questions:
Question One: What is an “assault” rifle?
Response from the Canadian Shooting Sports Association (CSSA):
“The generally accepted definition of an 'assault rifle' is defined by three characteristics; medium power ammunition, large-capacity magazines, and selective fire capability. The last term means the ability to switch to full automatic from semi-automatic (see also “Blue Line” quote earlier). Unlike the police versions, however, civilian versions cannot have high capacity magazines and are limited to five cartridges. Of the three tests (for classification as an assault rifle), modern sporting rifles do not meet two of them. All we have is an intermediate cartridge, like a groundhog rifle.”
Response from the Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights (CCFR):
“‘Assault weapon’ is used intentionally to instill fear into the public. This kind of messaging is easily absorbed by people who simply don’t know better. This really is through no fault of their own; I wouldn’t expect the average Canadian to be an expert on firearms regulation and terminology. But, this also proves the argument we always put out there; asking people with no topic knowledge or expertise to impact actual regulations doesn’t fly in any other file under the purview of the government except guns.”
Response from the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH):
“There is no definition of 'assault weapon' in Canada. Unfortunately, people tend to jump to conclusions about firearms based on their appearance. Many modern sporting firearms, including some used for hunting, don’t always have a traditional look. Features such as a synthetic stock, curved magazine and semi-automatic action are often confused with what is perceived to be an ’assault weapon’. In reality, the form and function could be the same as your grandfather’s wooden stock hunting rifle. You can’t classify a firearm by its appearance.”
Hunter with non-restricted modern sport rifle. From the CCFR’s facebook page: “‘Trucks have changed since Grandpa’s old Dodge’. Well, so have hunting rifles. This government promised us evidence-based policymaking. Demand they keep that promise and stop judging firearms on appearance.”
Question Two: Are any actual assault rifles allowed to be sold, bought or possessed by Canadians?
Response from the CSSA:
“No, they are prohibited by law and have been since the 1970s.”
Question Three: Certain politicians and anti-firearms lobbyists have often claimed that modern sport rifles “are only designed to kill humans” and are “no good for hunting.” Is this true?
Response from the CSSA:
“It is total nonsense. In fact, the guns were designed for their light weight, reliability, and versatility of operation."
“Modern sporting rifles, as typified by the AR-15, are the most common sporting firearm produced today. They are available in many models with different cartridges designed to make them ideal for many types of hunting and sporting use. Indeed, even the original cartridge was based upon a very common cartridge used extensively around the world for pest hunting. Of note, the standard AR-15 cartridge, the 5.56mm NATO (aka .223 Remington) is forbidden for use on deer in many areas of North America because the cartridge is too weak to ensure humane kills on medium-sized game."
“The standard police Patrol Carbine is identical to an (AR-15) M4 civilian rifle. Do we give them to [the] police so they can kill people? No, we give them to [the] police so they can defend people. Sportspersons don’t buy them to kill people either.”
The modern sporting rifle, whether black, brown, green or another color, is popular with hunters as it is lightweight and reliable.
Question Four: Police and gun control lobbyists have occasionally said that certain of these firearms can be quickly and easily converted to full auto capability. Is this true? What does it take if so?
Response from Dennis Young, former RCMP officer who has filed many Access to Information and Privacy requests (ATIP):
“I submitted an ATIP based on the RCMP’s specific claim that 'the CZ858 Tactical-2P firearm proofed 2007 can be converted to a fully automatic firearm in a relatively short period of time with relative ease.' Asking questions about the length of time needed to convert, equipment needed, parts required, skill level needed, and cost, he says the RCMP took 14 months to respond and the 28 pages supplied did not actually answer any of my questions.
“The point is the RCMP keep saying the reason they reclassify these firearms as ‘prohibited’ is because the RCMP say they are ‘easily converted to full auto’ and yet they are unable to produce ANY evidence proving their point. Also defying Justin Trudeau’s promise for ‘evidence-based gun control.”
Women are now joining in domestic and international firearms competitions like 3-gun (shown), skeet, pistol, cowboy shooting, etc. as these are sports where they can compete on entirely equal footing with men.
Response from the National Firearms Association (NFA):
“The ease-of-conversion canard is a favourite of RCMP. In a court case the NFA asked the police to prove this claim of ease of conversion to full auto, but the police refused claiming ‘public safety’”.
Response from the CCFR:
“It would require expensive machinery, serious machining knowledge, and it is actually already illegal. If someone did convert it to full auto, they are already breaking the law. We also did an ATIP on this, asking for data on how many cases the RCMP have of people machining their semi’s into full auto to figure out what ‘problem’ they are trying to fix. The data doesn’t exist, they are creating a solution for a non-existent problem, a manufactured hysteria. It’s dishonest.”
Question Five: Has a converted firearm ever been used in a violent crime?
Response from the CSSA:
“Not that I am aware of. It is a federal offence to convert a firearm already. The vast majority of firearms are very difficult to alter unless the individual has access to a machine shop.”
Response from retired RCMP officer Dennis Young:
Request to the RCMP Canadian Firearms Program for any statistics on [the] use of fully automatic firearms in crime, and use of converted firearms in crime received the following response: “Our office can only answer questions pertaining to Canada’s federal firearms laws. Therefore, we cannot address your question on statistics.”
RCI contacted police forces in the major urban cities of Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Vancouver to ask if they had any incidents involving a “converted” semi-automatic. Although not used in a crime, Winnipeg has a 2017 crime listing of an “automatic” rifle being found in a home under investigation, however it was later clarified to us as being a mislabelled entry. The Vancouver Police Service said they were aware that crimes have been committed with modified weapons but had no recorded data on any such incidents. Montreal responded that after checking files they had no reports of converted rifles used in a crime. Others have not yet responded, over a week after they were contacted. Interesting.
Modern sport rifles, lighter and with better ergonomics, are attracting women to hunting. (CCFR)
Terminology. According to these sources, the term ‘assault weapon’ is deliberately misleading and purposefully incorrect. These are modern sport rifles appreciated for their light weight, ergonomics, and reliability.
Additionally, the national law enforcement magazine, Blue Line, indeed emphasizes that the patrol carbines they use, the exact same that civilians can buy (having completed the proper licensing and vetting), are not 'assault weapons'. Canadians who have completed an additional mandatory course and police background checks can buy these AR-style carbines but they can only be used on authorized shooting ranges.
Also on this subject, the use of the term 'assault weapon' by certain authorities and anti-firearms groups is felt to be a deliberate effort to both confuse the public and promote fear.
The claim that “These rifles are no good for hunting; their only purpose is for killing people” is false.
The claim that modern sport rifles are not good for hunting is deliberately incorrect. Non-restricted versions are indeed used and appreciated by hunters, with larger caliber bullets for large game, and smaller calibers for small to medium game and pest control like coyotes.
The claim that these weapons are 'easily converted to automatic fire' is false, and Canadian law enforcement officials everywhere know it.
In spite of several efforts by private individuals and these groups above to find evidence of claims that modern sport rifles can be converted easily to fully automatic mode, there seems to be no evidence available to that claim, or that a converted firearm has ever been used in a crime.
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A good friend of Gun Rights Watch who is a former high-ranking officer in the US Armed Forces wrote this Op-Ed in an effort to appeal to the good sense of the many fine law enforcement officers throughout the country. The piece nails it, laying out out the various reasons why police and citizens must stand together to resist gun control.
Gun Owners' Message To Law Enforcement: Stand With Us!
“Bad men need no more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.”
– John Stuart Mill
Law-abiding American gun owners stand with law enforcement, and American law enforcement must stand with us. Elitist politicians across the country are advancing draconian national, state, and local gun control schemes that will do nothing to deter criminal activity and will only undermine honest Americans' natural right and responsibility to provide for their own safety and security.
Participating in Second Amendment marches and rallies, calling and emailing legislators, writing letters to the editor, and engaging in social media discussions are all worthy pursuits, but according to some studies, only 30-40% of US households have firearms. Gun owners are a minority in modern America and we need a new strategy if we hope to defeat bad public policy and defend Second Amendment civil liberties. Responsible gun owners are also law enforcement's strongest support group and we, in turn, need — and deserve — law enforcement's public support of our interests. We need law enforcement to stand with us!
Several times the best-known Second Amendment advocacy groups have been approached with a recommendation to draw law enforcement's unions and associations — their political organizations — into our camp, but those Second Amendment groups have for the most part been non-responsive. In one particular case, they said trying to get law enforcement into the public policy debate was “too hard,” but sometimes that which is hard is the thing most worth doing, and at this point what do we have to lose? Law enforcement, stand with us!
Here's how it played out in Deerfield, Illinois.
In April 2018 the Deerfield, Illinois Village Board passed a sweeping ban on commonly used sporting arms and standard capacity magazines; what the board called “assault weapons” and “high capacity magazines.” Not everyone in Deerfield was subject to the village's onerous ordinance, however. Law enforcement officers' (LEOs) and retired LEOs' privately-owned firearms were exempt. That's worth repeating: cops' and retired cops' personally owned gun collections were exempt from the ban. The Deerfield ordinance emotionally decries “...assault weapons are dangerous and unusual weapons which are commonly associated with the military..,” yet active and retired military personnel were granted no exemption from the ban. That logic requires some mental gymnastics, or perhaps simply an acknowledgment that the police officers in Deerfield are more politically astute and well connected than military personnel and other law-abiding citizens. In any case, the exemption bought law enforcement's silence, the village's cops were able to keep their personal gun collections, and the ordinance was approved by the village board.
The Deerfield case is not unique, however. The same exemptions for LEOs' and retired LEOs' privately owned firearms are seen at the state and local level throughout the country: California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Boulder CO, Highland Park IL, and the list goes on. All have LEO exemptions for privately-owned firearms collections. Those officers who are exempt from the laws and ordinances they are tasked to enforce will have a difficult time explaining their above-the-law status to the gun-owning taxpayers (as well as their friends and neighbors) in the communities they serve. The exemptions must stop. We are all equal citizens and should remain so under the law. No law enforcement gun registration or ban exemptions. Stand with us!
The Illinois Fraternal Order of Police is taking a stand.
A fairly senior Illinois state-level Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) member intimated his union is working with the police chiefs' association in his state to better educate state lawmakers on proposed gun control legislation. He also said their group's biggest problem was how the police will enforce the proposed new laws (which include a firearms registration and ban scheme, elimination of private firearm sales among law-abiding citizens, and other measures) with a shortage of enforcement resources. Their problem would be solved if they worked in concert with law-abiding gun owners to defeat bad legislation BEFORE it becomes law. Eliminate the LEO exemptions and suddenly cops have tangible skin in the game—their private firearms collections—and additional incentive to actively and publicly oppose flawed legislation.
The FOP representative went on to say a large majority of FOP members support the Second Amendment and don't want to see law-abiding citizens punished. When will the national FOP, its state organizations, and the local police union lodges publicly speak out to reflect the majority views of their members? When will they follow the courageous, principled, rational, and public stand taken by many of the nation's sheriffs? The time is now. Stand with us!
Police chiefs and sheriffs should publicly speak out against bad legislation and defend the free exercise of Second Amendment civil liberties by lawful, gun-owning Americans. The police chiefs and sheriffs must ensure that their respective associations reflect those views during the national, state, and local policymaking processes and refuse to be bought off with exemptions. Perhaps most importantly, it's time for rank and file and retired LEOs to insist their department leadership, union, and other political representatives reflect the rank and file's majority views — even if it means giving up their exemptions. The time has passed to look on and do nothing. Stand on principle.
With law enforcement's thoughtful, articulate and public backing we can avert the years of lengthy and expensive legal battles necessary to overturn bad legislation. We will also ensure all citizens enjoy equal protection under the law without carve-outs for the politically clever and well-connected. Most importantly, we will compel lawmakers to focus their energies on effective public policy rather on emotionally charged, counterproductive, and tired schemes targeted at compliance-oriented and honest Americans.
Law enforcement, stand with us!
Or, "Uh-O Canada"
(Editor’s Note: This article, while being only tangentially related to the gun issue in the United States, was found to be relevant to the struggles of gun owners to preserve the Second Amendment in our own country. Additionally, it illustrates that the totalitarian erosion of rights by governments and the march against freedom continues in many places, not just the USA. Since Canada is our closest neighbor in terms of culture, economy, and values, we found this piece relevant and worthy for inclusion in the GRW blog.)
Apparently, censorship of the media is just as much a problem in Canada as it is here in the United States. Last week a four-part series from the Radio Canada International website discussing the veracity of many of the claims made by the Canadian government about gun safety was canceled by its parent organization, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
The aborted series seemed poised to challenge a significant portion of the unverified claims made by the Canadian government over the last several years, as well as by anti-gun groups across the Great White North, from stats concerning illegal firearms purchases and the origins of illegal firearms to assault weapons.
Tracey Wilson, VP of Public Relations of the Canadian Coalition for Firearms Rights (CCFR) has gone on record on behalf of the CCFR stating that this was because the content was too biased in favor of gun ownership in the eyes of the CBC.
Tracey has also gone on to state that this is an odd claim since the article is about verifying the truth or falsehood of the claims made by those who may or may not understand firearms. Her quote on the subject:
“When the very things you are discussing are technical and factual in nature and not emotion-based ideological arguments, there is no ‘other side’. Facts are facts so it is impossible to show two sides when there is only truth.”
Interestingly, with the Canadian election coming up, and with the gun issue becoming a more prevalent topic, one could assume that the CBC would want to get their facts straight about firearms and get the correct information to the masses. However, once the 'gun friendly' bias of the article was determined, it was shut down quickly.
One CBC representative’s response, when queried about their quick cancellation of the series, was that the articles were considered incomplete, which seems bizarre given that the CBC canceled the series so that any lack of completion on the data contained in the articles can be attributed directly to them. Their response obviously did not sit well with many readers.
Soleiman Mellali of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation commented on Twitter on January 28th,
“We assessed both articles as incomplete. We plan to produce a long format for this important debate. The different points of view will be expressed and the facts verified. Citizens will then be able to form their own opinion.”
Tracey Wilson of the CCFR responded,
“Are you kidding me? I’ve got a team of researchers right now digging up all the anti-gun bias you have published on this debate. We finally have ONE opportunity to have facts and technical data included and you shut it down. The ombudsman will be busy.”
As Canada approaches their 2019 national election, proposals for more stringent gun control measures have been discussed along with more draconian gun laws, even as new gun laws are currently being debated in Canada to place further limits on gun usage and ownership.
Some responses to claims about the gun issue in Canada
As the 2019 Canadian election rapidly approaches, the gun control issue seems set to become a focal point in this election cycle. Just as the criminal usage of guns appears to be increasing in the Great White North, this issue is taking center stage. More and more, Canada’s October election appears to be primarily about gun control versus freedom. Where Americans have the Second Amendment to fall back on, Canadians have no such protection.
Currently, the Liberal Party is in control of Canada and that government, in coordination with several gun control lobby groups, is contemplating a total ban on handguns and also considering a possible ban and confiscation of so-called 'assault weapons'. Meanwhile, as one might imagine, little has been heard in the Canadian liberal press from the pro-gun lobby, firearms hobbyists, and pro-sport shooting groups.
What little attention these groups have received in the Canadian media shows a strong deviation from the rhetoric being put forth by their mainstream media, the Liberal Party talking heads, and the Canadian gun control lobby.
Although several investigative reports have been aired in various Canadian media outlets, including the CBC and other mainstream media, refuting the Liberal Party talking points and widely circulated gun statistics, these reports have been largely ignored by that same media. Indeed, the same anti-gun statistics and statements have been cited by the Canadian gun control lobby, various government officials, and most media, ignoring evidence to the contrary.
The popular Canadian sport of mounted shooting, as engaged in by cowboys like the one pictured, would probably be ended by a gun ban. Many other businesses and employees in Canada would also be negatively affected by such a ban and needless to say, tax revenues would also suffer.
“Guns used in crimes must be from the U.S.A.”
Just as in the states, the wrongheaded idea that taking guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens will somehow reduce gun crime abounds in the Great White North. And, as in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, gun control proponents invent statistics and make inane comments to support this claim.
The difference here seems to be a widespread belief among Canadians that since they have strict gun control laws, the guns used in crimes couldn’t possibly be from Canada. They must be smuggled in from somewhere else. Hmmm… where could that be?
That’s right, you guessed it; it's the United States.
At least as recently as a few years ago, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) were claiming that “77% of all handguns seized in Ontario have been traced to the United States”.
Ironically, in more recent years Canadian police seemed to have altered this talking point and are now making the claim that over half of guns used in crimes are now being sourced in Canada, either the ill-gotten result of domestic break-ins or via 'straw purchases'.
(A straw purchase, in case the reader was unaware, is when a firearm is purchased legally by a licensed person, then either sold illegally on the black market or to a third party for whom the purchase was actually made for).
Sgt. Eric Stewart, head of the Guns and Gangs unit for the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT) states, “It’s the main source of how firearms are being purchased and how they come into people’s hands on the streets nowadays.”
This is a claim that has been historically, and still is today, commonly put forth by the Canuck media and gun control lobby. There is no verifiable source for these comments, however. As already stated, only recently have the Canadian law enforcement officials hopped onto this bandwagon; until just a few years ago, their mantra was that most of these guns were coming from the U.S.
What is the Canadian definition of a Crime Gun?
Nicolas Johnson is the editor of TheGunBlog.ca, a Canadian pro-gun blog. He notes that a 'crime gun' in Canada is defined as any firearm, airgun, starter pistol, antique, toy gun, replica, or gun-shaped slice of toast that law enforcement officials believe was used in a crime, ranging anywhere from unlawful possession and/or removal of a serial number to the worst violent crimes. In other words, if you rob someone with an extended index finger inside a jacket pocket, it gets declared a crime gun.
Nicolas goes on to state that about 31% of the guns annually seized by Toronto police are classified as crime guns. He gave no figures for the number of straw purchases.
Clearly, there is some very conflicting data being given by the Toronto police in direct opposition to what most Canadian authorities are telling us. The Toronto Police Department show the numbers of crime guns that were traced to Canada fell from 2016 levels, which in turn were lower than 2015’s numbers. In fact, the number of crime guns traced to Canada in 2017 was the lowest since record keeping of such activity began in 2014. A mere 20 percent of crime guns, be they actual firearms or just airguns, toy guns, replicas, or rubber bands wound around a thumb and index finger, were definitively traced to Canada in 2017 according to police statistics. This public record flies in the face of claims being made by Canada’s reigning Liberal party, who still assert that most criminal-owned firearms come from domestic sources.
Tyrannical restrictions on guns or outright handgun bans would most likely negatively impact the prowess of entrants into Canada’s Olympic shooting competitions.
Dennis R Young, a retired veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in coordination with retired professor Gary Mauser, has done extensive research on gun issues, including making many requests for access to information (ATIP) of the Canadian government and other police officials. He tells us that over 33% of the so-called 'crime guns' confiscated by the Toronto P.D. were not real firearms and that the majority of these 'weapons' were never even used in a crime. This startling revelation comes from data he has obtained from police records, and it is a cause for real concern about the reliability of Canadian government statistics.
Mr. Young’s data reveals that 469 (65%) of the 726 'crime guns' confiscated by the Toronto Police Department were deemed to be from one of three classifications outlined in the Firearms Act passed in Canada in 1995. These three classifications are Non-Restricted, Restricted, and Prohibited. What this means is that fully 257 (35%) of these seized weapons or 'crime guns' were items that did not fall under the heading of illegal as defined by the Firearms Act.
[It’s the opinion of this writer that most police use the best judgment possible when reporting on crimes with whatever incomplete or imperfect information is available. But when non-firearms are counted as firearms in such a large number of cases, this makes the data very unreliable; the end result being that in the end, no one really believes it.]
Other information available online paints an even more differing picture from the statistics recited by the Canadian government. StatsCan reports that a mere 5 percent of guns used in murders were registered weapons, and were used by someone other than the owner in the crime. This 5% includes BOTH straw purchases as well as outright thefts.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale seems to be the leader of the gun control movement in the Great White North. His Bill C-71 threatens several new restrictions on firearms owners. He tweeted,
“With so many crime guns coming from legitimate domestic sources, we need effective firearm measures that prioritize public safety while ensuring fair treatment for law-abiding firearm owners.”
Like in the US, the Canadian gun control crowd doesn't have the facts.
It was later revealed via ATIP request from Officer Young that Mr. Goodale actually had no information on stolen firearms whatsoever. His phrase, “legitimate domestic sources” appears to be code for, “stolen from legal owners or bought via straw purchase.”
The Canadian Border Services Agency displays pistols and ammunition confiscated coming over the border into Canada.
Tracey Wilson of the CCFR further confirms these findings, telling us,
“I attended the Summit on Gun & Gang Violence last March on invitation from the Minister. The resounding issues and complaints brought forth by law enforcement at every level [were that] there was a clear lack of credible data to verify any of this debate about [whether the guns were] domestically sourced. As far as those stolen from legal firearms owners homes — since when is the answer to a victim of crime (theft) to ban them from owning it in the first place? Is this not victim blaming? Have they completely given up on prevention, crime solving and investigative policing?”
Blair Hagen, of Canada’s National Firearms Association, a Canadian gun rights advocacy group similar to the NRA, tells us,
“The straw purchase issue is high profile because the media chooses to use it as an example of lax gun control laws without any statistical evidence and with unsubstantiated remarks from some law enforcement officer.”
The related ATIP request from Mr. Young to the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) revealed that zero documents related to these so-called 'straw purchases' could be found in their files.
Not a single one.
Nicholas Johnson, of TheGunBlog.ca, has mentioned that also of note is that the Toronto P.D., Canada’s largest municipal police force, has given the names of the same 4 straw purchasers for over two years when asked about the subject. One is left to assume that it can’t be a very big issue or we’d hear more names being bandied about. Is it fair to say that there is a tiny minority of licensed gun owners selling guns illegally? Yes, of course.
Does this represent some sort of systemic problem? Absolutely not.
He goes on to state,
“Canada’s firearm-licensing system is highly controversial and of questionable use for public safety, but it has yielded at least one accidental benefit. We have decades of statistics showing that millions of lawful, legitimate gun owners are the closest thing Canada has to a crimeless demographic.”
Blair Hagen of the NFA tells us, concerning this straw purchase issue,
“It is important to remember that the firearms program and provincial Chief Firearms Officer approve and track all transfers of restricted and prohibited firearms. They can and do investigate every transfer, they can even investigate the license holder making the purchase beyond routine investigations that are in effect now.
I personally have had many cases where license holders making legitimate purchases of multiple restricted firearms have been targeted for secondary investigation, interrogation by firearms officer and even inspection because of the purchase. The fact that it happens at all is being used to justify calls for gun bans [Note: as though the secondary investigation itself were somehow the justification]. It is the extreme minority of illicit purchase and transfers.
There are two issues not being addressed:
The demand to confiscate the property of Canadians because of the risk of theft or illicit transfer. Since when do you punish people who have broken no laws and confiscate their property, and since when are victims of crimes made responsible for those crimes?”
Tracey Wilson, of the CCFR, further comments on straw purchases,
“There have been very few cases of straw purchases, and as Mr. Johnson stated, they seem to re-use the same ones over and over to prove a point. Fact is, this is already illegal and I think we’ve got the CFP failing to follow up on things, likely due to the fact they are already overburdened with bureaucracy. Wait until Bill C-71 [the aforementioned proposed liberal gun control legislation] kicks in and watch them fall apart.”
[Part Two of this series will focus on the actual report from the RCI, which Gun Rights Watch has managed to get our hands on.]
By GRW Chief Editor Comments (11)
What is Constitutional Carry?
Constitutional Carry is usually defined as any form of loosened gun restrictions where no permit is required to possess or to carry a firearm, whether carried openly or concealed, or whether loaded or unloaded.
It is often called Permitless Carry by purists who feel that if it isn’t specifically written into the state’s constitution, then it doesn’t have permanency and it doesn’t really count. The flipside to this argument, of course, is that the Second Amendment to the US Constitution ends with, “shall not be infringed,” and that’s all the permanency that one should ever need to declare his or her freedom to carry their firearms for protection anywhere they go.
Let's run through the current status of each one with an explanation of where they all are in the process right now and what we suspect will be the outcome of each:
State Sen. Gerald Allen, R-Tuscaloosa, filed the bill that would allow residents to carry a concealed pistol without a permit.
The Alabama Sheriffs Association came out against the bill, but Senator Allen took that opportunity to point out that all the permit really is useful for is to give the various sheriff’s departments some extra money.
Too tough to call. With a Republican Governor and 3 to 1 Republican House and Senate, this should be an easy win in most states, and it may still be here.
Arkansas is an unusual and complicated animal, in that it can be argued that it already has constitutional carry, provided you read Act 746 that was passed in 2013 correctly.
When passed, this Act amended a portion of the Arkansas statute 5-73-120, which previously read,
“A person commits the offense of carrying a weapon if he or she possesses a handgun, knife, or club on or about his or her person, in a vehicle occupied by him or her, or otherwise readily available for use as a weapon against a person."
It was changed to now read,
“A person commits the offense of carrying a weapon if he or she possesses a handgun, knife, or club on or about his or her person, in a vehicle occupied by him or her, or otherwise readily available for use with a purpose to attempt to unlawfully employ the handgun, knife, or club as a weapon against a person."
It should be obvious to most that the Act made the carrying of such a weapon only illegal if the carrier had the intention to harm somebody - thereby establishing permitless carry.
The problem is, that didn’t happen and some police and deputies continued arresting people for carrying anyway.
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge Makes it Confusing
In August of 2015, The state’s AG threw a monkey wrench into the situation, when she made this statement:
Nothing in Act 746, § 5-73-120(a), or this opinion is intended to suggest a person may carry a concealed handgun in public without a properly issued concealed-carry license. In fact, except during a journey, it is likely that the Arkansas Supreme Court would allow the presumption that a person who has flouted the concealed-carry licensing scheme in Arkansas law by possessing a concealed handgun without a concealed-carry license has the requisite unlawful intent for a violation of § 5-73-120(a).”
The Arkansas Court of Appeals Rules
On October 17, 2018, the Arkansas Appeals Court stated in case No. CR-18-353, Jamie Taff v. the State of Arkansas:
“[I]n general merely possessing a handgun on your person ... does not violate § 5-73-120(a) and may be done if it does not violate other laws or regulations. Under the clear language of section 5-73-120(a), the possessor of a handgun must have an unlawful intent to employ it as a weapon against a person in order to make that possession a criminal act.”
For all intents and purposes, this case ends the debate on Constitutional Carry in Arkansas. It is now legal to carry a loaded firearm open or concealed throughout the state. However, the story doesn’t end there...
House Resolution 1013 Made It Even Clearer
State Rep. Brandt Smith, R-Jonesboro, was able to get (nonbinding) Resolution 1013 declaring that Arkansas is a constitutional carry state where permits are not required to carry firearms passed through the House on Thursday, February 14th, 2019.
An identical resolution will be going to the Senate and if that passes, the presumption is that it will go through the process once again, but this time as a fully binding bill.
Although the matter is settled in the eyes of the law, this will make it harder to repeal since it will then be proven to be passed by the legislature and not simply by a court decision.
It makes no difference; this one is a done deal. Regardless of what other legislation is passed in the state, we shaded Arkansas in fully green as we now consider the state to have full constitutional carry rights.
In November, House Bill 2 was pre-filed with 25 sponsors called the Georgia Constitutional Carry Act of 2019.
As well as granting full constitutional carry, it removes restrictions from carrying in parks, historic sites, wildlife management areas, public transportation, and 42 specific recreational areas. It also removes any and all restrictions against carrying of arms while hunting or fishing.
The bill faces resistance from Democrats and even a few Republicans, but it still seems likely to move forward.
Likely to pass, although there could be some hurdles to overcome. The Governor has made statements in the past that seem to point to a strong likelihood of signing the bill if and when it gets to his desk, so the only probable stumbling block would be the votes themselves. If you’re in Georgia, make those phone calls!
On Monday, February 11th, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill eliminating the permitting requirement for carrying a firearm. It still needs to go to the House and Senate for votes there.
The bill, SF 2106, needs to now get through the House and Senate, then be passed by the governor.
The biggest problem in Iowa is that Governor Kim Reynolds has made comments that strongly put into doubt her willingness to sign any sort of permitless carry bill and has called the current law requiring a background check in order to get a gun permit, "good policy."
Still, Reynolds will presumably be running for reelection in 2020 and favor among her Republican colleagues in the Senate will be important to her if she’s politically savvy enough to understand it. As has been shown repeatedly in the past, earning favor among the left if you’re a Republican is utterly worthless.
Not a good chance of passing. While obviously still a possibility, Iowa has in recent years been a more or less purple state, with a typical number of Republican legislators leery of passing any bills that some constituents would claim are too extreme.
Squeaking this one through the House could be tricky, although the Senate looks easier. As stated above, the real challenge is going to be the Governor’s office unless there’s a change of heart happening that we’re unaware of at this time.
A package of four bills that collectively seek to end restrictions against carrying pistols without a permit also remove restrictions against most gun-free zones for those who do have permits as well as revise sentencing guidelines to conform with the proposal were introduced recently by a group of Republican legislators, who still hold a technical majority in the state.
The problem, of course, is the freshman Democrat Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Any Constitutional Carry bill presented in a split legislature has the deck stacked against it from the start, although not a lot is known about Whitmer's positions on firearms.
Probably not going to pass. We just can't get past the glaring issue of having a Democrat Governor, no matter who it is. Any Democrat, even if it was a pro-gun one, who be in an enormously difficult position of being under tremendous pressure from national Democrat politicians.
Optimistic gun rights advocates look to do the unthinkable in Nevada, despite the current controversy over their impending universal background check by passing permitless carry. Assembly Bill 437 was introduced by Republican lawmakers on March 24th but appears to not have much of a chance in the newly Democrat-controlled state legislature.
The sponsor of AB437, Jim Wheeler of Minden, freely admits it's a longshot.
Democrat Assemblyman Steve Yeager of Las Vegas said the bill is not likely to get a hearing in the Judiciary Committee when speaking to the Reno Gazette-Journal.
The backlash over universal background checks (Senate Bill 143) that passed last month may be partly responsible for the announcement of the measure.
Almost zero chance of this passing anytime soon. If one state could be said to have less chance than any other in the country of passing permitless carry, this would be the one.
Just announced on February 12th this year was House Bill 61, North Carolina's new Constitutional Carry bill sponsored by Representatives Pittman, Potts, Kidwell and 5 others, which as well as removing all permitting requirements also makes it illegal to consume alcohol while carrying and criminalizes carrying onto private property that is conspicuously posted as prohibiting firearms.
This bill also makes it illegal to carry a gun into prisons, police stations, courthouses, the statehouse, and various other places.
Constitutional Carry has been attempted in at least 5 of the past 6 years and failed every time, usually in committee. Though the Senate and the House have more Republicans than Democrats, they don't overwhelm the minority with huge numbers, and the Governor, Roy Cooper, is a Democrat.
Cooper previously got A ratings from the NRA, but his approval by them went from 93% in 2012 to 64% in 2016 when he was elected. In 2017 he made disparaging remarks about the wisdom in granting teachers the right to carry, and his personal satisfaction with the current permitting process makes it seem unlikely that he would sign any bill removing the necessity for permits.
Probably not going to pass. Despite the overt concessions to the anti-gun crowd with the new restrictions that it would impose as outlined above, we just see it as unlikely that this bill would survive the triple whammy of having to endure committee hell in both chambers and be signed by a Democrat governor generally unfavorable to the idea — one who now would likely have even more pressure on him by the left not to sign it than even recent past governors would have had.
Fresh off a win that saw a law modified after a clerical error that would have inadvertently outlawed AR-15's, the state's gun groups think they just might have the numbers to do the same.
HB174 was introduced this past Wednesday the 26th by Mount Lookout Representative Tom Brinkman and removes all permitting requirements, just as South Dakota, Oklahoma, and Kentucky recently did.
Ohio's current House is strongly Republican, with the Senate even more so. Despite having proposed the bill before and having it fail, proponents believe that the recent wins in other states will help push the bill along. Recent comments from Republican Governor Mike DeWine have convinced Brinkman that he also would support it.
HB 174 was officially introduced on March 29th by Rep. Ron Hood, a Republican from Ashville and Rep. Tom Brinkman, a Republican from Cincinnati. Twenty-seven more Republican lawmakers are co-sponsoring the bill.
This one could go either way. The GOP's numbers look quite good, but this is a traditionally purple state where it's likely that many of the Republicans in the legislature are somewhat left-leaning. With former RINO Governor John Kasich out of the way, this bill might just have a good fighting chance in the Buckeye State.
Following a well-publicized synagogue shooting and the City of Pittsburg's complete refusal to follow the state's preemption law by passing its own assault weapons ban, State Representative Aaron Bernstine (R-10) has introduced HB 1412, a Constitutional Carry bill. The bill was introduced on May 6th, at which time it was referred to the Judiciary Committee.
The bill still includes an option to get an optional license to carry firearms anyway, for reasons of reciprocity with other states, of which Pennsylvania has many such agreements across the country.
The House and Senate currently enjoy Republican majorities, albeit razor-thin ones. Although the bill has gotten significant vocal support from members of both chambers, the state's legislature is so large that it's difficult to get an accurate picture of how a Constitutional Carry bill would fare. As we've seen in other purple states, the possibility of a few wayward RINOs sinking the bill is very real.
Pretty much guaranteed not to pass. Like Michigan above, we just can't see any real likelihood of Constitutional Carry passing in a state with a Democrat governor, particularly one known to not be friendly to gun rights.
H.3999 in the Palmetto State was introduced last Tuesday (the 19th) with 25 sponsors and repeals all permitting requirements throughout the state. It also revises and removes some of the places where carrying a firearm would otherwise be prohibited.
The process is still in the very early stages though, so details other than the bill itself make it difficult to tell how this one could go. It’s worth pointing out that a similar bill failed there just last year.
Chances of this happening just got a lot worse. The House Whip, Russell Fry, is blocking the bill at the moment because of a fight with the sponsor of the bill. Residents are encouraged to call his office and demand that he stop his antics and bring the bill back to the subcommittee for a vote. You can read all about it in our recent story, here.
With both the House Judiciary Committee and Senate Judiciary Committees stonewalling any movement on Constitutional Carry in South Carolina, House Bill 3999 and Senate Bill 139 are now officially dead after missing their window to either move forward or expire. The blocks seem to be caused by RINOs using flimsy excuses to prevent full votes on either measure.
Another state in the early stages, Loje Star gun rights advocates have made permitless carry a priority this year, referring HB 357 to the Texas House Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee for review last Tuesday (the 19th).
Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a Republican from Bedford, sponsored the bill along with 14 other Representatives.
The biggest problem right now appears to be that two Democrats chair the most pivotal committees standing in the way of Constitutional Carry. They are state Rep. Poncho Nevarez (D-Eagle Pass), who is the new head of the Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee, and state Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth), who was appointed to head the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. Both are fairly well known to not be friendly to gun rights.
Probably not going to pass. 2019 may not be the year for Texas, but they’ll likely get the chance again next year. We’re not expecting any permitless carry bills to make it out of committee in the Texas legislature in this session.
Dennis Bonnen, the Republican Speaker of the House for Texas on Friday, April 5th made a public declaration dropping the state's Constitutional Carry bill after a Chris McNutt, the executive director of Texas Gun Rights, showed up in his hometown to urge him to expedite the bill.
On May 27th, the Texas House and Senate passed HB 1177, the Emergency Carry Bill in Texas. It grants temporary permitless carry to all legal Texas gun owners in the event of a declared emergency and for 7 days following the disaster. At his discretion, the Governor may also extend the time period for Emergency Carry to be in effect beyond the set 7-day period.
See our latest article on HB 1177.
By GRW Chief Editor Comments (1)
Understanding The Linton v. Calif. Attorney General Xavier Becerra Case
When Chad Linton and Paul McKinley Stewart fought for and successfully had their minor felony convictions from the 1970s and 1980s in Washington and Arizona overturned, their records were stricken from the books and that should have been the end of painful lesson that neither of them will ever forget. To their shock though, California discovered their past transgressions and has barred either of them from ever owning a gun... despite the US Constitution preventing the state from doing so.
In 1987, Chad Linton was 18 years old and stationed at a US Naval base in the state of Washington taking weekend liberty away from the base when he was spotted speeding by a police officer, who attempted to pull him over. Being late for his check-in and at this point quite close to the base, he made the foolish decision to speed up to try and make it back before the officer could catch him. After a short time, he realized this was a bad idea and pulled over. He was arrested without further incident.
He then learned that in the state of Washington, evading the police even for a brief time is a felony. He spent the next 7 days in jail and upon release, served mandatory probation and some community service. The case was left open-ended and no felony was ever officially entered into his record.
When he was sentenced, the Washington State court judge, who was sympathetic to Mr. Linton, told him that he would not want to see his military career destroyed over the incident. He told him that if he successfully completed all terms of his probation, the court would reduce the matter to a misdemeanor, and have the matter discharged from his records. Chad put the matter behind him believing that this had in fact happened and was seemingly confirmed to him the following year when Linton received a certificate of discharge, showing that he successfully completed his probation, and which included a statement that “the defendant’s civil rights lost by operation of law upon conviction be HEREBY RESTORED.”
He shortly afterward moved back to California and in the ensuing 30+ years stayed out of trouble with the law. He bought several guns during this time, undergoing multiple background checks and fingerprint-based database queries of law enforcement records which never flagged him as being a prohibited person.
However, in December of 2015, he attempted to buy another gun and this one finally showed him as being prohibited from possessing a firearm — by the state, not the federal government. To clear up the matter, he traveled back to Washington and hired a lawyer to formally request that his record be expunged. The judge looked at the facts of his case and decided that Chad was no danger to society, clearing the felony from the books and granting him his right to owns guns back. It's worth noting that he didn't necessarily have to actually do this since the FBI records at the time didn't show him as actually being a felon. The state of California had been relying on an incomplete report on the matter showing that he was charged with a felony and that he pled guilty. They never dug any farther to find the full resolution of the case in Washington.
At this point, He is not only not a felon but has never been a felon in the eyes of any court in the country. Additionally, he now has a court order from the originating state proclaiming him as perfectly legal to purchase and own guns. A copy of the order was then sent directly to the FBI by the judge as a further effort to proclaim Linton's innocence.
Despite this, the California Attorney General's office decided that since they see an offense that qualifies as a felony on the old copy of the arrest record that they found and that since he pled guilty, he is, therefore, a felon as far as they're concerned, regardless of having been exonerated by the original state where the offense happened... in clear violation of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the US Constitution.
In October of 2016, Mr. Linton then voluntarily underwent a Personal Firearms Eligibility Check (PFEC) with the California DOJ to confirm his eligibility to purchase and/or possess a firearm. Based upon this check, the DOJ’s Bureau of Firearms informed him that he was, in fact, eligible both to possess and purchase firearms, based upon a search of California’s records. The PFEC form indicated, however, that the actual purchase of a firearm would involve the search of a federal database by the DOJ. This was obviously not an issue since the federal database did not show his as a felon and did not bar him from owning guns.
In October of 2018, Chad once again attempted to purchase a rifle that was legal to possess in California but was again was denied the right to purchase. In November, the California DOJ informed Linton that he was ineligible to purchase or possess firearms pursuant to its review of state and/or federal records which purported to show that plaintiff was a “Felon: Any person who has been convicted of a felony under the laws of the United States, of the State of California, or of any other state, government, or country.” However, the only felony conviction he had ever received was the one in Washington State, which by that time had already been vacated and for which his firearms rights specifically had been restored to him by the Washington court.
Proving the incompetence of the California DOJ, Linton then requested and underwent a “Live Scan” fingerprint-based background check request with the department directly. Within a few days, the results of that scan were returned to him and showed no felony convictions in his history.
He then mailed a copy of the exoneration letter from Washington to the DOJ, which they neglected to respond to at all. He waited close to a year and finally just sent the letter again. The response he got was cryptic and curious, stating that “the entry in question cannot be found on your California criminal history record, therefore, no further investigation is required.”
Believing he might have finally cleared up the bizarre behavior of the DOJ, he decided to try one more time to buy a gun — and was again denied by the DOJ. In March of 2018, the inept DOJ sent Linton a letter stating that the attempted firearm purchase was denied due to the presence of a prior felony conviction — obviously referring to the now-vacated Washington arrest.
They next sent California's Department of Justice agents to Mr. Linton's house with a search warrant under the Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS) program to seize all of his guns. Mr. Linton was not home at the time, but his wife was. Upon arrival and upon learning what they were there for, Mrs. Linton retrieved the court order from the judge in Washington who granted him his right to own firearms back and showed it to the agents. For their part, the agents were sympathetic and understanding and called the Deputy Attorney General Robert Wilson's office to explain the situation. Wilson told them that it didn't matter and that they were to take the guns anyway, so they reluctantly confiscated every gun he had, including the antique shotgun that his grandfather had given him. One agent later sent an email to his bosses protesting the actions they were forced to perform and supportive of Linton's rights to his guns.
Ridiculously, when Mr. Linton asked the Attorney General's office how he would go about getting his firearm rights in California restored, they told him that it would require a presidential pardon since there is no other process for it to happen by. This is obvious nonsense since he is not now nor has he ever been a felon and there would be nothing to pardon — not to mention the fact that US presidents cannot pardon state crimes anyway, only federal ones.
As an 18-year-old in Yuma County, Arizona in 1976, Paul made the poor decision one night to climb a fence and enter an unlocked truck owned by the telephone company to steal some tools. Like Chad above, he performed his sentence and cleared the matter sufficiently to have it downgraded from a felony and later stricken from his record entirely.
Despite this, the state of California is still defiantly refusing to restore Mr. Stewart's gun rights to him.
He later made a connection with the lawyers representing Mr. Linton and has joined the case as a co-plaintiff.
Attorney George Lee from the law firm of Seiler, Epstein, Ziegler, & Applegate, LLP out of San Francisco is representing both plaintiffs. The firm is further joined by:
- The Firearms Policy Foundation (FPF)
- The Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC)
- The Calguns Foundation (CGF)
- The Second Amendment Foundation (SAF), and
- The Madison Society Foundation (MSF)
Named as defendants in the case are:
- Attorney General Xavier Becerra
- Acting DOJ Bureau of Firearms Chief Martin Horan, and
- Deputy Attorney General Robert Wilson
Why California Will Lose
- California's big problem? This is a direct violation of the Full Faith and Credit Clause outlined in detail in Article IV, Section 1 of the US Constitution. It specifically states that all states must respect the "public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state."
- But, it gets worse. Since California was accepting exonerations from judges within its own borders but not out of state judges, it then became guilty of violating the Privileges and Immunities Clause in Article IV, Section 2, Clause 1, which prevents states from treating citizens of other states in a discriminatory manner.
- Additionally and similarly, they violated the Privileges or Immunities Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment in Section 1, Clause 2, which states that "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States."
- Since California systematically half-asses everything except its own incompetence, it then compounded the massive legal blunder by unlawfully confiscating Mr. Linton's existing legal firearms and hence became guilty of violating the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution.
- And finally, does it really need to be pointed out that California's zeal to prevent as many people as possible from owning guns has resulted in a blatant violation of the Second Amendment?
We stated at the beginning of this section that the state will lose; however, we need to keep in mind that this is Califonia we're talking about. The plaintiffs could, in fact, be the ones who lose, but since the case has ballooned to national attention our strong suspicion is that it will be appealed if that happens and appealed again if necessary right up to SCOTUS if need be. Past US Supreme Courts would probably pass on taking the case, but we've talked before about how this new high court might just take such a case. The net result is that the overall likelihood of this failing all the way up to SCOTUS and then failing even there is just not very high.
The bulk of this information comes from the Firearms Policy Coalition. The FPC is looking for anyone who has had a similar situation, where their gun rights were restored by another state but the reinstatement is not being recognized by the state of California. If your case fits this description, please contact the FPC/FPF Legal Action Hotline at https://www.firearmspolicy.org/hotline or (855) 252-4510 (available 24/7/365) immediately.
Disclaimer: Gun Rights Watch does not give legal advice and no content contained herein may be construed as offering legal advice.
GRW does recommend specific lawyers to refer to upon request.
Material published on GunRightsWatch.com, including articles, photos, graphics, videos, bulletin board postings, and other content, is copyrighted by Gun Rights Watch or by other information providers who have licensed their content for use on GunRightsWatch.com. The entire contents of GunRightsWatch.com are also copyrighted as a collective work under the United States copyright laws. GRW does often grant permission to reprint its works on other websites and publications.
By GRW Senior Staff Comments (2)
The History of Gun Control in America, Part Four
The Late 1970’s - Organized Factions Form
(Continued from The History of Gun Control in America, Part Three)
In 1974, the National Council to Control Handguns (NCCH) was founded by armed robbery victim Mark Borinsky with Republican marketing manager Pete Shields, whose son had been a victim of murder by handgun, joining shortly thereafter. By 1980 they would change the name of the group to Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI). For a short time, they partnered with the National Coalition to Ban Handguns (NCBH), although this partnership did not last long. The NCBH soon decided that the HCI did not share their fervor to promote anti-gun legislation, and renamed themselves in 1990 as the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV). This split seems unfortunate for the CSGV, as the HCI has had considerably more traction following the assassination of John Lennon in 1980.
By 1981, HCI's membership had grown beyond 100,000; in 1983, the HCI spawned the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence (CPHV) as an educational outreach project, and in 1989, CPHV established the Legal Action Project to push for anti-gun legislation in the courts. In 2001, the HCI renamed itself again to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which was instrumental in the passing of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (Brady Bill).
At about the same time as the formation of the NCCH / HCI / Brady Campaign, in 1975, despite the change in tone and direction of the NRA during the 1970’s away from any attempts at compromise or appeasement with the advocates of Gun Control, and towards a previously unseen level of political activism, some gun rights activists felt a that a more unified group of gun owners strictly against the anti-gun movement was called for, and formed the Gun Owners of America (GOA).
H. L. Richardson, a state Senator from California and the founder of GOA and the Gun Owners of California, still serves as its chairman after 42 years. Richardson has gone on record publicly criticizing the NRA on multiple occasions for what the GOA considers to be an attitude of compromise on gun rights issues and for selling out the gun rights movement in general. Retired Congressman Ron Paul further describes the GOA as “the only no-compromise gun rights lobby in Washington.” For more than 30 years, GOA has been building an active network of attorneys who sole aim is to challenge any anti-gun legislation in the courts.
The Dawn of the 1980’s
(All We Are Saying, Is Give A Piece A Chance)
On the evening of December 8th, 1980, John Lennon was shot dead at point-blank range by Mark David Chapman in the archway of his home in New York City. This was the first major news event to affect the issue of gun rights in the 1980’s. For this senseless act, Chapman was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison at the Wende Correctional Facility, where he has remained ever since, being denied parole 9 times already.
Lennon’s murder in 1980 renewed interest in stricter gun control laws. “John Lennon’s death appears to have done more to center attention on handguns than any recent event,” reported the Washington Post. Still, the notion of any new gun control legislation was rejected by then President-elect Ronald Reagan. Ironically, Reagan’s own assassination attempt merely 3 months later would eventually spur the passage of the Brady Bill in 1993.
On Monday, March 30, 1981, new President Ronald Reagan was leaving a speaking engagement at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. As Reagan got into his limousine, John Hinckley, Jr. opened fire from just a few feet away with his revolver. Incredibly, despite the extremely close range, Hinckley’s six shots almost hit everything but President Reagan. The first hit White House Press Secretary James Brady in the head, actually causing the most damage of any bullet Hinckley fired that day; Brady suffered brain damage and was permanently paralyzed. The second round hit District of Columbia police officer Thomas Delahanty in the back of his neck as he turned to protect Reagan, wounding him moderately. Delahanty later recovered completely.
With Delahanty out of the way, Hinckley had a clear shot at Reagan but missed again anyway and hit the window of a building across the street. As the Special Agent In Charge Jerry Parr frantically shoved Reagan into the back seat of the armored limousine, his fourth shot hit Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy in the abdomen, who also later recovered completely. The fifth bullet hit the bullet-resistant glass of the window on the open limo door, and the sixth and final bullet ricocheted off the armored side of the limo and hit the president under his left arm, grazing one rib and lodging in his lung, stopping almost an inch from his heart. Reagan’s injury proved to be relatively minor; he was able to speak to reporters and sign legislation the next day and was out of the hospital less than two weeks later. It is generally acknowledged that Parr’s quick reaction is what saved the President’s life.
In the aftermath of the shooting, amazingly, no new strong voice for Gun Control rang out immediately. It would take years for the passage of the Brady Bill. Reagan retained his strong stance for gun rights, although after his presidency he did support the background checks enumerated in the Brady Bill.
Late 1980’s Reagan-Era Legislation
(The Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act, The Firearm Owners Protection Act and the Undetectable Firearms Act)
There were three pieces of significant legislation related to gun rights during the Reagan administration. The first was the Law Enforcement Officers Protection Act of 1986, which illegalized the manufacture or import of armor piercing ammunition, or "cop-killer bullets," which are designed to penetrate bullet-resistant clothing.
This relatively minor act was quickly overshadowed by the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986. On May 19, 1986, President Reagan signed this bill, which amended the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968, repealing parts of the FGCA that were declared by studies to be unconstitutional. This was something that the NRA had long lobbied for, and it was generally declared a victory for gun rights. This act accomplished several things; it was now easier to transport long rifles across the United States, it ended federal record keeping of ammunition sales, and it prevented the prosecution of someone passing through states with strict gun control with firearms in their vehicle as long as the gun, or guns, were properly stored. The act, however, also contained a provision outlawing ownership of any fully automatic firearms that were not registered by May 19, 1986. This provision was cleverly slipped into the legislation as a last-minute amendment by Rep. William J. Hughes (D) of New Jersey. Reagan has been roundly criticized by some gun rights groups and gun owners for signing the legislation with the Hughes amendment intact.
On November 10, 1988, President Reagan signed the Undetectable Firearms Act, which HCI supported Congress in passing. The United States Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988 makes it illegal to manufacture, transport, sell or possess any firearm that is undetectable by walk-through metal detectors, or any firearm whose major components do not generate a recognizable, accurate image before standard airport imaging machines. This bill was designed to ban firearms that could foil standard metal detection, and also required handguns to assume the traditional shape of a handgun so that imaging machines could recognize them easily. It began as an attempt to ban handguns like the Glock 17 that had much less metal content than other handguns in the mid-1980s. This particular bill might have faded into obscurity, but in recent years the advent of 3D printing with high-grade plastics (and now, even as metal parts) has given this measure a new degree of relevance.
The NRA originally chose not to fight this bill, because its restrictions did not affect any guns being made at the time, but this may prove to have been a short-sighted decision with the advent of 3D printing. Also, the passage of this bill was seen as a major victory by the anti-gun crowd; it seems to have added an air of legitimacy to HCI, who was instrumental later as The Brady Campaign in passing the Brady Bill. The UFA originally had a ten-year lifespan, but when it came up for renewal in 1998, it was endorsed by the NRA. Further renewals in 2003 and 2013 were similarly endorsed, and this 30-year-old law is now making new headlines against the possibility of 3D printing technology.
A final event of the 1980’s would prove to further impact gun laws. On January 17, 1989, at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California, Patrick Purdy, a man with a long criminal history, shot and killed five schoolchildren and wounded 32 others before committing suicide. This incident immediately received national news coverage and was cause for renewed calls for regulation of semiautomatic weapons. Time magazine asked, “Why could Purdy, an alcoholic who had been arrested for such offenses as selling weapons and attempted robbery, walk into a gun shop in Sandy, Oregon, and leave with an AK-47 under his arm?" The state of California soon passed the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989, which banned anything they considered an assault weapon. The federal government was more divided on this issue, but this event is considered to be the catalyst for the 1990 Gun-Free School Zones Act and the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban.
The Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 prohibits any individual from possessing a firearm anywhere within 1000 feet of any place that is defined as a school zone. First introduced in the Senate in February 1990 by Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, it was then incorporated into the Crime Control Act of 1990, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. In 1995 the Supreme Court subsequently maintained that the Act was an unconstitutional exercise of Congressional authority, but then-Attorney General Janet Reno found a loophole to circumvent the Supreme Court ruling; in the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1997 she buried an exception that if the firearm in question "has moved in or otherwise affects interstate commerce" it is still subject to the GFSZA, which affects nearly all firearms.
In 1993, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, commonly referred to as the Brady Bill, was the culmination of almost 20 years of the efforts of the Brady Campaign, formerly known as the National Council to Control Handguns (NCCH), then known as Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI). The Brady Bill mandated federal background checks on anyone purchasing a firearm in the United States and instituted a five-day waiting period before any purchase could be claimed. The waiting period was replaced in 1998 by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). This system determines whether prospective firearms or explosives buyers' identification and birth date match those of a person who is listed as ineligible to buy. The Brady Bill was quite restrictive, yet it was overshadowed by the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban.
The Brady Campaign also lobbied for the passage of this ban, which used rather ambiguous terms to define an 'assault weapon'. Nonsensical characteristics, such as the color of the weapon in some cases, were used to outlaw some rifles, pistols, and shotguns. (There were actually a detailed and complex set of rules for whether a specific firearm would be banned, such as the inclusion on the gun such features as folding stocks, flash suppressors, pistol grips, and detachable magazines, but a complete list of features and the rules for banning firearms based on them is outside the scope of this article.)
This law, officially called the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, is merely a subsection of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, barely passed by Congress on September 13, 1994 (52–48 in the Senate), and signed immediately that day by President Clinton. It was enacted with a ten-year lifespan, and due to lobbying efforts on behalf of the NRA, it was failed to be renewed in 2004. In October 2003, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report about the effectiveness of gun violence prevention strategies which concluded, "Evidence was insufficient to determine the effectiveness of any of these laws.” A similar survey of firearms research by the National Academy of Sciences arrived at nearly identical conclusions in 2004. None of the renewal bills have left committee, and, despite the stated intentions of President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to re-enact the ban, no movement was made on this until the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. On January 24, 2013, Senator Diane Feinstein introduced S. 150, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013, basically a copycat of the 1994 AWB but without an expiration date. This bill failed its vote in the Senate 40 to 60. To date, this is the closest the 1994 AWB has come to renewal.
The 21st Century
This century so far has been much kinder to gun owners than the heyday of the anti-gun sentiment of the 1960’s and 70’s. Increased public awareness about gun rights issues, courtesy of the National Rifle Association, Gun Owners of America, and other groups like them, as well as lobbying efforts on behalf of the NRA, can all be thanked for that.
In 2003, The Tiahrt Amendment, proposed by Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), prohibited the ATF from publicly releasing data showing where criminals purchased their firearms, with the stipulation that only law enforcement officials could access such information. The Washington Post indignantly declared of this law in 2010, “The law effectively shields retailers from lawsuits, academic study, and public scrutiny. It also keeps the spotlight off the relationship between rogue gun dealers and the black market in firearms.” Gun owners and lobbying groups have steadily maintained that public release of this information would unfairly target certain gun shops. There have been efforts to repeal this amendment, but none have come to fruition as of yet.
In 2004, The Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act was enacted. This law allows qualified law enforcement officers, current and retired, to carry a concealed firearm anywhere in the United States, regardless of state or local laws, with certain exceptions. Later amended by the Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act Improvements Act of 2010, this expansion of scope specifically extended its coverage to include officers of the Amtrak Police, Federal Reserve Police, and police officers of the executive branch of U.S. Government. On January 2, 2013, LEOSA was again expanded by the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), signed by President Obama, furthering the law’s scope to include military police and civilian police officers within the Department of Defense.
On June 6, 2005, Gun Owners of America helped in lobbying the House of Representatives to vote against the Moran Amendment, by a vote of 278 to 149. The amendment would have banned .50 caliber weapons from being licensed for export. This bill started with another media event: On January 9, 2005, CBS's "60 Minutes" show demonized .50-caliber rifles. The CBS/VPC storyline was that a .50 caliber weapon is "too dangerous to be in the hands of private citizens." As if on cue, anti-gun zealot Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) immediately introduced his "50 Caliber Sniper Rifle Reduction Act" in Congress.
In effect since October 26, 2005, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, signed by President George W. Bush, prevents gun manufacturers from being held liable in federal or state civil suits by crime victims involving guns made by that company. Gun manufacturers and even dealers can still be subject to a lawsuit for damages from defective equipment, breaches of contract, or any other criminal actions that they may be directly responsible for, just as any other U.S. company can (and should) be.
This law stemmed from the backlash of several lawsuits, perhaps the most notable of which was Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s 1998 lawsuit targeting gun makers and dealers. He was quoted as saying: "You can't expect the status quo on businesses which make money and then have no responsibility to us as citizens." Mayor Joseph Ganim of Bridgeport, Connecticut stated flatly that their tactic of pursuing gun manufacturers with litigation was the route that he and his city’s administration would take from now on.
In the legislative aftermath of the Virginia Tech shootings, On Jan. 8, 2008, President Bush signed H.R. 2640 into law. This was New York Senator Chuck Schumer's NICS Improvement Amendments Act, designed to address loopholes in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The Brady Campaign to Stop Gun Violence, Moms Demand Action Against Gun Violence, Democratic gun control advocates, some mental health experts, and the NRA all supported the NICS Improvement Amendments Act (also known as the School Safety And Law Enforcement Improvement Act), but the GOA took issue with a portion of the bill, which they termed the "Veterans' Disarmament Act." This portion of the bill famously put many veterans with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or combat fatigue), or even anyone who had applied for Social Security Disability benefits on a “no-buy” list, prohibiting them from purchasing any firearms.
On June 26, 2008, District of Columbia vs. Heller (554 U.S. 570) was decided. This landmark case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that an individual’s right to possess a firearm is the central issue of the Second Amendment, and was the first case in which the Supreme Court declared that an individual’s right to have firearms for home defense was a fundamental freedom. It further declared that Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban was unconstitutional and would be abolished, and the requirement that legally-owned rifles and shotguns should be kept "unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock" violated Second Amendment rights. It did, however, declare that the right to keep and bear arms was not unlimited and that it would continue to be regulated.
It should be noted that this case essentially reversed the almost 70-year precedent set by the United States vs. Miller case of 1939. Also, it redefined the focus of the Second Amendment in favor of individual rights and away from that of a “well-regulated militia”.
Decided June 28, 2010, McDonald vs. Chicago (561 U.S. 742) is another landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which found that the rights of the individual to "keep and bear arms" as protected via the Second Amendment is incorporated by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment against the states. This decision cleared up any uncertainty left after the District of Columbia v. Heller decision as to the scope of an individual's gun rights in regard to the states.
Whereas Heller was about citizens gun rights as pertaining to federal law, this case was all about the state’s ability to interfere with those rights. In this case, several suits against Chicago and Oak Park, Illinois challenged their gun bans after the District of Columbia vs. Heller decision. The suits, including one by Chicago resident Otis McDonald, a 76-year-old retired janitor, were thrown out of court. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit later affirmed their appeal, which then went to the US Supreme Court and on to a victory for Otis McDonald and for all American gun owners.
In early 2013, President Obama proposed sweeping changes to Gun Control, after the massacres of 20 first graders in Newtown, Connecticut, and 12 moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. Throughout his presidency, upon news of any mass shooting, he would publicly scold the American People about the dangers of guns (I’ll take a moment to note that not at any time did he adequately lay the blame on the wackos who did the shooting, but instead blame it on the easy availability of firearms) and introduce proposals to tighten Gun Control laws. His plans included universal background checks for gun sales, the reinstatement and strengthening of the assault weapons ban, limiting ammunition magazines to a 10-round capacity, and other measures. These measures all failed at the national level, but some individual states did begin enacting tighter legislation to encroach on Second Amendment rights, flouting the precedent set by the McDonald vs. Chicago decision just three years earlier.
On Sept. 10, 2013, The normally left-leaning (but liberty-minded) State of Colorado recalled two pro-Gun-Control State Senators. Voters in the state threw out of office Democrats John Morse and Angela Giron for supporting recently enacted Gun Control laws that require background checks on private gun sales and limit magazine clips to 15 rounds. The election became a media storm, drawing national attention not only for the removal of the officials but also for the mass influx of money from both sides of the political aisle, from the National Rifle Association and from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a noted Gun Control advocate.
In February 2017, the Trump administration signed into law a bill that rolled back the NICS Improvement Amendments Act, returning Second Amendment rights to approximately 75,000 individuals who were receiving Social Security disability and had representative payees. This new Trump administration bill was supported by the ACLU, the National Association for Mental Health, The American Association of People with Disabilities, the National Council on Disability, and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, as well as other disability rights advocates.
And, finally, in 2018, in the political aftermath of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a number of students who survived this incident took to the national stage to call for tighter gun control. One student named David Hogg seized the opportunity to declare himself as a spokesman for the anti-gun crowd, leading the students in chants of “We call BS!” (I’m sure Barbara Streisand changed her phone number shortly after this battle cry was heard.) Though Congress’ reaction varied, Florida state legislators promptly prepared new rounds of legislation. This is one more Gun Control scenario that will likely be playing itself out in courtrooms and more (unconstitutional) legislation.
This is part four in this series and the conclusion of our History of Gun Control in America.
The Martin Luther King Assassination: Backlash
(Continued from The History of Gun Control in America, Part Two)
As expected, the shooting of MLK led to an ad nauseam tidal wave of articles in the media damning guns and the people who owned them. The Boston Sunday Globe had this quote at the end of an article about the heated controversy from Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal:
"I am against all your gun laws. It is argued that the Constitution supports them by holding that every citizen has the right·to bear arms. Then to hell with the Constitution."
In spite of all the anger and controversy, no further legislative action was forthcoming for the time being. A month after the assassination, an attempt by Senator Dodd to add all long barreled guns to the mail order ban was voted down in the Senate. Another month went by.
Then, on June 5, 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy was assassinated.
This single event led to the most fervent opposition to gun rights the nation had yet seen. This very same day, a Senate Judiciary Committee approved a provision of the Omnibus Crime Bill to ban the mail order sale of handguns.
The NRA headquarters in Washington, D.C., was picketed for a week, with the first appearance of signs that may still be familiar today, “Lobby For Murder” and “Stop Violence, Stop The NRA”. Unprecedented vitriol was directed their way in the form of thousands of telegrams blaming the NRA directly for Kennedy’s shooting. Dozens upon dozens of bills were brought before Congress, with a wide range of restrictions imposed.
The media, popular political magazines like Time and Newsweek in particular, had a field day with the anti-gun sentiment raging nationwide, calling gun owners in rural areas “anti-social misfits”. The NRA, it was implied, had defeated a ban on the importation of military arms, and this had somehow meant that RFK’s death was their fault. Even the wording of the second amendment was challenged, with some arguing that there was no constitutional right to bear arms, that there was no right to home defense, and that the NRA’s claim that gun registration is the first step towards confiscation was silly paranoid nonsense.
(Ironically, those exact sentiments of the anti-gun forces, and the multiple bills demanding confiscation presented to Congress during this period, may be the best argument that their concerns were and are perfectly justified.)
Newsweek in particular went for a full-on attack, fueled apparently by their staff’s assumption that the constitutional guarantee of the right to bear arms did not apply to individuals. One article actually stated, “With their frontier traditions, Americans have long assumed that they have a constitutional right to bear arms.” They seem to have correctly surmised the nature of pro-gun attitudes when assigning them due to a fondness for self-reliance and individual responsibility, but mistakenly derided the possibility of anti-gun legislation having a possibility of leading to confiscation at any point. They actually showed in an article a copy of an ad for a non-firing replica of a firearm and made the text stating it was not able to be fired so tiny that it couldn’t be read, leaving the impression that the gun shown could be bought for $15.33.
Other anti-gun periodicals of the time were much more forthright, even if grossly misguided.
The New Republic flatly stated, “Put simply, private citizens should be disarmed. A modest effort in this direction would include the following first steps: No person should be permitted to buy or possess a handgun or ammunition for any handgun. Possession of all automatic and semiautomatic firearms should be banned. So should all rifles. However, licenses for the purchase of shotguns for sporting purposes could be obtained from the local police chief, who would be required to enforce certain federal standards.” An editorial in the Detroit Daily Press said it even more succinctly: “No private citizen has any need or reason at any time to possess a gun. "
Clearly, the anti-gun movement had grown to a now-unprecedented level with traction from the violence of the preceding months. The editors at Advertising Age issued an unheard-of challenge to their industry to create ads meant to provoke popular support for a bill that would bring about significant new restrictions on gun ownership. A nationwide advertising campaign soon popularized such slogans as,”Buy Now, Kill Later”, "More and more people are buying guns to protect themselves from more and more people who are buying guns”, and “O.K. National Rifle Association, now look at it from our side”, with the latter slogan accompanying a poster depicting a handgun pointed straight toward the viewer.
Hollywood stars soon joined in, financing their own campaign in support of the stalled bill. Elizabeth Taylor, one of the biggest movie stars in the world at the time, took out a $50,000 full-page ad in the New York Times demanding gun control. It was signed by more than 100 other celebrities, including Mel Brooks and Richard Burton.
Some sort of impending legislative action seemed inevitable. The legal battle that formed concerned primarily three measures: the ban on mail order sales, registration, and a ban on foreign imports of military arms. Many other measures were proposed, both more lenient and harsher, but these were the central issues. The majority of firearms manufacturers nationwide backed a proposal for gun licensing, which was opposed by the NRA (once again dispelling the notion that the NRA is a flunky of the gun manufacturers) and was ignored by Congress.
The mood in the country by this time clearly favored some form of Gun Control. A Harris poll taken in June 1968 showed 81% favoring registration, which was almost surely an inflated number (the reader can find the reasons why I believe this in Part Two of this series), but it does accurately reflect how the mood in the country was changing markedly against gun rights. An onslaught of new local regulations began appearing; New York City in August added registration of rifles and shotguns to the Sullivan Law, and Chicago now required registration of all guns. New Jersey narrowly missed garnering enough votes to confiscate all handguns and register long guns.
Three bills to register guns came and went before Congress in July 1968, but in the end, the anti-gun forces had their victory with the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968 (FGCA). This act completely banned any mail order sales of firearms and ammunition made since 1898 (except for muzzleloaders), banned the importation of all military-style weapons, banned interstate sales of guns and ammunition, and required record keeping by dealers of all ammunition sales. Importing small foreign handguns was also prohibited in certain cases, instituting a new system which ranked pistols individually by points based on a number of factor including size, weight, and caliber.
It should be noted at this time that for at least 25 years after the passage of the Federal Gun Control Act, the crime rate rose steadily, including murder and armed robbery rates. Additionally, the FGCA has placed unreasonable restrictions on gun owners, forcing them to buy whatever arms are available locally and pay whatever the local going rates are for guns and ammunition. Gun owners with rare guns chambered for hard to find ammunition may have to abandon the idea of shooting it. Military style guns have climbed steadily in value to several times their former price. Out-of-state hunters and target shooters cannot replenish their ammo.
The FCGA, possibly the most far-reaching and restrictive federal gun law ever passed, shares its most defining characteristic with every other Gun Control law: it hinders honest citizens while not affecting criminals in the least.
Gun Control in the 1970’s
(Or, Gimme Back My Bullets)
The wave of anti-gun legislation continued on into the seventies. Once the victory of the FGCA was realized, emboldened Gun Control advocates continued with bill after bill. Few bills saw the light of day, however, and in late 1970 the record-keeping provision of the FGCA was actually amended to exclude rifle and shotgun cartridges, despite fervent opposition from Senators Dodd, Kennedy, and Brooke.
The media attack on gun owners and sportsmen continued unabated. That same year, a network television special entitled "Say Goodbye," about endangered species of animals, included many scenes of endangered animals being ruthlessly hunted and shot via unsportsmanlike means, such as one scene featuring a mother polar bear and her cubs being shot from the seat of a helicopter. Unknown to viewers, all of the hunting footage in the film had been staged, apparently to pursue an agenda. Several of the scenes were not as they appeared to be; for instance, in the bear scene, the mother and cubs were being shot with a tranquilizer, but this was not mentioned in the film. After its airing, stricter rules were imposed to raise the standard of nature programs, but the damage to the American view of the hunter had been done.
It can be noted that at this time a change was becoming apparent in the attitude of the NRA. What my research for this article has led me to believe is that before 1970, the National Rifle Association had adopted a policy of working with the advocates of Gun Control; with the increased level of bias and unrelenting attacks came a sea change in their demeanor. Rarely after this period have I read of any NRA compromises with the Gun Control crowd. From this point on, it becomes much clearer what the underlying theme was…
...It’s Us Against Them.
Where this change first becomes noticeable is in the fight that evolved over the “Saturday Night Special”. This was a cheap, low-powered revolver, usually in .22, .25 or .32 caliber, that was readily available on the market but of little interest to the average NRA member. They were unreliable, inaccurate, and useless for hunting or target shooting, but criminals loved them for their cost and availability. Senator Birch Bayh introduced the bill to ban this little innocuous handgun, and the NRA leaped into the fray.
They didn’t need to object for long. The assassinations and violence of the late 60’s were quickly fading from public memory.
Senator Bayh’s bill went nowhere, as did a string of bills to follow:
- Congressman Emmanuel Celler’s 1971 bill to ban all handguns and register all rifles and shotguns was defeated.
- Senator Philip Hart of Michigan’s late 1971 bill to outlaw ownership of handguns by everyone except police and security guards was defeated 84 to 7.
- Congressman Abner Mikva of Illinois’ bill to outlaw handguns was ignored.
- Senator Ted Kennedy’s push to register all firearms failed 78 to 11.
- And, Senator Adlai Stevenson III’s bill to license and register handguns also went down 75 to 16.
Some of the credit for the quick defeat of these bills must be given to the Nixon Administration, which had a very different attitude towards gun rights than did the Johnson Administration. Nixon did favor some legislation against the “special”, but no new bill appeared to outlaw them.
Then on May 15th, 1972, Governor George Wallace of Alabama was shot five times and paralyzed by Arthur Bremer with a short barreled .38 revolver. As expected, the gun grabbers didn’t let the tragedy go to waste and public sentiment turned decidedly anti-gun once again. A Senate Subcommittee approved one of the “Saturday Night Special” bills, a rather crudely worded one which would have simply banned all handguns with barrels less than three inches in length. Although much supported, it got no further probably because the majority of legislators realized that an eight-inch barreled handgun can be turned into a two-inch barreled handgun with just a hacksaw.
Senator Bayh presented a similar bill which fared better. It passed the Senate, then was referred to a committee in the House. Then, however, an interesting thing happened. Bayh received a letter from Myron Lance, a convicted murderer serving a long prison sentence, with a criminal record that was longer. At the end of his rambling letter was the following: "I hope they pass that gun law. It'll make it harder for citizens to protect themselves. That way we could get guns easier." This bill died in committee, likely as a result of a general consensus that the measures introduced in the bill would have been ineffective.
Enter a New Dynamic: Police Overreach
On June 7, 1971, 26 Treasury Department agents and Montgomery County, Maryland police officers raided Mr. and Mrs. Kenyon Ballew’s apartment, responding to a tip that Ballew’s apartment was loaded with live hand grenades. A seventeen-year-old burglar had recently broken into the apartment, and upon his arrest had mentioned what he had seen there. Foolishly, law enforcement authorities believed this incredible story by a young thief.
The agents knocked on the door to the apartment. Mrs. Ballew, who was naked and changing at the time, called out, “Who is it?” At this point the testimonies diverge; the agents supposedly identified themselves but Mrs. Ballew maintains that she heard nothing. The agents knocked a second time, then a few seconds later began ramming the steel door with a battering ram. Mrs. Ballew screamed and called to her husband who was also naked and about to enter the shower; he had time to run out of the bathroom and grab his revolver and point it at the door, still naked. The two had been broken into before, as previously mentioned, and had installed the door and had guns ready for another attempt. After six quick rams, the door gave way. The first officers through the door were dressed as hippies, apparently undercover. One officer shouted, “He’s got a gun!” and the police opened fire, striking Ballew in the head. Mrs. Ballew screamed, “Murder! Police! Help!”, still thinking that hippies were breaking in. The police arrested Mrs. Ballew and sent her husband to the hospital.
As a result of this reckless raid, Kenyon Ballew was permanently paralyzed until his death in 1995.
No live grenades were ever found in the apartment. Ken Ballew did have 2 dummy grenades and 3 demilitarized grenades that had been turned into party favors. This case attracted a firestorm of publicity due to the haphazard nature of the raid and shoddy investigative work that had led to it, and the raid was criticized by groups ranging from the ACLU to the NRA. Ballew’s lawsuit against the federal government was decided against him and he was ordered to pay court costs. The judge in the case insisted that he thought that the agents properly identified themselves, though he didn’t comment on why he thought 2 innocent naked people would try to resist 26 police and ATF agents. This case galvanized support on both sides of the gun issue, though much more so for the NRA and pro-gun groups. It also marked more evidence of the gun issue polarizing people into two camps, and the NRA abandoning any effort to work with the anti-gun crowd and taking a more hard-line stance.
More speedily written and poorly conceived legislation followed the shooting of Senator John Stennis in January of 1973. Echoing the familiar patterns of the past, several bills were introduced, but none passed. Senator Ted Kennedy brought forth a bill that would have banned virtually all handguns (except those with barrels over ten inches, of which only 2 or 3 models available qualified). Interestingly, and possibly a factor in the quick dismissal of all anti-gun bills generated at this time, is that Wallace and Stennis both maintained a firm pro-gun rights stance after their shootings.
Most gun bills of the 1970’s focused on handguns. Much was made of the argument that handguns have no use for sporting, and are virtually useless for the defense, despite both of these statements being patently untrue. In Massachusetts in 1974, gun owners were now required to be licensed and to obtain a Firearms Identification Card (FID). Since that time, anyone possessing a firearm, even a BB gun, without an FID is subject to imprisonment for a minimum of one year.
And so it went throughout 1974 and 1975. Several measures were proposed but went nowhere, including one outrageous bill in Washington, D.C. to confiscate all handguns and shotguns immediately, with no compensation to the owner. Another bill called for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban handgun bullets as a hazardous substance (cute trick, eh?).
On September 5th, 1975, Lynette Fromme, one of Charles Manson’s group of anarchists, attempted to shoot President Gerald Ford with a U.S. Government Colt M1911 at a distance of two feet, apparently to make a statement to people to stop polluting the environment. Luckily for Ford, she forgot to put a round in the chamber and he avoided any sudden lead poisoning. Just 17 days later, Sally Moore shot at Ford with a new .38 revolver from a distance of 40 feet; the revolver had yet to be sighted in, and a result her bullet went 6 inches off the mark, just barely enough to miss Ford’s skull. As she aimed for another shot, a quick-thinking ex-marine in the crowd jumped on her, saving Ford’s life. For these unrelated attempts, both women were sentenced to prison for life and were released only after Ford’s death in 2006.
Given new life, the media circus and legislation by Gun Control advocates began anew. Senator Kennedy slurred, ''The overriding lessons of these nearly tragic events is that if America cares about the safety of its leaders, it can no longer ignore the shocking absence of responsible gun control.” Richard Daley, Mayor of Chicago said: "You don't see someone shooting rabbits with a handgun. The only thing you hunt is human beings." (Well...about that. I just typed “shooting rabbits with a handgun” in Google and got a bunch of pictures and videos of people doing exactly that.)
Some mention must be made of the agenda-driven content of the pictures which accompanied the text of the many anti-gun articles of this time. One cartoon printed in Newsweek not long after the JFK assassination showed a mock mail order gun ad with the heading, “Sportsmen! Kids! Maniacs!” A similar cartoon appeared in Time magazine after the shooting of President Ford featuring Lynette Fromme, with the caption, “1975 National Rifle Association Poster Girl.” This photo showed her holding a revolver in one hand and a sign in the other saying, “Preserve our sacred right to bear arms.”
The various women’s magazines of the 1970’s seemed to showcase some of the worst anti-Second Amendment rights propaganda to be found. Good Housekeeping ran an article entitled, “Let’s Turn In Our Guns As An Act of Conscience.” Carl Bakals’ infamous and movement-defining book, The Right To Bear Arms (later reprinted in vast numbers as No Right To Bear Arms) started as a series of articles for Harpers. In point of fact, the only publications where any sort of pro-gun viewpoint is seen are the hunting and shooting magazines, and various conservative publications. But, of course, these journals only reach a small percentage of the population, and they are largely preaching to the choir. And yet, the National Rifle Association and pro-gun forces have been accused of using a vast network of lobbyists, and in the case of Congressman Michael Harrington, of the, “...use of their extensive media connections to state the details of proposed bills."
The television networks continued the attack. A special NBC program on Gun Control was entitled “A Shooting Gallery Called America”, which showed inflated numbers of gun sales and made the connection with a rise in crime. The TV special showed actual footage of gun crimes in progress, and interviews with tearful crime victims. As a means of showing the other side of the argument, the program showed a smiling man with a gun gleefully describing how he was going to shoot an assailant. A Shooting Gallery Called America may have actually been so over the top against guns that it had a reverse effect; Patrick Buchanan later wrote in TV Guide that it was a simplistic, emotional, single dimensional cri de coeur against the handgun in American society."
The later years of the 1970’s saw more of the same; it should also be noted that this was the decade in which the mainstream media really coalesced into a unified force to condemn gun rights and the Second Amendment. Though it picked up steam with the Kennedy and MLK assassinations of the 1960’s, in the 1970’s anti-gun fervor can be said to have come of age. Time, Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, Good Housekeeping, and several other periodicals worked together with the major television networks to create a social consciousness that de facto opposed to gun ownership of any kind. Polls of the 1970’s show a level of opposition to gun rights never seen before or since; one poll taken after the dual assassination attempts of President Ford show 77% in favor of universal registration (undoubtedly reflecting how few people of the time understood the extent of the fees, fingerprinting, photographing, and other ordeals prospective gun owners already had to face).
Research from the result of polling at this time versus other decades leads me to conclude with a fair degree of certainty that the mid-1970’s may well have been the high water mark of anti-gun sentiment in America. In the later years of the 70’s, a growing opposition to handgun bans marked a growing realization among some Americans that such an action would only disarm honest citizens and make them more vulnerable to the criminal element of society. The growing sales of handguns throughout the 1970’s may be seen as an indicator that more people felt that they could not rely on the police for protection.
With the fading memories of the 1960’s assassinations and the early- to mid-1970’s assassination attempts, and more focused and unified efforts by the NRA beginning to take form in this decade, the pro-gun advocates would fare better in the 1980’s.
This is part three in this series. Part four will focus on the history of gun control from the 1980’s to today.
The 1930’s: National Gun Control Begins
(Continued from The History of Gun Control in America, Part One)
The 1930’s were a period ripe for the kind of opportunities the gun grabbers were patiently waiting for. They were to see their first major national victories in this decade, though on the other side of the fence, the 1930’s were also the first decade to see the National Rifle Association (NRA) get involved in the battle over gun control legislation. They were very nearly successful in the early part of the decade in getting a full repeal of New York’s Sullivan Law.
Due to some of the fervor and idealism of the 1920’s carrying over into the next decade, the Gun Control activism was still going strong, although it had abated somewhat when the reality of the failure of prohibition began to dawn on the populace as a whole, despite the continued preachings of it success of Baptist ministers. Concerns about what to do about the ever-increasing threat of organized crime turned to wrongheaded propositions, fueled by attempted political assassinations.
The near-repeal of the Sullivan Act came about as a result of the attempt to pass the Uniform Firearms Act in New York. Conceived in the 1920’s by, among others, Karl T. Frederick, a New York attorney and NRA member, and later the NRA president, this act banned possession of handguns by anyone who had been convicted of a violent crime, minors under 18, drug addicts, and habitual drunks, it required a permit to carry a concealed weapon in a vehicle, and it required dealers to be licensed, and it provided a 48-hour cooling off period between purchase a handgun and receiving it as a method to help prevent crimes of passion. Laws like this are common today and even accepted by many pro-gun people, but at the time they were relatively unheard of; indeed, this was the first appearance of them. In the 1920’s, the Uniform Firearms Act was catching on, being adopted in California, North Dakota, and New Hampshire, and spreading to Alabama, Indiana, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Washington in the 1930’s.
But in New York state, the Uniform Firearms Act met a hostile reception. New York City Police Commissioner George v. McLaughlin had attacked the wording of the law in 1926, attributing the law to gun manufacturers eager to protect their income. He also challenged its definition of a pistol as a firearm with a barrel shorter than twelve inches by saying that a criminal could easily obtain a handgun with a barrel thirteen inches in length, which the criminal probably couldn’t since handguns with barrels that long are almost non-existent and would be hardly concealable even if they could be found, which would make them a pretty poor choice for a burglar.
The Uniform Firearms Act was re-skinned and was introduced in New York in 1931 as the Hanley-Fake Act, which passed handily in both the Senate and the assembly. Next, it was due to be signed into law and replace the Sullivan Act by the current New York State Governor… Franklin D. Roosevelt.
At FDR’s March 1932 hearing on the bill, the current New York City Police Commissioner Edward P. Mulrooney had already succeeded in having New York City exempted from it. Now he fought vocally against it replacing the Sullivan Act anywhere in NY State, declaring that it would enable residents of New York City to avoid the harsher act by simply purchasing guns outside the city.
Testifying for the Hanley-Fake bill, Karl Frederick objected that the current law unfairly forced the honest citizen to be fingerprinted like a common criminal before he could purchase a gun; FDR replied that no one should feel a stigma in being fingerprinted. Facing vocal opposition from several court judges, including one who flatly stated that constituents in his district were simply evading the fingerprinting portion of the Sullivan Law due to the widespread consensus of its unfairness, FDR nevertheless bucked the clear sentiment favoring the law and vetoed its passage. Despite the obvious message to the contrary, he again urged that citizens should not be offended by the fingerprinting requirement of the Sullivan Act, and also denigrated the legitimate applications of handguns. Thus did the only real chance for a repeal of the Sullivan Act die with the failure to enact Hanley-Fake.
In July of 1933, Attorney-General Homer Cummings stated that existing gun controls were inadequate and that legislation on the matter was required. He soon appeared as the dominant force for enacting new Gun Control laws in the 1930’s. A staunch enemy of crime, he occasionally used wild exaggerations to make his point; he once famously claimed that the armed underworld was twice the size of the entire U. S. Armed Forces, which incidentally would have worked out to 1 in every 244 people being an armed gangster. Despite obvious evidence that Mr. Cummings had poor math and deductive reasoning skills, he felt confident enough to urge passage of a law which would place extreme regulation on anything deemed a “gangster” weapon; “machine guns” (fully automatic firearms), silencers, sawed-off shotguns, and all handguns. Gun owners can at least thank him for bringing the NRA into the fight with the demand for the banning of handguns.
The NRA at that time had barely 50,000 members, in sharp contrast to several groups arrayed against them, not the least of which was the General Federation of Women's Clubs, which boasted two million members. But when they notified their members, they sprang to action, a large percentage of them immediately writing to their legislators to make their determined opposition known.
The Federation of Women's Clubs did about the same with their two million members to promote the bill as the NRA did against it. The final result of this struggle was made clear in transcripts of the congressional debate over the final version of the bill which had eliminated provisions on handguns. Despite this minor victory, when the handgun portion of the bill was removed, the NRA actually capitulated and supported it in a strange and disheartening reversal of policy, stating that it was, “to keep gangsters from buying machine guns.” Little is recorded about the reasoning behind this reversal to gain much insight over why this happened.
In early 1934, when new President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s attempted assassination by Guissepe Zangara coincided with the aforementioned legal struggle and provided the push for new Gun Control legislation that the gun grabbers were looking for; the National Firearms Act was signed into law. It put a virtually confiscatory $200 tax (I say that with authority; that’s $3,735.21 in 2018 money) on the purchase of machine guns, silencers, sawed-off shotguns and rifles, and certain other “gangster-type” weapons.
Despite this victory, Cummings and his supporters were discouraged by the final version of the National Firearms Act and began working immediately in favor of registration of all guns. He also wrote Congress repeatedly, asking them to consider adding handguns to the National Firearms Act. Throughout the rest of the decade, Cummings introduced or inspired a string of similar bills, all calling for more strict Gun Control laws.
The second major act of Gun Control occurred in 1938, with the passage of the Federal Firearms Act. This Act was actually proposed as an alternative to one of Cummings' bills, which would have banned all mail order sales of handguns and registered all guns; the NRA apparently feared the former bill’s passage and endorsed the Federal Firearms Act. The major provisions of this act make it a federal offense for a felon to transport, ship, receive, or carry firearms or handgun ammunition across state borders, made it illegal to possess a firearm on which the serial number had been altered, and required dealers to keep records of gun sales. With this Act passed, the gun-grabbers rested on their laurels some sense of satisfaction, and the 1930’s era of pushing for serious gun control ended, as both sides rapidly began to turn their attention to the coming conflict in Europe.
The mid- 20th Century - 1940 to 1960
(World War 2, The Korean War, and The Vietnam War)
The mid-century period from 1940 to 1960 was relatively quiet for Gun Control, at least on a national level. Assuredly, the majority of this interruption in Gun Control efforts can be attributed to the re-arming influence of the trio of major conflicts that the United States found itself embroiled in. War has a way of making it seem unreasonable to a nation’s people to be without the presence of a firearm. Americans had no way of knowing whether their own country was about to be invaded or attacked as so many others had been, and the resulting healthy paranoia led to a great national desire for firearms ownership.
Likewise, the relative absence of organized crime activity in this period as compared to the two preceding decades, and with no attempts at major political assassination attempts occurring at this time, meant that there was no great social impetus for another major push for Gun Control. Any minor attempts in this regard, and there were a few, can be attributed to a desire to disarm subversive groups and individuals, and because the notion was raised that firearms registration would be a helpful method of taking an inventory of privately owned arms which might be useful for national defense.
(It’s unclear to me whether Gun Control advocates of this era expected German spies to dutifully step forward and identify themselves before registering their guns or not. Also, it seems to me that if the situation in the American homeland were so dire as to require that every civilian’s private guns were called into action, why would it matter if they were registered? Any gun would be useful, registered or not.)
Americans saw what was happening in 1940 in Britain, and the news from that beleaguered little island was enough to douse the fires of gun grabbing activism for a long period of time. No one was going to take American citizens’ guns away during such a time or push any for legislation curtailing their Second Amendment rights. Britain had had strong anti-gun laws for decades prior to the outbreak of the war, and when Germany threatened, they were so desperate for weapons that many of the Home Guardsmen had old 18th-century muskets, or they had nothing at all. Many drilled with swords, clubs, or makeshift weapons. Begging Americans for help, they received 7,000 guns from the private ownership of U.S. citizens.
In the rest of Europe, the situation was similar. In every country they invaded, the Nazis immediately demanded registration of firearms, or more often, simply took them away. It at least some countries it seems that Hitler had issued a proclamation ordering the immediate surrender of guns and prescribing harsh penalties for those failing to comply. Carl Bakal, in his book (which has proven to be very popular for decades with the anti-gun crowd) The Right To Bear Arms, asserts that all Hitler had to do was issue his proclamation and everyone in the invaded countries turned in their firearms. History does not bear this out.
(I personally have read a fair amount about the French, Polish and Greek resistance movements in particular, and this was certainly not the case in those countries. The heroic members of those movements harassed the Nazis incessantly throughout the war, diverting badly needed military resources from the front lines, particularly emboldened after the Allied invasion of June 1944.)
Consider the mindset of a patriot whose country was invaded at that time. Some of the population, say 3% or so in the case of the American Revolution, (I’m tipping my hat here to the III% movement) will always resist to the death any invasion of their homeland. If they were facing a death penalty for resisting, why should they fear the same for merely keeping their guns?
(I also find Bakal’s conclusion that privately owned guns were inconsequential against an armed invasion to be ridiculous. If this was so, why did the Nazis confiscate them from the people in every country they invaded? Why do totalitarian governments always take them away immediately as a matter of course?)
Given all of this, it’s rather easy to understand why Americans in 1940 were very stridently opposed to any anti-gun laws at the time. When the United States entered the war on December 7th, 1941, this sentiment became even more fervent, as one might expect. The NRA suddenly lost a large measure of the stigma that had been attached to it in the 1930’s, as the many training films and manuals that they had created and provided free of charge were re-purposed for military use. They loaned over 150 shooting ranges for government use. They drew up plans for Home Guard units much like the English had, and the NRA even recruited dogs and trainers for Coast Guard Beach Patrols through its many contacts.
No mention could be found while researching this article of any public acknowledgment of the NRA’s contribution to the war effort by President Roosevelt, but President Truman did finally have this to say for them on November 14th, 1945:
“The National Rifle Association, in the periods between our last four wars, has done much to encourage the improvement of small arms and marksmanship in the Regular services, as well as in the National Guard, Reserve units, and the civilian population. During the war just ended, the contributions of the association... have materially aided our war effort. I hope the splendid program which the National Rifle Association has followed during the past three-quarters of a century will be continued. It is a program which is good for a free America.”
This was high praise not only for the NRA but for civilian gun ownership in general. During this mid-century period, it seemed that the lessons of the benefits of a well-armed citizenry had finally been learned, and after World War 2 and the Korean Conflict, and with the new Cold War looming, it took until the late 1950’s before the anti-gun crowd once again began to gain any traction with public opinion.
Perhaps with the absence of war for a period of time comes a sense of complacency, and memories fade about the threat faced by the nation just a few years earlier. But my research into news articles of the time don’t reveal a great deal of interest by the media in Gun Control, nor was there any significant rise in violent crime nor any political assassinations. Yet many polls of the time show a marked rise in public opinion favoring gun permits, and even one poll showing 59% of all respondent favoring a total ban on handguns. The only cause I have found at all was possible concern over the eruption of violence in the American south over the civil rights issue.
(I am left to conclude from my research that these polls were either inaccurate, worded with leading questions, or were blatantly untrue. All five of the Gun Control bills introduced in the late fifties died in committee. I believe that there was not yet any great interest in anti-gun legislation at this time and that the polls were simply a fabrication or at least a gross exaggeration.)
The Turbulent 1960’s
(Or, We Can’t Trust You With Guns Because They Shot The President)
As one might expect, the turbulent 1960’s, a time of great social upheaval and questioning the norms of society, had its worst effects yet on gun rights. The multiple and sensational political assassinations and widespread urban violence of the time caused many to turn their attention to the firearms question and lay the finger of blame squarely on the gun as the culprit, rather than examining the underlying social issues causing the strife. A new wave of anti-gun fervor began with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, surely tied with the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese as the two most jarring and disturbing incidents in 20th century America.
And yet, the 1960’s began with a general feeling of harmony between pro-gun forces and gun opponents. Many on both sides believed that gun sales via mail were a problem. At this time, a prospective mail order gun buyer needed only to sign a statement that he was over 18 (or 21 if purchasing a handgun) and had not been convicted of a felony. No proof was needed. As the gun grabbers most often do, instead of trying to enforce an existing law with some certainty, a new push for legislation was made. Senator Thomas Dodd of Connecticut, concerned with the problems in mail order gun sales, co-authored the new S.1975 bill with support from the NRA; it merely required the addition of a notarized sworn statement to any mail order for a handgun.
The Kennedy assassination on November 22nd, 1963 kicked the 1960’s wave of anti-gun legislation into high gear. On November 27th, Dodd began with multiple amendments to his bill and coined the phase at this time of using a “tragic opportunity” to enhance it. The newly amended bill included all firearms, not just handguns, and the new affidavit to be added to any mail order now required the signature of the Chief of Police or Sheriff in the buyer’s town. The NRA soon requested and received the change that the buyer instead simply furnish the name and address of the law enforcement official, and that the seller must notify said official of the purchase. Even when the bill was further amended to include rifles and shotguns, it must be noted that the NRA still supported it — it was around this time that the NRA began to be accused of supporting some firearms legislative efforts, which was clearly not the case and this was even corroborated by Senator Dodd himself.
As public sentiment was growing in favor of more anti-gun legislation, many in the shooting community began to feel disenfranchised, fearing that very restrictive measures might soon be passed in the wave of emotion currently sweeping the nation in the wake of the Kennedy assassination. A rash of news articles supporting stricter gun laws swept through the media at this time, fueling their fears. One article in Newsweek pointed out that a .22 caliber pen gun was available via mail order (never mind that the actual pen gun displayed in the ad was useless as a weapon since it would only fire blanks).
Articles like this constantly attacked the "frontiersman” attitude of shooters who relied on the protection of the Second Amendment, saying that they, "...seem to miss the fact that the frontier is secure and the armed forces, National Guard and local police protect the nation…” (Really. So help me, I won’t even get started on trying to refute the stupidity of that statement....)
While this media frenzy was occurring and pressing for ever more strict anti-gun measures, Dodd’s bill actually gained little traction. Why this happened is difficult to ascertain, as it did have the backing of the NRA the arms industry and 78% of the population according to the (as mentioned before, unreliable) polls. S.1975 died at the end of the 88th Congress in 1964; Dodd replaced it with an identical bill in 1965, then withdrew it and replaced it with S.1592 at the request of the Johnson Administration.
Senate Bill 1592 would have completely outlawed all interstate mail order firearms sales and prevented importing any guns thought to be unsuitable for “sporting purposes” - meaning, handguns. Naturally, the shooting world and the NRA alike voiced a profound vocal opposition to the bill, but the Johnson Administration favored it and pushed its passage. The battle for this bill rang clear through the press in 1965 and 1966, until August of 1966, when Charles Whitman, a student at the University of Texas, shot 44 of his fellow students and killed 13 of them. The next day, seizing yet again upon a “tragic opportunity”, President Lyndon B. Johnson publicly called for gun registration and stricter gun laws.
As often follows these incidents, the media coverage overwhelmingly backed stricter gun legislation, and a poll taken at this time showed 68% of Americans favoring this. The only opposing opinion came from a National Review article by William Buckley, Jr., defending all of the usual reasons for keeping arms, and pointing out that no bill ever presented before Congress would have prevented Whitman from acquiring a gun.
Despite the massive boost from the media and the Whitman shooting, S.1592 made no more progress than did S.1975, but it did pave the way for further anti-gun legislation. Dodd introduced a third and similar bill, S.1, in 1967. This too made some headway with a push from the usual suspects in the media and the Johnson Administration but gained no significant ground until April 4th, 1968, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
This is part two in this series. Part three will focus on the history of gun control in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
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