Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Secrets of Gun Control 2 of 3

This is a continuance of Monday’s post based upon a great article from The Atlantic by Adam Winkler entitled The Secret History of Guns.

Hard-line gun-rights advocates portray even modest gun laws as infringements on that right and oppose widely popular proposals—such as background checks for all gun purchasers—on the ground that any gun-control measure, no matter how seemingly reasonable, puts us on the slippery slope toward total civilian disarmament.

From the other side of the street, those who advocate for gun control, claim that the Second Amendment was intended to insure a militia that could protect the people from interior or exterior threats.

We  will never know the intentions of those who wrote the constitution, but what is historically proven is that the Founding Fathers put into place gun laws and limitations that would probably see their NRA membership revoked today.

True, preventing slaves and free blacks access to arms was clearly to uphold a racist regime, or law-abiding white men who refused to swear loyalty to the Revolution, is hardly the kind of gun control that many of us seek. (I couldn’t find if women were allowed to carry arms, and if not then, when. Anyone know?).

What I also found interesting is that the Founders had their own version of “individual mandate” (and I thought you were being original, President Obama with your health-care-reform law). The Founding Fathers “actually  required the purchase of guns. A 1792 federal law mandated every eligible man to purchase a military-style gun and ammunition for his service in the citizen militia. Such men had to report for frequent musters—where their guns would be inspected and, yes, registered on public rolls.”

After a famous public altercation in February 1967 (in Oakland, Left Coasters) between a lawyer for the Black Panthers and a police officer, “Republicans in California eagerly supported increased gun control. Governor Reagan told reporters that afternoon that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” He called guns a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” In a later press conference, Reagan said he didn’t “know of any sportsman who leaves his home with a gun to go out into the field to hunt or for target shooting who carries that gun loaded.”

While the NRA is the clear leader against gun control it was not always so intransigent. In fact, throughout the 1920’s and 30’s the organization often led gun control legislative initiatives.

“The organization’s president at the time was Karl T. Frederick, a Princeton and Harvard-educated lawyer known as “the best shot in America”—a title he earned by winning three gold medals in pistol-shooting at the 1920 Summer Olympic Games. As a special consultant to the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, Frederick helped draft the Uniform Firearms Act, a model of state-level gun-control legislation.”

This included:

1. No individual could carry concealed in public without a permit from the local police. Such a permit could only be received by a “suitable” person with a “proper reason for carrying” a firearm.

2. Gun dealers were required to report to law enforcement every sale of a handgun.

3. A two-day waiting period on handgun sales was to be strictly adhered to.

In 1934 Frederick stated that he did “not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.” Milton A. Reckord, the organization’s executive vice president told a congressional committee that the NRA was “absolutely favorable to reasonable legislation.”

On Monday, we shall see how the NRA continued to be an active partner in the passage of gun control.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

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