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Ronald Reagan: Gun Control Advocate

[ 81 ] December 26, 2012 |

Adam Winkler reminds us of something always worth remembering: Ronald Reagan advocated for gun control.

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.” The Mulford Act, he said, “would work no hardship on the honest citizen.”

Now of course context is always important. Reagan was responding to black people defending themselves against institutionalized racism by carrying firearms. As Winkler notes, the history of gun control and race in this country is deeply intertwined as racists and conservatives wanted to ensure their power over African-Americans by keeping the weapons in the hands of whites. Challenging that paradigm was central to the Black Panthers’ ideology. How many of today’s gun nuts would be happy to pass laws restricting the rights of black people (or liberals) to own firearms remains unknown, but there’s no question that at the center of today’s gun culture, with an increasing divide between gun owners and non-gun owners that reflects larger partisan divides in American politics and life, that the need and even requirement to use violence to protect “our way of life” (read white, Christian, conservative) is at the heart of the movement. Thus the threats against President Obama, the very real and non-metaphorical eliminationist language, and the deep-seated fear at the heart of the rhetoric.

It’s also very much worth noting that the NRA traditionally supported gun control as well. The organization’s current extremism only dates to the 1970s, a period where not coincidentally, conservative whites were increasingly nervous about the direction of the country, what with the blacks and the gays and feminists and the UFW hunger strikes and such.

I also appreciate Winkler closing his piece with a shot at Scalia’s so-called originalism, which of course means nothing more than the august jurist claiming the Founders believed the current Republican policy positions of the moment.


Comments (81)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Doesn’t matter what the original subject is, it’s always about race, even when it’s really not.

  2. Uncle Kvetch says:

    Thus the threats against President Obama, the very real and non-metaphorical eliminationist language, and the deep-seated fear at the heart of the rhetoric.

    Tangentially related: I learned during our Christmas visit that my father — a non-gun-owner who generally skews wingnut while never quite going all-out — believes that there’s a very real chance of civil war in the US in the next 4 years. Because Obama is hell-bent on turning us into a European-style socialist country and a lot of people are going to see no alternative but to secede.

    It’s gettin’ freaky out there. And not in a good way.

  3. Semanticleo says:

    All RWR was sign the Bill by Don Mulford,another Republican. As usual, it’s difficult to tell one player from another without a program. This was an interesting adjunct to his career.

    In 1961, he angered many at UC Berkeley by demanding that university President Clark Kerr cancel a speech by Frank Wilkinson, a longtime foe of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Kerr refused.

    Read more:

    It’s still difficult to tell who the good guys are.

  4. bradP says:

    If you do get your gun bans and regulations, you can count on the suburban/rural gun owners to refuse to comply but scream like hell for enforcement.

    They don’t really know what enforcement is.

  5. FLRealist says:

    I was recently sitting in the doctor’s waiting room when the news announced that Dick’s Sporting Goods was pulling guns off their shelves due to the Newtown shooting. A sweet-looking older lady started ranting about how the government was taking her guns away, and how was she supposed to have protection agaainst the new world order.

    She completely missed the part that a private company was choosing not to sell guns, and that the government wasn’t involved at all.

  6. Major Kong says:

    I know it’s been said before but Reagan would never make it through a Republican primary today.

    • MAJeff says:

      Later Alzheimer’s Reagan may have still been too coherent for this party.

    • Murc says:

      I always think this statement needs some unpacking, not to be more fair to Republicans, but to highlight the fact that after getting the shit kicked out of them by the New Deal coalition, they spent forty or so years lying their asses off to stealth into office.

      It is true that the platform Reagan ran on in both California and nationally, as well as many of his policies enacted while Governor and President, would get him drummed out of the Republican Party as a liberal sell-out today. It is also true that in many ways Nixon governed to the left of both Clinton and Obama.

      But they only did that because they felt the national consensus at the time forced them to. Moderate Republicans existed; John Chafee is the example I always go to. But neither Reagan, nor Nixon, nor their fellow travelers, were of that stripe. They were opportunistic liars who ran EXACTLY as far to the left as they felt they needed to while still speaking in code to let the crazies know they were on-side.

      If Reagan were running today, he would basically be running on a Paul Ryan platform, but probably even crazier.

  7. James E Powell says:

    How much was the support for the “assault weapons” ban in the 90s influenced by the fear of crack-fueled gangs in possession of such weapons? I don’t recall what led to the ban or why the NRA lost that battle.

  8. Data Tutashkhia says:

    High inequality, growing uncertainly. The middle-class is anxious.

    Take any place, like Newtown, CT, with the median household income over $100K – and I bet you’ll find a large ghetto-like area within a 50-mile radius. New Haven, in this case.

    Scary shit. It’s intuitively obvious that one of these days ghetto people will take that half-hour ride, come, cut your throat, rape your wife, and take your stuff. In fact, it’s surprising they haven’t done it yet.

    So, you need guns, and plenty of them, to protect yourself, your family, and your property. Your way of life. Handguns, automatic rifles, hand grenades, everything.

    As long as this is the case, the NRA will flourish, and a once in a while massacre is not going to change anything.

    • Vance Maverick says:

      It makes intuitive sense, but I think the pattern of fear you describe goes right back to the era of the Black Panthers and white flight. The Great Divergence starts a bit later.

      • Data Tutashkhia says:

        The Black Panthers was an organized resistance movement, and that, obviously, works against the “gun rights”. The Mulford act makes perfect sense in that context.

        But there isn’t any of that now. Ghetto people only use guns to kill each other; who cares.

    • Murc says:

      Scary shit. It’s intuitively obvious that one of these days ghetto people will take that half-hour ride, come, cut your throat, rape your wife, and take your stuff. In fact, it’s surprising they haven’t done it yet.

      This is also the reason we can’t have nice mass transit in this country. Atlanta keeps trying, but the entire Greater Atlanta area screams out in horror for decent mass transit.

      But it can never get the funding, and the people opposing it are quite open about why; they don’t want poor people to be able to transit between the city and the suburbs easily.

    • Jon H says:

      “Take any place, like Newtown, CT, with the median household income over $100K – and I bet you’ll find a large ghetto-like area within a 50-mile radius. New Haven, in this case.”

      Bridgeport’s bigger and closer. Waterbury is smallish but also closer.

    • Jon H says:

      Then again Cheshire’s right up I-84 from Newtown, and the infamous home invasion/rape/murder/arson there was committed by two white guys, one of whom was raised in Cheshire (median income $99,000 home of ESPN’s Chris Berman, etc).

    • J. Otto Pohl says:

      Except bad people like to prey on poor people because they generally lack the resources to defend themselves. In this case the resource they generally lack is good police protection. So it really is not worth the effort of the bad guys to go all the way to the rich areas where there is a considerably greater chance of getting snagged by the police. It is easy to continue to rob the hard working, but not very rich people in the ghetto on a regular basis.

      • The Dark Avenger says:

        The Bling Ring was composed of upper-middle class teens who used the resources of the Internet in preying upon their celebrity victims:

        The Bling Ring, sometimes called the “Hollywood Hills Burglar Bunch”, “The Burglar Bunch”, or the “Hollywood Hills Burglars”, were a group, mostly of teenagers based in and around Calabasas, California, who burgled the homes of several celebrities over a period believed to have been from around October 2008 through August 2009. In total, their activities resulted in the theft of about $3 million in cash and belongings, most of it from Paris Hilton, whose house was burgled several times. However, over 50 homes were reportedly targeted for potential burglary. Nancy Jo Sales, who covered the story for Vanity Fair, called the events “completely unprecedented in the history of Hollywood”.

        They reportedly found Ms. Hilton’s cocaine stash, and pronounced it superior……………

        • J. Otto Pohl says:

          But, these were not bad people having to make a long trip from the ghetto. Much easier to be an upper class white teen walking around Ms. Hilton’s hood than a Black or Latino guy. In that case you do not have to even commit a crime to draw police attention. There is much less chance anybody is going to hassle you for robbing other Black or Latino people.

          • The Dark Avenger says:

            these were not bad people

            Diana Tamayo

            Diana Tamayo was, in 2008, the student body President at Indian Hills, where she had been voted “best smile”, and been awarded a $1,500 “Future Teacher” scholarship after graduation. She was also known for getting into fights, and according to police is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico.

            and even upper-class criminals need a fence:

            Johnny Ajar

            Ajar, a former convict nicknamed “Johnny Dangerous”, is not believed to have participated in the burglaries, but was recruited by Ames, his girlfriend, to sell some of the stolen items for cash. He was raised in housing projects around Reseda, outside of the group’s community, the son of a career criminal and drug addict. He had previously spent two years in federal prison, having been convicted for drug trafficking in Wyoming at age 22. Ajar first met Ames and her friends at a nightclub called The Green Door and allowed them access, even though they used fake identification documents. At the time of the burglaries, he worked as a promoter for club Les Deux Café.[7][8][12] He was eventually sentenced to three years in prison

            Roy Lopez, Jr.

            Lopez and Ames had worked together at a restaurant and bar in Calabasas. Ames had recruited him as a reseller, and he also participated in burgling at least one victim, Paris Hilton, from whom he is alleged to have stolen $2 million in jewelry, which he carried out with him in a Louis Vuitton bag.[10] He was unable to sell most of it.

            It’s okay to be Latino/Asian/African-American, etc, in upper-class places in LA, as long as one doesn’t dress as one does in Reseda. In this case, class trumps race, a shocking finding for one of your sensibilities, Prof. Pohl.

  9. Joe says:

    Ronald Reagan also supported the ’94 assault weapon law & that wasn’t anywhere as tainted by racism. Also, the Brady law.

  10. Joe says:

    So, the current Republican platform is …

    prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

    and laws against concealed weapons apparently (another thing Scalia cited) and vague “dangerous and unusual” weapons? Does the NRA know this?

    • Joe says:

      The “shot” was less partisan, but even there, Scalia’s “originalism” is not merely what was in place in 1791 but when there is no clear rule, that history can be a judge.

      The correct way to criticize that is that he selectively cites history but Heller does provide some citations for the regulations in question. Concealed weapons bans were presumptively allowed in a ruling over a hundred years ago. I doubt the others were merely “products of the 20th century” either.

      Guns were banned from certain public areas in the 19th Century. Dealers were regulated. I would be surprised if there were no “license” laws for dealers too. Winkler’s book was quite good and surely these regulations develop over time. I realize Scalia invites this sort of thing given some of his rhetoric.

      • Semanticleo says:

        Guns were banned from certain public areas in the 19th Century.

        I guess you would be referring to Tombstone, where the Law of the Earps held sway over the Clantons, which was like the Crips disarming the criminal Bloods.

        • Joe says:

          I’m not talking about any one place. “Gun free zones” is not a 20th Century creation.

        • DrDick says:

          Most of the Western cowtowns had bans on guns in town.

          • The Dark Avenger says:

            Ya Think?

            George Hoyt shooting

            At about 3:00 in the morning of July 26, 1878, George Hoyt (spelled in some accounts as “Hoy”) and other drunken cowboys shot their guns wildly, including three shots into Dodge City’s(KS) Comique Theater, causing comedian Eddie Foy to throw himself to the stage floor in the middle of his act. Fortunately, no one was injured. Assistant Marshal Earp and policeman James Masterson responded and “…together with several citizens, turned their pistols loose in the direction of the fleeing horsemen.” As the riders crossed the Arkansas river bridge south of town, George Hoyt fell from his horse from weakness caused by a wound in the arm he had received during the fracas. Hoyt developed gangrene and died on August 21. Earp claimed to have sighted on Hoyt against the morning horizon and to have fired the fatal shot, but Hoyt could easily have been shot by Masterson or one of the citizens in the crowd.

            I thought you’d find this interesting, DrDick, speaking of Western cowtowns:

            In 1878, Mark B. “Chuck” Warren came from San Bernardino to Yucca Valley. Warren dug a well at what is now the Yucca Valley Airport — important in a place thirsting for water. The watering hole was a way station for travelers, and later a stagecoach stop. It also became known as a roundup point for cowboys driving herds of cattle to summer pastures at Big Bear or to the railroad at Victorville.

            This is high desert folks, Big Bear is up in the SB Mountains.

            The Big Bear Lake area was first discovered by American explorers when an Indian-hunting party was formed by Benjamin Wilson. Wilson moved to California during the days of Mexican territorial Alta California. He married into the Spanish landholder family, the Yorbas, and bought a portion of Rancho Jurupa (Riverside) from Juan Bandini. He became a local rancher statesman of great repute.

            Wilson had signed on as Justice of the Peace of the Inland Territory and was commissioned by the territorial authorities to locate and pursue Native Americans suspected of raiding ranches in nearby Riverside. This group, led by the fierce Chief Walkara, drove the herd into the Lucerne Valley on the north side of the San Bernardinos. Wilson gathered a posse of 44 men, 22 of whom he sent through the Cajon Pass while he engineered a pincer movement with the other 22 men into the headwaters of the Santa Ana River, effectively cutting the Utes off at the other end of Lucerne.

            On the trip Wilson came upon a broad watershed teeming with wildlife, particularly bear. His posse immediately became a hunting party where the men were split into 11 pairs, each pair bringing back a bear hide. Wilson dubbed the grassy expanse “Bear Valley” and one of the nearby shallow seasonal marshes “Big Bear Lake”. This same ephemeral feature is today called Baldwin Lake after Elias J. “Lucky” Baldwin of Rancho Santa Anita fame, who bought the nearby Gold Mountain Mine that was renamed for him in 1876. On Wilson’s return trip (the posse had presumably lost interest in tracking renegade Indians), the party took 11 more bear pelts

      • Murc says:

        It’s worth nothing, I think, that arms control laws have a long history in the western world.

        People think of the Middle Ages as this time period when anybody could own a sword or a bow and be a manly badass. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Walking into a town openly carrying a blade was a great way to get arrested if you weren’t of the appropriate social class, and so much as owning a bow was flat-out illegal across wide swathes of Europe. You might use it to poach his lordships game.

        The post-enlightment era has actually seen the democratization of firepower on a far wider scale than it historically existed.

        • burritoboy says:

          Machiavelli himself was the pioneer of the citizen-army, and encouraged the citizenry of Florence to own weaponry, as opposed to relying on mercenaries. His citizen army still got it’s ass handed to it, but the idea got a lot of interest at the time.

        • Major Kong says:

          On a side note it took the better part of a lifetime to train a longbowman. They needed the upper-body strength to handle a bow with up to 180 pounds of draw*

          *Historians differ as to the draw strength of an English longbow.

          • Murc says:

            And a single bow wouldn’t last him his entire life. We have functional firearms that are over 200 years old and still using all original parts; a wooden bow, even meticulously maintained and well-constructed, stops being functional after a few decades.

  11. Manju says:

    Now of course context is always important. Reagan was responding to black people defending themselves against institutionalized racism by carrying firearms.

    This is a good argument. It has the virtue of being factually accurate.

    I would like to encourage this.

  12. Manju says:

    As Winkler notes, the history of gun control and race in this country is deeply intertwined as racists and conservatives wanted to ensure their power over African-Americans by keeping the weapons in the hands of whites.

    “Out of the hands of blacks” may be more historically accurate during the civil rights era than “in the hands of whites”. I mean, that was the whole point of the Reagan anecdote. Allow me to present more data.

    I took any Senator who voted against any Civil Rights Act from 1957-1968…including cloture on the 1964cra and 1965vra, thus bringing in more than the usual suspects. Then I pulled their votes on the 1968 Dodd Gun Control Act, which the Senate approved on 9-18-68.

    AL Aye [D] Joseph Hill
    AL Aye [D] John Sparkman
    AR Nay [D] John McClellan
    AR Dnv [D] James Fulbright
    FL Aye [D] George Smathers
    FL Aye [D] Spessard Holland
    GA Aye [D] Herman Talmadge
    GA Nay [D] Richard Russell
    LA Nay [D] Allen Ellender
    LA Dnv [D] Russell Long
    MS Nay [D] John Stennis
    MS Nay [D] James Eastland
    NC Aye [D] Samuel Ervin
    NC Aye [D] Benjamin Jordan
    SC Nay [D] Ernest Hollings
    SC Nay [R] Strom Thurmond
    TN Aye [D] Albert Gore
    TX Aye [R] John Tower
    VA Aye [D] William Spong
    VA Aye [D] Harry Byrd
    AZ Nay [R] Paul Fannin
    AZ Nay [D] Carl Hayden
    DE Aye [R] John Williams
    IA Aye [R] Bourke Hickenlooper
    IA Aye [R] Jack Miller
    ND Nay [R] Milton Young
    NV Aye [D] Howard Cannon
    NV Nay [D] Alan Bible
    OR Dnv [D] Wayne Morse
    UT Dnv [R] Wallace Bennett
    WV Aye [D] Robert Byrd

    16 = Supported Gun Control
    11 = Opposed
    4 = Did not vote

    The ’68 Act is generally seen as a response to the 60’s era assassinations. How much a role fear of armed blacks played, I haven’t the slightest. But LBJ had strong provisions in his War on Poverty legislation that circumvented state and local authorities. I assume the same was true about Gun Control, but I don’t know for sure.

    Assuming that’s true, I don’t see how the majority of civil rights opponents here planned to keep guns “in the hands of whites.”

    • Murc says:

      I hate to admit it, but I think Manju is right about this.

      Remember, the New Deal itself had to be watered down because racist shitbags basically told FDR and the rest of the Democratic Party in general “If you give us the choice between blacks getting a taste of the pie, and there being no pie at all, we will take the no pie option.”

      If it were possible to structure gun control laws in an explicitly racist way, they’d have done it. Since that wasn’t possible, they did not, preferring restricting gun rights in general to letting the darkies keep asserting themselves.

  13. max says:

    How many of today’s gun nuts would be happy to pass laws restricting the rights of black people (or liberals) to own firearms remains unknown

    But we DO have that: it’s called restricting felons from buying guns. (Follow it through: there are felons. There are felons who have committed murder, armed robbery and the like – most of them are in jail. Most of the rest of the felons did crimes involving stealing or drugs, neither being violent crimes. Now consider the fact that Heller says owning and bearing arms is a fundamental right (unlike voting!), but nonetheless, the NRA is totally fine with banning felons from having guns (and said group presumably includes G. Gorden Liddy). I am pretty sure that convicted felons who are not on probation or parole don’t have their freedom of association/freedom of speech/freedom of religion rights (fundamental rights, mind) restricted.

    Additional fun points: the South is a prison state rivaling North Korea and a majority of prisoners are black, and also consider that all the big massacres of the last few years have been conducted by (mostly white!) people who were not convicted felons.

    I can say for certain how many gun nuts would support keeping weapons away from blacks/dems/libs/hispanics/etc.: almost all of them.

    [‘Sorry for the lateness.’]

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