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Chapter One: Soldiers to Lobbyists

An accepted truism of the firearms debate is that until the 1960s the National Rifle Association was merely a boys club for woods-frolicking hunters. In fact, the early members of the NRA—ex-military men, National Guardsmen and elected officials—had little use for hunters. Their primary concern was marksmanship—on the field of battle and in competition. And while in its early years the NRA endorsed, and even drafted, gun controls it opposes today, a disdain for such measures and a belief in the right of law-abiding citizens to own virtually all categories of firearms has remained constant throughout its history.

The founding fathers of the NRA, William Conant Church and George Wood Wingate, were both Union veterans of the Civil War. In 1863 Church became editor of the newly founded United States Army and Navy Journal and Gazette Of the Regular and Volunteer Services. In its pages, he championed the need for military marksmanship, as evidenced by the limited shooting skills of Union troops during the war. Church found a kindred soul in Wingate, by this time a captain in the New York State National Guard.

In August 1871 Church wrote, "An association should be organized ... to promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis. The National Guard is today too slow in getting about this reform. Private enterprise must take up the matter and push it into life."1

Church envisioned an association modeled on the National Rifle Association of Great Britain, which had been established in 1859 by officers of the country's volunteer militia. Clubs had been formed and ranges built throughout England to improve marksmanship and encourage participation by "citizen-soldiers."

On November 17, 1871, New York state granted the National Rifle Association a charter "to promote rifle practice, and for this purpose to provide a suitable range or ranges in the vicinity of New York...and to promote the introduction of a system of aiming drill and target firing among the National Guard of New York and the militia of other states."2

To raise money for range construction, the NRA turned to the New York Assembly. A friendly legislator introduced a bill requiring the state to allot $25,000 for the purchase of land for the NRA. The NRA agreed to contribute $5,000 as well as develop and manage the facility. To ensure the bill's passage, the NRA began a process it would perfect throughout the next century. Church publicized the measure in the Journal and encouraged that letters be written in support. With the state's money in hand, the organization purchased 70 acres of land in Long Island and christened the new range "Creedmoor".

By January 1873 the future looked bright: revenue from the previous year had totaled more than $37,000, most coming from National Guard members. But the NRA's quick rise came to an abrupt halt with the election of Alonzo Cornell as governor of New York.

As recalled in Americans and Their Guns, in a meeting with Wingate, Cornell made it clear that the NRA's admiration for the "citizen-soldier" was not universal. "The only need for a National Guard," said Cornell, "is to show itself in parades and ceremonies. I see no reason for them to learn to shoot if their only function will be to march a little through the streets." When Wingate argued the need for marksmanship training, Cornell "roared" back, "then we should take their rifles away from them and sell them to benefit the Treasury. It would be more practical and far less expensive to arm them with clubs which require no instruction in their use." The victim of poor economic times and an unsympathetic state government, by June 1892 the NRA had deeded Creedmoor to the state and suspended operations. Its records were put in storage and its shooting competitions exiled across the river and placed under the auspices of the New Jersey State Rifle Association. Yet by December 1900, in the wake of increased national interest in competitive shooting, the NRA was reactivated. The new NRA swore to fulfill its mandate to be a truly national organization, never again depending on the whims of a single state for its survival.


The Lost Opportunity

The passage of New York state's Sullivan Law in 1911, enacted after an assassination attempt on New York Mayor William Gaynor, prompted the NRA's first written criticism of gun control. A key component of the Sullivan Law was the issuance of a police permit before an individual could purchase a handgun. An editorial in the May 1911 edition of Arms and the Man (predecessor to the NRA's American Rifleman magazine) criticized the law, stating:

A warning should be sounded to legislators against passing laws which... seem to make it impossible for a criminal to get a pistol, if the same laws would make it very difficult for an honest man and a good citizen to obtain them. Such laws have the effect of arming the bad man and disarming the good one....3

In its early battles against gun control, the NRA was quick to blame another, more recent, technological innovation—the automobile. The auto had resulted in a new breed of armed criminal: mobile and able to evade capture by crossing jurisdictional lines. An April 1926 article in the American Rifleman cited the experiences of "veteran New York police instructor" John Dietz. Said Dietz:

It's the automobile that's making the going tough for the police—not the one-hand gun. A little job of bank-robbery with maybe a killing or two never bothered a crook. What worried him was the get-away. He couldn't make it in the horse and buggy days. But he can make it now with the fast auto.4

These views were echoed in the article by bank robber Emmett Dalton of the horse-bound Dalton gang, who stated:

A bunch of drug-store cowboys, hopheads and lounge lizards with automobiles can get away with something the hardest-boiled men of twenty years ago fell down on. Why, if our crowd had been supplied with automobiles we'd have moved the Capitol at Washington over across the river and carried the treasury building home with us. But in our day you had to depend on horses.

Reporter Wilbur Cooper, the article's author, dismissed gun control as an anachronistic approach favored by old-time cops more likely to rely on their fists than their guns. Wrote Cooper:

This is the day of bobbed hair, fast autos, flappers, bathing beauties, synthetic gin, easy money and beau brummel crooks. The old-time, two-fisted copper is as out of place as a hoop-skirt. The cops who will finally put the bee on crime will be hard-driving autoists with a shooting skill that will make robbery, hold-up and crime in general a precarious occupation. But it's easier—and cheaper for the present—to pass fool laws.5

Some found the NRA's logic more than a little difficult to follow. Testifying before Congress in 1934, NRA President Karl Frederick noted that "automobile owners are...as a class, a much more criminal body, from the standpoint of percentage, than pistol licensees."

"Do you make that statement seriously?" asked Democrat Robert Doughton of North Carolina.

"Yes, sir," replied Frederick.

"That the ordinary man who owns and operates an automobile is more likely to be a criminal than the man who arms himself?" asked Doughton.

"You have not kept the sharp lines of distinction," replied Frederick.

"They are too sharp for me to grasp," countered Doughton.6

The 1934 hearings stemmed from the wave of violence that had accompanied Prohibition as well as the interstate bank robbery sprees of such criminals as John Dillinger. This, coupled with an assassination attempt on President-elect Franklin Roosevelt in Miami the year before, increased pressure for federal gun controls. Testifying before the House Ways and Means Committee, Attorney General Homer Cummings warned:

There are more people in the underworld today armed with deadly weapons, in fact, twice as many, as there are in the Army and the Navy of the United States combined.... [T]here are at least 500,000 of these people who are warring against society and who are carrying about with them or have available at hand, weapons of the most deadly character. 7

Thus the Justice Department proposed a plan: the buyer of any machine gun, sawed-off shotgun or handgun would go through an application process that included fingerprinting, photographing, criminal background check and a tax on the weapon. To limit the availability of specific categories of firearms, while avoiding any perceived Second Amendment conflicts, the plan relied on the taxing powers of the Internal Revenue Service. For machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, silencers and other "specialty weapons," the tax would be $200. For handguns, which were not to be restricted, the tax was a dollar. If the licensed weapon was resold, the purchaser would have to go through a similar process. Hunting rifles and shotguns were exempted from regulation.

"Frankness compels me to say right at the outset," said Cummings, "that it is a drastic bill."8 The NRA agreed. Frederick warned that "in our opinion, little of value can be accomplished by Federal legislation at this point."9 In spite of this, NRA Executive Vice President Milton Reckord told the House Ways and Means Committee, 'We believe that the machine gun, submachine gun, sawed-off shotgun, and dangerous and deadly weapons could all be included in any kind of a bill, and no matter how drastic, we will support it."10 Reckord had promised that "the association I represent is absolutely favorable to reasonable legislation.' As proof, he cited the NRA's involvement in developing a previous law, the Uniform Firearms Act. The bill established a set of firearms laws for the District of Columbia and had been offered by the NRA as a model for other states. The D.C. law established a 48-hour waiting period for handgun sales; required a license to carry a concealed handgun; required the licensing of firearms dealers; banned the sale of machine guns, silencers and sawed-off shotguns; authorized additional penalties for criminals armed with firearms; banned the possession of handguns by persons convicted of a violent crime; and forbade handgun sales to minors, drug addicts or those "not of sound mind."

In reiterating his endorsement of the Uniform Firearms Act, Frederick made it clear that although the NRA had helped draft the law, it had little faith in its effectiveness. Its citation at the hearing was primarily to prove that the NRA officers were reasonable men and that their criticism of the proposed federal law should be viewed in this light.

During the hearings, the NRA applied the lessons it had learned in New York state to the federal legislators. Representative John McCormack, Democrat of Massachusetts, questioned Reckord about a telegram the congressman had received that morning from the West Coast urging him 'to give all possible consideration to recommendations proposed by [the] National Rifle Association." Regarding the stream of letters received by the committee, Reckord acknowledged that "in each State, or practically every State, we have a State rifle association, and we advised a number of those people that the hearing would be held today."

"Did you ask them to wire in here?" asked McCormack.

Replied Reckord, "I would say yes, probably we did...."

"Did you wire the people telling them what the [NRA] recommendations were going to be to the committee?" McCormack continued.

"No, except that the legislation is bad," said Reckord.

"And they blindly followed it?" asked McCormack.

"I would not say blindly," replied Reckord.

"They did not know when they sent the wires in what the association was going to recommend?" McCormack continued.

"Except that we were going to recommend legislation," Reckord replied."11

Reckord's moderate tone bore little resemblance to that of NRA publications regarding the bill. The May 1934 Rifleman warned that the measure's

viciousness ... lies not in what appears on the surface of the bill, but in the intent.... Its viciousness lies in the opportunity for disarmament by subterfuge. It is, therefore, of vital importance that those of our citizens who object to . . . [the bill] unless it be modified as requested by The National Rifle Association, or who would object to the bill even if so modified, communicate at once by telegram and special-delivery letter with both their Representatives and their Senators in Washington.12

The measure was eventually passed out of committee, but without the handgun provisions. This action outraged the gun control movement of the day—women's groups. At its convention, representatives of the two-million-member General Federation of Women's Clubs listened as Assistant Attorney General Joseph Keenan attacked the committee version of the bill. They then passed a resolution demanding passage of the bill in its original form. The NRA was angrily denounced by the convention's participants, and a telegram was sent to the committee members and congressional leaders expressing the "outrage" of the conventioneers over handguns being stripped from the bill. "Such deletion," read the telegram, "emasculates [the] bill and makes it a joke. We hold that the security and safety of the homes and families of all the people of this country and the protection of life and property for all the 120,000,000 of people in this land transcends the selfish interest of any organized small minority."13 It didn't work. In June 1934 the watered-down version of the bill, the National Firearms Act (NFA), was signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt.


Déjà Vu

The 1934 hearings stand not only as the great lost opportunity in the history of gun control, but as a reminder of how little has changed. Although licensing and registration schemes are of little value today, in 1934 America's handgun population was a fraction of today's 50 million to 70 million weapons. Cummings' regulation package would have allowed police to use licensing as a tool against illegally obtained handguns. In addition, as new hazardous weapons appeared on the market, taxes levied against them could have been increased to restrict availability.

Many of the controls proposed in 1934 might well have hindered the availability of the more powerful firearms found on American streets today. Discussions included the need to regulate high-capacity ammunition magazines and bulletproof vests. The committee considered, and abandoned, machine gun definitions that would have had a tremendous impact on today's firearms violence. Under the National Firearms Act, a machine gun is defined as "any weapon which shoots ... automatically more than one shot without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger." The committee had weighed other, more restrictive, definitions that would have capped civilian firepower. One would have classified "any weapon designed to shoot automatically or semiautomatically twelve or more shots without reloading" as a machine gun. A second would have classified as a machine gun "any weapon which shoots ... automatically or semiautomatically, more than one shot, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger." The first definition would have limited the public to weapons capable of holding only twelve rounds or less, the second would have limited it to single-shot weapons.

Other federal firearms legislation introduced that year, but not acted on, seems innovative even today: ammunition fired from the barrel of all handguns and machine guns sold would be kept on file, the weapon's "signature" available to aid in the tracing of guns used in crime; ammunition could be sold only to a licensed handgun owner, and then only in the caliber appropriate to the gun; and ammunition would have markings distinctive to specific regions of the country to aid police in criminal investigations.

Although the proposals themselves were innovative, the arguments in their favor have a familiar ring. Control advocates pointed to the licensing and regulation of cars and drivers as a useful analogy. Comparisons to the low murder and crime rates of European nations with strict handgun controls were also cited. A memorandum released at the hearings comparing the firearms laws and murder rates of Great Britain with those of the United States concluded that "it is unnecessary to discuss the infrequency of crimes committed with firearms in England, for repeated comparisons between such conditions there and in this country are becoming much too unpleasant for the law-abiding American citizen." 14 Nearly 60 years later little has changed.

In 1937 Attorney General Cummings again attempted to win support on Capitol Hill to bring handguns under the National Firearms Act umbrella. Said Cummings, "While the National Firearms Act has been of great assistance in the work of law enforcement, it is far too limited in scope. In some respects, small weapons are even a greater menace than machine guns, since they can be concealed with greater facility."15 The next year Congress moved to enact a new federal gun bill. It wasn't Cummings' handgun bill, but a compromise measure—drafted by the NRA. The Federal Firearms Act (FFA) of 1938 was the first attempt to regulate interstate and foreign commerce in firearms and ammunition. Manufacturers, importers and dealers were required to obtain annual licenses from the Internal Revenue Service (the annual dealer's fee was a dollar). The shipment of weapons to other than a licensed dealer or manufacturer in states that required a permit to purchase was banned. It also outlawed shipping firearms and ammunition to persons convicted or under indictment for a crime punishable by more than a year in prison, or a fugitive from justice. The law was, unfortunately, easy to circumvent—those in proscribed categories merely lied. In the 30 years following enactment of the FFA there was only one conviction of a purchaser for violating his state's permit law.

Although the FFA represented the final triumph of the NRA over the Justice Department, the organization failed in its attempts to repeal the 1934 machine gun law. As the result of complaints from the Justice Department, a section of the FFA overturning the 1934 law—which the NRA now described as a "very drastic act" with "many bad features"was removed.

Although the '40s and '50s were mostly uneventful as far as federal gun control was concerned, it was boom time at the NRA. After World War II NRA membership tripled, exceeding 250,000 in 1947. Starting in 1946 the organization finally began to expand beyond its historic base of military and civilian target shooters to include hunters. This new focus rose in part from the large number of World War II veterans who, having been exposed to firearms, had taken up hunting upon their return home. Shooting etiquette learned on the battlefield was, however, viewed less fondly on the homefront by the general public. As a result, the NRA instituted a hunter training program and began lobbying for mandatory hunter safety training in states.


The Assassination Years

This 30-year gun control lull came to an abrupt end on November 22, 1963, with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Lee Harvey Oswald had purchased his rifle, a Mannticher-Carcano, through an ad placed in the NRA's American Rifleman magazine. The ad read:

LATE ISSUE! 6.5 ITALIAN CARBINE. Only 36" overall, weighs only 5 1/2 pounds. Shows only slight use, lightly oiled, test fired and head spaced, ready for shooting. Turned down bolt, thumb safety, 6-shot, clip fed. Rear down sight. Fast loading and fast firing.

On March 12,1963, Oswald mailed the ad's coupon and a postal money order for $21.45 ($19.95 plus $1.50 postage and handling) to Klein's Sporting Goods Co. in Chicago. The gun was shipped via parcel post the same month.

According to journalist Robert Sherrill in his 1973 book, The Saturday Night Special, the NRA not only facilitated Oswald's gun purchase, but also aided in the development of the ammunition that would make this notoriously inaccurate gun more effective. During World War II the United States seized huge numbers of the rifles. When the government later decided to give a quantity of the guns to Greek anti-Communists, it worked with the NRA at Maryland's Aberdeen Proving Grounds to develop higher-quality ammunition that would improve the gun's accuracy. Some of the ammo eventually made its way onto the U.S. market and into Oswald's hands. When NRA Executive Vice President Franklin Orth told this story to a Senate staffer in the 1960s, he added, "Please don't tell anybody because we don't want to be hung with having been involved in producing the ammunition that killed the President."16

Even before the Kennedy assassination, Connecticut Democrat Thomas Dodd, chair of the Senate Judiciary Juvenile Delinquency Subcommittee, had begun investigating the role of mail-order firearms in crime. Although a 1927 law banned the mailing of concealable weapons, handguns and ammunition could still be shipped via common carrier. No restrictions existed regarding the shipment through the U.S. mail of rifles, shotguns and larger weapons. Mail-order sales had increased dramatically since the late 1950s and were an easy way for people in proscribed categories to get weapons. The committee also found that the import of foreign surplus weapons, including bazookas and anti-tank guns, had also ballooned and that the weapons were easily available through mail-order houses. A 1960s advertisement for a 60mm mortar labeled it

an ideal item for your den or front lawn... this is the perfect tool for getting even with those neighbors you don't like. Perfect for demolishing houses or for backyard plinking on Sunday afternoons.

After two and a half years of subcommittee investigation, Dodd introduced his bill, S. 1975, in August 1963. The bill banned the interstate sale of firearms to those under the age of 18 and required anyone purchasing a handgun interstate by mail to include with the order a signed affidavit attesting to their fitness to possess the weapon and identifying the purchaser's local law enforcement official. Prior to shipping, the dealer or manufacturer had to send a copy of the affidavit and a description of the weapon to the named officer. The bill, a limited measure, received the endorsement of both the NRA and the industry. Following the Kennedy assassination, Dodd, with the NRA's blessing, expanded the scope of the bill to include rifles and shotguns.

Although congressional mail initially ran eight to one in favor of the bill, the tide began to shift. Dodd and others pointed to the NRA as the source of the opposition. Testifying before Congress in January 1964, NRA President Bartlett Rummel denied any involvement:

We have not drummed up people from all over the country to contact you... we have made no concerted effort to bring pressure on Congress... these communications to you have more or less arisen spontaneously.

But while the NRA leadership voiced grudging support of the bill on Capitol Hill, it sent a different message to its 600,000 members. Although the NRA did not officially lobby, it spent $144,000 in 1963 alerting its members to proposed "anti-gun laws" so that they could "act quickly and decisively, in a well-organized manner, to defeat such threats" to the rights of "loyal Americans." S. 1975 died in committee. Dodd threatened an investigation "to identify and expose the activities of the powerful lobbyists who have successfully stopped gun legislation from being passed in every Congress."18 Nothing came of it.

On March 8, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson, linking "the ease with which any person can acquire firearms" to the country's rising violent crime rate, called for increased gun controls. The Johnson proposal would: ban mail-order firearms sales by requiring that interstate shipment of weapons occur only between licensed dealers, manufacturers and importers; increase the dealer licensing fee from a dollar to $100; ban the dealer sale of long guns to those under 18 and handguns to those under 21; and ban the import of surplus military weapons.19 Dodd introduced the president's bill, blaming prior defeats on "the blind, almost mindless, efforts of a segment of the gun enthusiasts, with their shabby, time-worn slogans."20 The next month the NRA urged its members to oppose the bill, warning that it could eventually ban "the private ownership of all guns" and would grant Treasury "unlimited power to surround all sales of guns by dealers with arbitrary and burdensome regulations ... if the battle is lost, it will be your loss, and that of all who follow."21 Responding to Dodd's charges that the letter mischaracterized the bill, the NRA's Orth asserted to Dodd that any errors were unintentional. Replied Dodd: "I don't think it was a mistake. Your readers apparently got an impression the writer intended."22 Testifying before Congress, James Bennett, former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, labeled the NRA leader's statement "sheer hypocrisy." And he said of Orth, "How can he come here with a straight face and try to disclaim this as unintentional, or weasel out of it...."23 Nonetheless, Dodd's bill once again died.

In fighting gun controls, the NRA was—and is—quick to portray the battle as one between true Americans, i.e., gun owners, and those who are either misguided or have some sinister intent. The most obvious beneficiary of an unarmed America, the NRA argued, would be Communists. The October 1967 Rifleman featured an article by NRA member John Persakis. Soon after arriving in New York as a Greek seaman in 1943, Persakis inadvertently found himself at a Communist cell meeting. A key component of the lecture, he recalled, was that all Communists should support gun control. When Persakis questioned the man next to him as to why he shouldn't own a gun, the man replied with a sinister undertone, "Oh, but we will have guns."24 This argument was expanded the next month with an NRA editorial titled "The Faces of the Opposition." The article featured caricatures of those who supported gun control: the do-gooder, the politician, the fanatic and the extremist. Said the NRA:

The anti-gun element wears several faces. There are the sincere faces of do-gooders, some of whom literally would not harm even a germ-laden fly. There are the cynical faces of politicians who would traffic in emotionalism to get votes. There are the over-tensed faces of fanatics ready to doom whatever they dislike—in this instance, firearms—and the calculating faces of extremists determined to destroy what we know and treasure as the American way of life. All of these people would like to bury our guns. Some of them would like to bury us, also.25

The NRA's ability to stop any gun control measure ended in 1968. On April 4, Martin Luther King was gunned down on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The next day the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968—which was amended to include a ban on the interstate sale and shipment of handguns—became the first firearms control bill to pass out of committee since 1938. On June 5, against a backdrop of urban rioting, New York Democratic Senator Robert Kennedy—who had just won the California presidential primary—was gunned down in Los Angeles by Sirhan Sirhan with a .22 handgun. He died the next day. That same day, the crime bill cleared Congress. It was signed into law on June 19. Although the public supported stricter gun controls (a January 1967 Gallup poll found that 70 percent believed that "laws concerning handguns should be more strict"), most Americans had never been motivated to act. Now they were. As historian Richard Hofstadter noted in 1970, after the killings "there was an almost touching national revulsion against our own gun culture."26 Letters poured into Capitol Hill while enraged citizens picketed the NRA's headquarters. "Can Three Assassins Kill a Civil Right?" asked the NRA in the July Rifleman. A besieged Orth promised that Kennedy's assassination could not have been prevented by any law "now in existence or proposed."27

After the Kennedy shooting, President Johnson called for extending the mail-order ban to include rifles and shotguns, the licensing of gun owners and the registration of firearms. Said Johnson, "Our citizens must get licenses to fish, to hunt and to drive. Certainly no less should be required for the possession of lethal weapons that have caused so much horror and heartbreak in this country."28 Testifying before Dodd's Senate subcommittee, NRA President Harold Glassen labeled the measure part of a conspiracy to "foist upon an unsuspecting and aroused public a law that would, through its operation, sound the death knell for the shooting sport and eventually disarm the American public."29 In a letter described by Maryland Democratic Senator Joseph Tydings as "calculated hysteria," the NRA warned its 900,000 members that "the right of sportsmen in the United States to obtain, own and use firearms for proper lawful purposes is in the greatest jeopardy in the history of our country.... [T]heir goal is complete abolition of civilian ownership of firearms. The situation demands immediate action by every law-abiding firearms owner in the United States."30

Both houses rejected LBJ's call for registration, due in large part to an NRA mail blitz. On October 10 Congress did extend the ban on interstate sales and shipment of handguns to include rifles, shotguns and ammunition. Over-the counter sales of long guns were permitted to residents of contiguous states as long as the sale did not violate the firearms laws of either state. Other components of the bill included: banning the importation of military surplus weapons; setting 18 as the minimum age for the purchase of a long gun; and setting new licensing and recordkeeping standards and fees for dealers, manufacturers and importers. Senate debate on the bill had begun with Dodd urging that the NRA—with its record of "blackmail, intimidation and unscrupulous propaganda"—be stripped of its tax-exempt status and its leaders forced to register as lobbyists.31 Johnson signed the legislation, the Gun Control Act of 1968, on October 22.

Besides banning the importation of surplus military weapons, the 1968 laws also outlawed the importation of Saturday Night Specials—inexpensive, short-barreled handguns with no sporting purpose made from inferior materials. A Saturday Night Special ban had received a surprising endorsement in the February 1968 Rifleman, with the NRA stating:

Shoddily manufactured by a few foreign makers, hundreds of thousands of these have been peddled in recent years by a handful of U.S. dealers. Prices as low as $8 or $10 have placed concealable handguns within reach of multitudes who never before could afford them. Most figure in "crimes of passion" or amateurish holdups, which form the bulk of the increase in violence. The Administration ... possesses sufficient authority to bar by Executive direction these miserably-made, potentially defective arms that contribute so much to rising violence.32

In a March Rifleman editorial noting the favor with which this stance had been greeted by the membership, the NRA reassured readers that the organization

does not necessarily approve of everything that goes "Bang!" Viewed realistically, junky .22 handguns that retail for as little as $7.98 . . . aren't suited for target shooting, handgun hunting, or police or protection purposes. Most honest-to-goodness gun owners wouldn't have one around. Yet the reckless use of such junk has harmed legitimate firearms ownership.33

Federal law, however, did not forbid the importation of the handguns' parts, which could then be assembled onto U.S.-made frames. Domestic production and assembly of the weapons soon jumped from 60,000 in 1968 to a million in 1970. The fact that the import of these handguns was banned while their domestic manufacture was allowed to continue (coupled with Dodd's hailing from the gun-producing state of Connecticut) led many in the industry to label the 1968 law a trade protection act for domestic handgun manufacturers, which, in effect, it was. As a result of the continued importation of the handguns' parts, Indiana Democrat Birch Bayh introduced a Senate bill to end the domestic production and sale of handguns that failed to meet a "sporting purposes" test as defined by the Secretary of the Treasury.

Support for the bill grew dramatically following the May 15, 1972, assassination attempt on Alabama Governor George Wallace. Wallace had been shot by 21-year-old Arthur Bremer in a Laurel, Maryland, shopping center with a short-barreled, .38 revolver. Following the shooting, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley commented, "I would hope this would be the opportunity to do some soul searching by the Congress to pass legislation to outlaw handguns."34

Building on the organization's 1968 endorsement of a Saturday Night Special ban, NRA Executive Vice President Maxwell Rich testified that "the National Rifle Association concurs in principle with the desirability of removing from the market crudely made and unsafe handguns." He noted that NRA publications did not accept advertising for such "junk guns" because "they have no sporting purpose, they are frequently poorly made, and they do not represent value received to any purchaser."35 When pressed by Bayh as to the NRA's willingness to support a ban on Saturday Night Specials, Rich responded, "On the Saturday Night Special, we are for it [banning] 100 percent. We would like to get rid of these guns."36 The measure was passed by the Senate 68 to 25 on August 9, 1972 but never came to a vote in the House. Rich's endorsement of, at least, the concept of banning Saturday Night Specials set forces in motion that would eventually lead to his ouster—and to the creation of the NRA we know today.


1. Trefethen, James, Americans and Their Guns, Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA (1967) at 34.

2. Ibid. at 10.

3. Leddy, Edward, Magnum Force Lobby, University Press of America, Lanham, MD (1987) at 83.

4. Cooper, Wilbur, "The Evolution of the Cop," American Rifleman, (April 1926 ) at 9.

5. Ibid. at 11.

6. House Hearings on National Firearms Act, (April/ May 1934) at 54.

7. Ibid. at 4.

8. Ibid. at 5.

9. lbid. at 59.

10. Ibid. at 81.

11. Ibid. at 63.

12. "Disarmament by Subterfuge," American Rifleman, (May 1934) at 4.

13. "Clubwomen Insist on Anti-Pistol Bill," NewYork Times, (May 25, 1934).

14. House Hearings on National Firearms Act, supra, at 28.

15. "Urges Firearms Act to Include All Kinds," New York Times, (May 5, 1937).

16. Sherrill, Robert, The Saturday Night Special, Charterhouse, New York (1973) at 168.

17. "No Action Taken to Regulate Firearms Shipments," Congressional Quarterly Almanac, (1967) at 272.

18. Ibid. at 273.

19. "Gun Control Bills Stalled by Stiff Opposition," Congressional Quarterly Almanac, (1965) at 861.

20. Ibid. at 641.

21. "Hearings Held on Administration Gun Bill," Congressional Quarterly Almanac, (1965) at 641.

22. Ibid. at 643.

23. Ibid. at 644.

24. "Oh, But We Will Have Guns," American Rifleman, (October 1967) at 53.

25. "The Faces of the Opposition," American Rifleman, (November 1967) at 18.

26. Hofstadter, Richard, "America as a Gun Culture," American Heritage, (October 1970) at 6.

27. "Shootings, Mail, Lobbying, Push Congress to Act," Congressional Quarterly Almanac, (1968) at 563.

28. "Gun Controls Extended to Long Guns, Ammunition," Congressional Quarterly Almanac, (1968) at 553.

29. Ibid. at 558.

30. "Shootings, Mail," supra, at 564.

31. "Gun Controls Extended," supra, at 560.

32. "Are We Really So Violent?" American Rifleman, (February 1968) at 16.

33. "Restraint on TV, Cheap Handguns Wins Favor," American Rifleman, (March 1968) at 15.

34. "Daley Asks Handgun Curb," New York Times, (May 17,1972).

35. Senate Hearings on Saturday Night Special Ban, (September 13, 1971) at 315.

36. Ibid. at 323.