By David Codrea
There’s an anniversary this year that gun owners need to observe, but not in celebration. 50 years ago, on October 22, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed The Gun Control Act of 1968 into law.
With it came the establishment of the mandatory Federal Firearms Licensing System for individuals and businesses “engaged in the business” of selling firearms. Loosely speaking the new law regulated interstate traffic in firearms and ammunition, ending the transfer of handguns between persons living in different states without FFLs on both ends. It also defined classes of “prohibited persons,” stopped the importation of surplus military weapons into the United States as well as guns and ammunition that did not meet “sporting” criteria, and established marking requirements. (It did plenty more. You can read the complete text and all the details by doing an internet search for Public Law 90-618).
So why did it pass?
“The Congress hereby declares that the purpose of this title is to provide support to Federal, State and local law enforcement official in their fight against crime and violence,” the decree proclaimed.
Like that would do it. But why was there a push for it then?
“After the assassinations of President John Kennedy, Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Gun Control Act is passed,” BATFE recalls on its website.
In other words, the political pressure was on to “do something,” a government response to media-fueled gun-grab lobby demands gun owners have become all too familiar with in recent years. That the “something” it enacts never works, but instead provides a launching platform for the next round of incremental edicts, is a lesson that is always (deliberately) ignored by those with the ultimate goal of citizen disarmament.
“It is not the purpose of this title to place any undue or unnecessary Federal restriction or burdens on law-abiding citizens with respect to the acquisition, possession or use of firearms appropriate to the purpose of hunting, trapshooting, target shooting, personal protection, or any other lawful activity, and … this title is not intended to discourage or eliminate the private ownership or use of firearms by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes,” the text disingenuously claimed.
Anybody buy that? And disregard that the Second Amendment makes no mention of hunting but does say “shall not be infringed.” They did.
What was coveted and what was settled for can be vastly different things. The principle architect of the bill made no secret of wanting the whole enchilada, a point latter day “commonsense gun safety law advocates” do their best to hide.
“In past years, Senator Thomas Dodd (D. – Conn.), well known for his anti-gun viewpoint, has ruled subcommittee hearings with an iron hand,” a Shooters Club of America alert in the January, 1968 issue of GUNS Magazine informed its readers. “He has said, ‘I would be for abolishing all guns … I never saw any sense in guns anyway, and I do not go backward by saying so. I hope some day the world will say, “Destroy them all”.’”
As an aside, this is the kind of history that very few today, even in the gun owner rights advocacy community, are aware of. Fortunately for us, this magazine has seen the value of posting its past issues going back to Volume One, No. 1-1, from January, 1955, available on the gunsmagazine.com website (scroll to the bottom and click on “Classic GUNS Magazine editions”). It also had the foresight to be a leader in keeping readers apprised of political developments, with profiles on politicians and editorial commentary on emerging threats, so that gun owners could keep informed and take appropriate action.
There’s another bit of history involving Dodd uncovered by the late Aaron Zelman, founder of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, and attorney Richard Stevens, in “‘Gun Control’ Gateway to Tyranny.”
“This former senator was a senior member of the U.S. team that helped to prosecute Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, Germany, in 1945-46,” JPFO explained. “We have documentary proof … that he had the original text of the Nazi Weapons Law [published in the March 22, 1938 Reich Law Gazette] in his possession…”
Then as now, what would a push for citizen disarmament be without Hollywood getting involved? Some of the names pushing for passage of the GCA ’68 are as surprising as they are disappointing. A June 12, 1968 White House Memorandum noted “At the President’s suggestion, [Motion Picture Association of America President] Jack Valenti has agreed to hold a luncheon … at which a number of famous movie actors – particularly those who play cowboys – will speak out in favor of the President’s gun control legislation.
Two actors suggested to read “pithy, one-page statements” were John Wayne and Charlton Heston. While, Wayne, to my knowledge, did not come out and publicly support the bill, Heston, Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, Hugh O’Brien and Kirk Douglas did.
Even the National Rifle Association initially supported Dodd’s efforts when they had been initially limited to halting mail order sales, no doubt significantly influenced by Lee Harvey Oswald getting his rifle from an ad in their magazine.
“We do think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States,” Executive Vice-President Franklin Orth stated at a Congressional hearing on banning mail order sales. And while the Association came around and fought passage of the final bill, manipulated public sentiment and momentum made its enactment unstoppable.
The disarmament formula that proved successful has stood the test of time: Exploit a crisis, pass infringements, lather, rinse, repeat, until freedom has gone down the drain. I can only wonder how the centennial of GCA ’68 will be “commemorated” 50 years from now, and what we gun owners can do to keep Dodd’s dream from becoming “our Posterity’s” nightmare.