The Battle in 1968

Extranos Alley looks at the battle over the Gun Control Act in 1968. Here, Franklin Orth, NRA President at the time, speaks out against it. One of the best articles I think that can be found on GCA ’68 resides here:

The shift, by the leadership of the National Rifle Association (NRA), from cautious support for the original Dodd Bill to modest opposition of Senate Bill 1592 foreshadowed the most significant and lasting change in the dynamics of gun control policy to occur in the twentieth century. The NRA and firearms [Page 81] manufacturers had supported Dodd’s original bill and the subsequent addition of interstate controls on long guns.[18] Although the official organ of the NRA, The American Rifleman, indicated otherwise, the NRA leadership displayed some willingness to compromise with Dodd as late as 1965.[19] Negative response by the membership precipitated a subsequent reversal of direction by the NRA leadership.[20] This uprising by a significant portion of the NRA membership owed much to the development of a specialized gun press that catered to the most avid of gun enthusiasts.[21] The editorial staffs of magazines such as Guns, Guns and Ammo, and Gun Week inalterably opposed gun control in any form and benefited from heightened interest in gun issues.[22] By 1965, the leadership and membership of the NRA divided along a fault line separating those tolerant of moderate increases in gun control from those opposed to any significant change in the law.[23] Although the NRA leadership responded to this internal pressure with increased opposition to new legislation, their policy shift failed to satisfy a powerful segment within the membership. This internal dissatisfaction within the NRA provided the impetus for a 1977 coup by the libertarian faction within the organization and the ouster of the more moderate old guard.[24] Although the relations between Chairman Dodd and the NRA witnesses remained marginally cordial during the 1965 hearings, the atmosphere had begun to chill. Any hope of compromise between advocates of stricter gun control and the NRA ended after 1965.

My understanding is that a big portion of what drove the 1977 Cincinnati Revolt was the fact that NRA leadership was planning to move NRA Headquarters from Rhode Island Avenue in Washington DC to Colorado Springs, not far from a new deluxe shooting facility that would later become The Whittington Center, where it would get out of politics and focus mostly on sports, recreation and conservation. Maxwell Rich was NRA’s Executive VP at the time (Wayne’s job now), and I’ve always been amazed our opponents never made him an honorary Brady Campaign Board Member. If he had succeeded, they probably would have won.

16 thoughts on “The Battle in 1968”

  1. It’s always nice to be reminded why I’m not an NRA member. “Support the NRA to help undo stuff supported by the NRA!”

        1. And as you I think, or at least others have pointed out, the Feds were well on the way to extinguishing the nation’s gun culture before the FOPA of 1986 seriously revised the worst of the GCA of ’68s excesses. The FOPA truly made a big difference, even if we mostly remember it for legalizing interstate transport.

    1. Indeed; as I keep pointing out, prior to the Clinton “assault weapons” ban no major piece of Federal gun control legislation passed without their approval. Plus we would have been saddled with a horrible “Veterans Disarmament Law” if the NRA’s post-Virginia Tech “compromise” with our favorite NY single issue “shoulder thing that flips up” Congresswoman had passed in its original form.

      For me, I’ve gone from total opposition to viewing them as on probation. My father was so disgusted with their playing the pork game with Harry Reid that he’s stopped sending them any money beyond membership dues. He was upset with the … optics (the idiots trumpeted it in the member’s magazines) and reality of that, although it should be noted Reid was a gun grabber until less than a decade ago.

      Reid’s an example of how we don’t need angels in government so much as we need to make the facts on the ground such that even low level enemies like him or Romney will do the right thing (e.g. the unprompted (as far as we could tell) insertion of firearms owner protections in Obamacare). There’s a good quote from a Founder as I recall to this effect.

      The same might hold true for the NRA’s real leadership (a board with more than a handful of members is always a warning sign of who really runs an organization; 75 is astoundingly beyond the pale), which is a good thing since they’ve made sure another Cincinnati Revolt is impossible. That happened for the reasons Sebastian cites (I was a member then): as difficult as it is to believe, at the height of a national peak in gun control hysteria the NRA was planning on getting out of the messy business of politics….

      1. About 2.5 hours. Whenever I was driving to the Springs from the Dallas area getting to Raton meant you were almost there (the first 8 hours or so of the ~14 hour drive were spent getting to the NM border).

  2. Small point. The shooting community was essentially flying blind.

    In the 1960’s, Guns, Guns and Ammo, Gun World, and the independent gun press had a 90 to 120 day lead time from acceptance of an item to the magazine’s appearance at the local newsstand. The original Gun Week, published by the same Chagrin Falls, Ohio company that published Coin Week, had a two to three week lead from an event to the paper’s delivery to the USPS, and up to another ten days to delivery.

    Those familiar with the near instant transmission of legislative warnings cannot imagine the frustration of waking up one morning, tuning the 40 Meter Amateur Radio band, and discovering GCA’68 had passed with no newspaper or network notice of debate. And no real opportunity to let our Congressman and Senators know of our opposition.


    1. On the other hand, wasn’t first class mail faster in those days (to alert the membership)? Long distance phone calls were a lot more expensive, though (to inform your Congresscritters of your displeasure … but it wouldn’t have taken many calls, I would expect). I think it’s more a general learning curve thing plus of course the NRA getting serious about the issue, plus related cultural changes (e.g. Charlton Heston as part of a group of Western actors lobbied for the GCA of ’68). We started winning big before the Internet made lightening fast mass communication omnipresent.

      You might sat that the latter has done is to further help reveal the “revealed preference” of the nation on this issue; as Sebastian and Bitter keep pointing out, we’ve got the numbers, the gun control movement is purely one of a small number of self-styled elites.

      1. BTW: Back as late (or as recently) as the late 70’s and early 80’s you had to use/gain access to a WATS line to get inexpensive long-distance calling, and that was mainly available only to commercial (and University-connected) users. It’s one of the big reasons Wozniak and the earliest hackers were phone-hackers – and invented the Cap’n Crunch unit, to make free calls and freak AT&T.

  3. Just to add to historical perspective, from memory of the times:

    I first became an NRA member in 1963 when I turned 18. As I remember, despite the American Rifleman having a monthly feature “A Court Case of Consequence,” to my memory during the ’60s the NRA provided relatively little, and mostly mild, commentary on the developing gun control battle. The “firebrand” quality of propaganda (and I mean that in a positive way) came out of publications like Guns and Ammo. I remember G&A having some sort of “gun rights” kit that you could send in for, that included things like little stickers that said “Support your right to keep and bear arms!” That was c. 1962, and I remember handing them out in high school, guys pasting them all over the school, and girls pasting them on their purses.

    In any case, it certainly seemed that the NRA came to the game late and with a great deal of uncertainty about what it wanted. But that was in the day when to become a member, you had to have an LEO, military officer, or some other such dignitary sign off on your application. Or, very shortly after that day.

    1. Your memory is correct, or at least according to my memory of reading in the ’80s a bunch of American Rifleman issues from the ’60s a friend bought me at a flea market or the like. It was a very different world then … heck, the AR was very interested in Vietnam combat as it related to guns and infantrymen. Has that sort of thing been a topic in the last decade?

  4. Since we’ve started down memory lane I thought I’d add the following:

    I’ve heard it claimed that the reason the NRA supported the original Dodd bill was that they were told covertly that they would get to administer (in some way) whatever federal gun control program was put in place.

    That is plausible, because we need to remember that at the time the NRA administered the Director of Civilian Marksmanship (DCM) program on behalf of the government. You were required to be an NRA member to purchase surplus military arms and equipment. I remember that very well from the massive DCM sales of M1 Carbines ($20) c. 1963. (I already had one that had been liberated during WWII, one of the earliest models.) I believe that was a huge draw for NRA membership at the time.

    Many years later it occurred to me that a private organization with a somewhat restricted membership, exclusively administering a federal program for the federal government, was a classic example of fascism — no matter how much I favored the purpose and the goal. If it is true that the NRA ever supported gun control because it had been promised the political power of administering it, that illustrates why that brand of fascism is a very bad thing.

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