Learning from the Past

Dave Kopel wrote an article for the February edition of First Freedom that I believe should be mandatory reading for every gun owner in the country. In it, he tells the story of Massachusetts gun owners who faced an all out confiscation measure that was put to the ballot in 1976. There are lessons for every type of political scenario we face in 2012, even if confiscation is currently off the table as long as Heller and McDonald are allowed to stand.

I think some of the tidbits from the article very much relate to the issues we face today. For example, the issue of whether NRA should back pro-gun Democrats:

The leader of the “People vs. Handguns” organization was the popular Republican John Buckley, the sheriff of Middlesex County. Buckley was fresh off a 1974 win against a pro-gun challenger. Alongside Buckley was Robert diGrazia, the police commissioner of Boston who was appointed by the staunchly anti-gun Boston Mayor Kevin White.

At the insistence of Buckley and diGrazia, the Massachusetts handgun prohibition lobby did not think small. Confiscation would be total, with no exemption for licensed security guards or target shooting clubs. Even transporting a handgun through Massachusetts (e.g., while traveling from one’s home in Rhode Island to a vacation spot in Maine or a target competition in New Hampshire) would be illegal, except for people with handgun carry permits (which, as of 1976, were almost never issued by most states).

Buckley had the benefit of “incumbency” in the election for the Sheriff’s office because he was appointed by a Republican governor, according to this history of the office.

Kopel also highlights the plans for anti-gun groups to take the confiscation plan far beyond the borders of the Bay State, and how this plan has still been used in recent history.

A Buckley speech to the Conference of Mayors detailed “How to Circumvent the Legislature for Gun Confiscation in 37 States by the Initiative Petition.”

Eventually, it was hoped, the mass of state and local bans would provide the foundation for a national ban. …

The tactics of the national gun-ban groups are to use state and local bans as the starting point for national bans.

By 1994, only four states and a handful of cities had passed bans on so-called “assault weapons.” Two of the states (California and New Jersey) had far-reaching bans, while in Maryland and Hawaii, the ban was only for “assault” handguns. Yet this four-state foundation was enough for the gun prohibition lobbies to be able to push a national ban into law in 1994.

To me, this is one of the biggest problems we’ve faced in the pro-gun movement. While not screaming that the sky is falling at every turn, making gun owners realize just how close we have been to actually dealing with the knock at the door by Dianne Feinstein is something we are really only starting to overcome thanks to the internet.

I recall a story from the 2004 Pittsburgh NRA meeting where I was told an activist from Massachusetts sat down at a bar for a meal next to a guy from Pennsylvania who also came in for the convention. When the Massachusetts resident described what it was like to be a gun owner in the Bay State, the guy from Pennsylvania argued that he was exaggerating because things like that simply can’t happen in America.

Oh yes, they can. They can, and they do. I wouldn’t be shocked if that same Pennsylvania guy was actually floored by the news with Heller that the Second Amendment had never been interpreted as an individual right by the Supreme Court. For many of these types, it’s not that they don’t care, it’s that they find it hard to swallow that other citizens allow governments to act so badly without fixing it at the ballot box.

Go read the entire article. Come back here to discuss it if you like. It’s really eye-opening and worth your time.

9 thoughts on “Learning from the Past”

  1. Talking to people from outside Jersey, the biggest shocker is the FOID card. How it can take 4 to 6 months to buy something as basic as a .22 rifle for a first time gun owner. A close second is the active hostility by prosecutors even in the most rural counties and by judges all the way up to the NJSC.

  2. I think this goes to show that the current laser-like focus on legislative action and court battles is shortsighted. There will be no lasting victories until gun owners are confident and capable of coming out of the closet to fight for their rights, even in NJ. We’ve laid the legal foundation for that, but not the social.
    Our top priorities should be helping first-time owners navigate the labyrinth of regulations and requirements, and empowering individuals and local groups to make their voices heard in their own communities. Watering the grassroots, you could say.
    There are a huge number of new gun owners who need training in weapon safety and use. Why not teach them some history and political theory at the same time, like Appleseed?

  3. You want gun owners to start paying attention? Figure out how to get the Brady Bunch to go after their bolt-actions first, instead of last. Also maybe the NRA could throw their weight behind things like suppressors. I was at a show, and a guy was looking at the suppressors saying to his buddy “I don’t know why anyone would need one of those unless they were a hit man.” I jumped in and told him that some folks like to hold on to their hearing as long as they can, especially if they practice at indoor ranges.

  4. NOBODY but us gun owners will protect gun rights. Join and support your local state gun rights groups and the SAF, NRA, et. Don’t just talk and don’t complain about them not being perfect. GIVE MONEY. In Texas, EVERYONE: the Feds, the State, the bureaucracies, the LEOs, the Chamber of Commerce, the Sheriffs, the politicians…EVERYONE conspires to eliminate gun ownership. The Texas State Rifle Association, only 38,000 members strong has backed them down.

  5. Happens in reverse too… Just look at some of Ayoob’s writings…. His northern raised and experienced mind cant fathom that things like Open Carry or carrying hand loads are not an issue down here in the south.

    I mean he is without question one of the most seasoned writers on gun issues… But he still is from the north east and that jades his viewpoint.

    1. But things weren’t hardly that bad when he was growing up and his father used a gun (a handgun, I’m pretty sure) several times to defend himself in his Boston jewelry store (all this from memory of one of his books I read in the ’80s).

      Open carry is a generally debatable point (look at this blog) and his issue with handloads is that it’s a needless legal danger. Sure, we don’t know of any horror stories with them, but he’s seen enough abusive prosecutions … well, why take the risk? And those weren’t just ones in the northeast.

  6. I was a casual gun owner for years. It wasn’t until I got into gun rights that I found out about the bans in Chicago and DC. I would not have thought it possible given that we have a second amendment, and “no one is going to take away your guns”.

  7. American Hunter had a chart showing the percentage of Americans with hunting licenses dropping from 7.8% of the population in 1960 to 4.8% of the population in 2007. Hunting probably provided a lot of things to gun owners — some built in education as kids learned from parents, recreational opportunities, social networks, etc.

    It seems clear with gun sales skyrocketing and hunting participation declining that the American gun owners have moved from on from just hunting, for whatever reasons. But the “gun culture” often has not. A lot of firearms social networks and even lobbying efforts are dominated by Fudds.

    We skipped going to the range for the last 2-3 weeks despite beautiful weather because our local range is dominated by Fudds and not even run that safely. The next best options are either over an hour away, or they are 45 mins away and expensive.

    Updating the “Gun Culture” to “2.0” is a hard task, but I think a key part of it is range access. If you build it, they will come. We need ranges that enthusiastically support modern shooting games that people want to participate in (Steel Challenge, USPSA, Three Gun, Cowboy Action Shooting, etc). We need to update ranges with non-competitive interactive targets like steel plates so that those who don’t want to formally compete can still use them.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m a lover of the outdoors, but Pittman-Roberts funds need to be redirected to support shooting activities. Those funds do great work for a tiny minority of firearms owners (hunters), and a lot of bicyclists/hikers/backpackers/other outdoors people benefit without even being aware. If they aren’t redirected, then a percentage needs to be set aside for informing end users just who is paying for their recreational access (“This trail provided by X million in Pittman-Roberts funds provided by over X firearms/ammunitions sales”).

    I don’t know how to unleash the free market on this issue, either. One would think that since shooting is so popular, entrepreneur would be keen to open safe indoor ranges in shopping malls right next to the movie theater. It hasn’t happened, though, even in relatively firearms friendly jurisdictions. I don’t know much about the business but it is very expensive to get into, so the capital costs are probably a big deal.

    People don’t want to drive an hour to a socially hostile and questionably safe range to shoot at paper targets on a berm. And without range access you can’t motivate people to get active beyond owning a gun that lives in a safe or nightstand. And as has been pointed out, without that social enthusiasm and acceptance of shooting, the long term strategy’s viability is questionable.

  8. Coincidentally, the day this post went up a friend of mine came to me incensed that NJ has a one-gun-a-month law! I occasionally forget that most firearms owners are not plugged into the internet news machine the way we are.

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