The Reagan Legacy on Guns

Gun Rights Save Lives looks at the Reagan legacy when it comes to guns. Things aren’t as rosey a lot of folks like to wax nostalgic about. But I disagree with the main source of angst here:

When he was president, he banned all new fully-automatic weapons from being sold to the public in 1986. Now they are nearly impossible for the average person to possess because they cost about $20,000.

The one thing I will disagree with is dinging Reagan over the 1986 machine gun ban. Remember that was attached at the last minute to the Firearms Owner’s Protection Act of 1986. I was 12 at the time this passed, and I had little political awareness when all of this went down. Everything I know from the time I’ve gotten from talking to the people involved with the fight at that time, and nearly everyone I’ve spoken with on the subject believes it was necessary to continue supporting FOPA despite what Bill Hughes did to it. The Gun Control Act, unmodified by FOPA, would have succeeded in destroying the shooting culture. I’d encourage everyone to read Dave Hardy’s account of the matter, who was intimately involved with getting FOPA passed into law. That Reagan signed FOPA I do not believe ought to be a ding against him.

Now it’s true that later in life, long after he was out of office, he ended up supporting the Brady Act and the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban. Members of his family today claim that was a result of his handlers signing him onto positions he himself never would have supported had he not been suffering Alzheimer’s. Whether this is true, or whether it’s just family trying to preserve his legacy, I don’t think is clear. I don’t think Reagan was the pro-gun saint everyone likes to remember him as, but I also think a lot of Reagan needs to be put into the context of the time.

19 thoughts on “The Reagan Legacy on Guns”

  1. The NPS weapons ban was passed* during Reagan’s administration too. You could certainly argue that, like Iran Contra, the boss knew nothing of what NPS was doing… But then, how likely is that really?

    * I have seen assertions that weapons were ‘banned’ in national parks prior to ~1982, but that was the re-write of the CFR 36 2.4 prior to the attempts to amend the CFR by VCDL, and the subsequent passage of the credit card act. 1982… let’s see was that Carter… no… Mondale ? No… that’s right he got trounced…. ’82, wait! That was Reagan!

    There should be some clarification. The revision of the CFR was not “an executive order”. Nor could it be undone by “an executive order”. The revision of the CFR offers a chance for public comment and the Executive branch agencies were granted authority to regulate by Congress. Right or wrong, Congress gave them a lot of authority. Too much, really. Likewise, the courts give these executive branch agencies way too much latitude. Nevertheless, it’s perfectly legal.

    We gun owners don’t like it, but it’s legal. The proper course is to curb that power, by pressuring congress to reform how executive branch agencies enact regulations. Next to BATFE, NPS is the single most anti-gun part of the federal government.

    The FOPA “poison pill” was certainly brilliant parliamentary sleight of hand by New York gun haters, and we should learn from it, and use it on our side. No doubt that there was great political pressure to get FOPA passed and no doubt it addressed serious problems that bad actors like NJ, NY still violate.

    We need to be attaching FOPA reform to necessary bills and to do that we need to be pressuring congress. A lot.

    1. Perhaps suggest that the house send a CR back to the Senate with the ACA funded, but with a repeal of the Hughes Amendment…

    1. i was going to say, this is the first thing i think of when i think of Reagan’s gun legacy. not a terrible gun, but not a hero who fought for our gun rights.

  2. I think Ronald Reagan was pro-gun in the classical sense of the word. He was a member of Rancheros Visitadores and they have skeet shooting competitions but the competitions are part of a larger event calendar.

    Skeet shooting and hunting were sort of like golf for his generation.

  3. I think Reagan may have started the trend of gun rights advocates supporting politicos for what they say, even if it is totally at odds with what they actually do. Of course, Reagan exemplified that principle applied to almost every issue. America would be a much better place today if Reagan the myth had been president, rather than Reagan the man.

    I voted for Reagan once — in 1980 — and I remember the first issue of the American Rifleman to ever have a candidate endorsement photo on its cover, that year. Even though I was excited to vote for him, when I saw that I remember a little voice saying to me “Here begins trouble.”

      1. No, I voted for David Bergland (L). But over the years I have evolved toward more often “staying home,” as Sebastian suggests above, at least in the sense of not pulling levers for offices when I think there is no acceptable candidate. (At one time I would cast “protest votes” for minor candidates I thought were jerks, but couldn’t win, until it dawned on me that I was doing no one a favor [including the jerks] by providing encouragement for more jerks to run for office, or, for minor parties to run jerks and think they could make progress that way.)

  4. I don’t blame Reagan for FOPA.

    I noted at the time that the travel portions would be rendered moot by regulation changes or just flat ignored by the states. And I was right!

    The only thing that really stuck was the Hughes amendment.

    I blame congress for not bothering to fix NFA for these past 27 years. Same people I blame for doing nothing to make the AWB end early. Who do nothing to reverse the idiocy of 922r. Who do nothing to reverse executive fiat bans on importing guns that are otherwise completely legal for most anyone to own.

    It’s just the EO’s that I blame presidents for because it’s damn rare they get a law that’s pro-gun on their desk at all.

    1. Um, there were huge parts of teh FOPA that were critical — stuff that even Congress in teh early 1970’s noted were abusive and oppressive actions by ATF under the 1968 GCA, that FOPA eliminated. Both for “business” FFLs and C&R FFLs.

  5. The only thing that really stuck was the Hughes amendment.

    Are you serious?

    1. I thought I was. But I read the wrong diatribe and didn’t do my own research.

      Plus, I don’t ACT like an idiot, I AM an idiot.

  6. Reagan brought more of a change in tone than in policy. Does anyone remember that during the Carter years there were serious proposals to ban small handguns. Until the Reagan administration the pro second amendment community was in a steady but valiant retreat. The FOPA was the first rollback of the mountain of gun control laws that had been growing since New York’s Sullivan law in 1911. Does anyone here remember what being a shooter and more especially a reloaded were like before the FOPA when even empty brass had to be ordered through an FFL dealer?

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