Time: “Gun Control Stricter in 1920s and 1930s”

ThompsonSubmachineAdAnti-gunners are busy spreading this story around, about how the gun laws of the 1920s and 1930s were more strict than they are now. I’ll call that bluff. If they really believe that, then let’s introduce a bill in Congress that takes us back to the gun laws of the 1920s and 1930s then? Repeal the Gun Control Act and subsequent amendments in its entirety? Where do I sign up? Hey, let’s pick a year in the 1930s. How about 1932? That would get rid of the Federal Firearms Act of 1938, and the National Firearms Act of 1934. Basically, in 1932, there were no federal gun laws, except that you couldn’t ship a pistol by US mail without a license. Or maybe the 20’s instead, say 1922? In 1922 there were no federal gun control laws whatsoever. Let’s just list some of the things we could do.

  • Up until 1968, you could mail order a rifle. Up until 1927, you could mail order a pistol too. After that 1927, you needed a license to mail order a pistol though the US mail, but you could still do it via other carriers without a license, and doing so was common.
  • Sears was a big seller of firearms via the mail order.
  • Firearms could be purchased cash on the barrel. No background check, no forms. Up until as late as 1938, dealers didn’t even have to record sales.
  • Machine guns could be mail ordered until 1934. After that, they still could be as long as you paid the transfer tax and the gun was registered.
  • Soldiers could bring back rifles, pistols and even machine guns as late as 1968, as long as they registered them and paid the tax.
  • After 1938 and before 1968, a Federal Firearms License cost $1. The only requirement was that you keep an acquisition and disposition record. No form 4473. Prior to that anyone could get into the gun business, no questions asked.
  • Until 1938, it was legal to sell a firearm to anyone. Classes of prohibited people didn’t exist until the Federal Firearms Act of 1938.
  • In the 1920s, only a handful of states had any gun control laws, and those that did weren’t much more numerous than the states that have even worse gun control today (and they were in many cases the same states)
  • There were no federal laws restricting firearms to young people until 1968.
  • Firearms were not required to have serial numbers until 1938.
  • Until 1934, there were no restrictions on suppressors, short-barreled rifles, or short-barreled shotguns.
  • As late as when Antonin Scalia was a teenager in the 1940s and 1950s, you could openly carry a rifle on the New York Subway without anyone batting an eye. How’d the antis like to go back to that culture?

Of course, most states by then had restricted concealed carry, but you could still carry openly in most states without a license. In the 20s and 30s, what prohibitions on carry that existed were not uniformly enforced in many states. Either way, those are state issues. It’s absolutely ridiculous to argue that the 1920s and 1930s guns were more regulated than today. The market was a relative free-for-all compared to the restrictions we have today. Hell, I’ll even offer to go back to the federal gun laws of 1965! How about that deal?

These people really can’t be taken seriously most days of the week. The notion they are floating here is absolute pablum, and that’ll be evidenced by the fact that no one on the other side, in their right mind, would take me up on this offer. The majority of federal gun controls we have in this country came with the Gun Control Act of 1968 and subsequent amendments. Then, as now, most states are permissive except a small number of states where gun control is popular. The only thing they’d really undo is the gains we’ve made in reversing concealed carry limitations, and I doubt any of them would make that trade.

18 thoughts on “Time: “Gun Control Stricter in 1920s and 1930s””

  1. My father used to carry a gun to school- he was a member of the Sportsmen’s Club. They were photographed for the yearbook in front of the school carrying their guns.

    1. The Federal Firearms Act of 1938 was repealed by the Gun Control Act. The Gun Control Act replaced it in its entirety. The serial number requirement came with the FFA. I can’t say for sure it was the same as the GCA requirement that replaced it, but there was some requirement that came in 1938.

      1. The 1938 bit about the serial number was regarding obliterating or altering the serial number, not a requirement that the manufacturer apply one (see section 2i).

        Serials were required starting in 1958, it appears (except for .22 rifles, which got covered in 1968) – see page 10

  2. > >Firearms could be purchased cash on the barrel. No background check, no forms. Up until as late as 1938, dealers didn’t even have to record sales.

    Didn’t lots of states have gun permit requirements?

  3. AFter reading the article, I think it actually makes a valid point:

    Just like with the First Amendment, there was never in America an age where the ideals of the constitution were fully embodied. There were always restrictions on speech of some form (for example, the Southern states banned abolitionist literautre at one time).

    But this of course doesn’t mean what they think it does!

  4. Libertarians and conservatives who venerate some era in the past as some bygone libertarian era need to check their history.

    What this does not mean – as the article contends – that these 1920s’ regulations were sensible. They were designed almost explicitly to prevent minorities and the poor from arming themselves for self-defense.

    As a comparison, there has never been an era in the United States where the First Amendment had been consistently employed. Prior to 1925 state governments were allowed t ohave their own censorship regimes (and did).

    Yes, there’s been a transformation in the past 40 years in how Americans view guns and gun rights (though I think this transformation is more in line with what Jefferson believed).

    But it does in no way invalidate the gun rights movement.

    1. This is the biggest problem I have with fellow anarcho-capitalists who think that the Constitution was a big conspiracy to produce an all-powerful government, and that the Civil War destroyed States Rights and Abe Lincoln trampled on the Constitution.

      Few people at the time the Constitution was created believed that the idea of no government altogether was tenable; thus, the debate was trying to have just a strong enough government to bring the order they thought they needed, while still providing liberty for individuals and States alike.

      As for the Civil War, Libertarians tend to downplay the slavery issue (yes, the reasons were complex, but slavery was a major portion), and overlook the fact that the South started it. Additionally, Lincoln was well within Lockean theory to believe that in times of war, it is sometimes necessary to suspend freedoms, so that you could re-establish them afterward. Finally, after the war, there wasn’t that much of an attack on State’s rights (except for an attempt to establish *more* freedom)!

      Really, Statism didn’t rear its ugly head until the Progressive Era, where Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson began to make a mess of things!

      1. Having said that, I don’t think Sebastian is really pining for the laws of the 1920’s or 1930’s. He’s merely pointing out that the era was far less regulated (with regards to guns, specifically, but really, with regards to almost anything) than it is today.

        And I kindof agree: If we were to “reset” all the laws to what they were in the 1920s, that would be a *very* good starting point for getting rid of the remainder of the laws…

        1. That’s the fallacy being used. That “return to “x era” -law- equals turning back the -social- clock. We aren’t mind-erasing the social development of today’s people. Under Jim Crow blacks were disparately lyrics treated. Today? With pro-gun police chiefs and she

        2. I’m not a “golden era” thinker. Even going back to the 1920s would be trading some freedoms for others.

          But going back to the 1920s or 1930, or even the early to mid 1960s would have most gun control advocates reeling in horror.

  5. The Federal ban on carrying firearms (loaded or unloaded) onto airplanes only dates to 1971. It’s literally younger than I am. Fed. requirements for universal screening of persons and carry-ons (i. e. enforcibility) didn’t exist until 1973.

    1. Yup- there has been one and only one airplane hijacker shot in the USA- and it was a shooting done by a private security guard carrying concealed on a plane before the ban.

  6. They’re just pining for the time when “gun ownership while black” was a lynching offense.

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