Once Upon a Time, the NRA Advocated Gun Control

David Barton was on the Glenn Beck show last week and claimed to provide a brief history of the National Rifle Association and gun control. As usual, the presentation was interesting but mostly incorrect or misleading.

I covered two claims last week. One, Barton claimed Ronald Reagan did not support the gun control efforts of his press secretary James Brady when in fact Reagan did support those efforts and advocated for the Brady Bill. Barton also claimed that the NRA was founded in 1871 by two Union generals who wanted to use the NRA to arm blacks against the KKK.  There is no evidence for this claim and important evidence against it. The NRA was started as an effort to help military men use science to improve marksmanship.

This post will not be an exhaustive look at other claims but in researching the history of the NRA and gun control, I have learned what historians already knew – the NRA once advocated moderate gun control.
Barton claimed during his appearance with Glenn Beck that gun control proposals were not offered until after recent events. According to the Blaze article,

Barton also noted that even after the Whiskey and Shays rebellions, and even the assassinations of Lincoln Garfield and McKinley, calls for gun bans never came into play. In fact, the times even bolstered the Second Amendment.

It was not until the aftermath of Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King’s assassination that then President Lyndon B. Johnson sought stricter gun control. Ironically, said Barton, President Reagan — although having survived an assassination attempt himself — was very much an adherent to the Second Amendment and opposed then assistant and White House Press Secretary Jim Brady’s bill.

In fact, after the assassination of New York City Mayor William Jay Gaynor, New York passed the Sullivan Act in 1911 which required gun owners to have a license to carry hand guns. While the NRA opposed this bill, they eventually came around to a moderate position and helped develop the Uniform Firearms Act of 1930 which was adopted by five states. Then, the NRA worked with Congress to pass the National Firearms Act of 1934 and supported the Federal Firearms Act of 1938.

The best explication of the NRA’s record on gun control was provided by the NRA in March, 1968 in their American Rifleman magazine. Senator Bobby Kennedy had criticized the NRA, and with pride wounded, the NRA published an editorial defending its position on gun control. Here are some snippets of that editorial.

Terming Kennedy’s accusation “a smear of a great American organization,” NRA Executive Vice President Franklin L. Orth pointed out that “The National Rifle Association has been in support of workable, enforceable gun control legislation since its very inception in 1871.”

A few days later, Orth seconded the request of President Lyndon Johnson, made Jan. 17 in his State of the Union message, for a curb on mail-order sales.

“The duty of Congress is clear,” Orth said, “it should act now to pass legislation that will keep undesirables, including criminals, drug addicts and persons adjudged mentally irresponsible or alcoholic, or juveniles from obtaining firearms through the mails.”

Item: The NRA supported The National Firearms Act of 1934 which taxes and requires registration of such firearms as machine guns, sawed-off rifles and sawed-off shotguns.

Item: The NRA supported The Federal Firearms Act of 1938, which regulates interstate and foreign commerce in firearms and pistol or revolver ammunition, and prohibits the movement in interstate or foreign commerce of firearms and ammunition between certain persons and under certain conditions.

The editorial continued to note that the NRA supported a seven day waiting period and various other regulations. The scans of the editorial are here (page one) and here (page two).

As I understand it, the NRA went through a major change of direction in the late 1970s which led to the current focus on political advocacy surrounding their interpretation of the Second Amendment. However, if the history of the NRA and gun control is going to be part of the societal discussion, one should work with a more complete view than what David Barton presented last week.