The earliest "gun control laws" were applied by Imperial governments to colonists, to control a growing civilian population with a remotely managed and badly outnumbered Imperial military in _every_ nation's colonies. Then there was a long gap, due to the War for Independence and the 2nd Amendment, then it started up as a US federal policy in the 1930's applied to machine guns and sawed off shotguns. It grew in the 1960's _due to the assassination of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King_, which illustrated the growing risk of assassination for respected leaders.
April 23, 2012 Issue
One nation, under the gun.
By Jill Lepore
As Adam Winkler, a constitutional-law scholar at U.C.L.A., demonstrates in a remarkably nuanced new book, “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America,” firearms have been regulated in the United States from the start. Laws banning the carrying of concealed weapons were passed in Kentucky and Louisiana in 1813, and other states soon followed: Indiana (1820), Tennessee and Virginia (1838), Alabama (1839), and Ohio (1859). Similar laws were passed in Texas, Florida, and Oklahoma. As the governor of Texas explained in 1893, the “mission of the concealed deadly weapon is murder. To check it is the duty of every self-respecting, law-abiding man.”
Although these laws were occasionally challenged, they were rarely struck down in state courts; the state’s interest in regulating the manufacture, ownership, and storage of firearms was plain enough. Even the West was hardly wild. “Frontier towns handled guns the way a Boston restaurant today handles overcoats in winter,” Winkler writes. “New arrivals were required to turn in their guns to authorities in exchange for something like a metal token.” In Wichita, Kansas, in 1873, a sign read, “Leave Your Revolvers at Police Headquarters, and Get a Check.” The first thing the government of Dodge did when founding the city, in 1873, was pass a resolution that “any person or persons found carrying concealed weapons in the city of Dodge or violating the laws of the State shall be dealt with according to law.” On the road through town, a wooden billboard read, “The Carrying of Firearms Strictly Prohibited.” The shoot-out at the O.K. Corral, in Tombstone, Arizona, Winkler explains, had to do with a gun-control law. In 1880, Tombstone’s city council passed an ordinance “to Provide against the Carrying of Deadly Weapons.” When Wyatt Earp confronted Tom McLaury on the streets of Tombstone, it was because McLaury had violated that ordinance by failing to leave his gun at the sheriff’s office.
The National Rifle Association was founded in 1871 by two men, a lawyer and a former reporter from the New York Times. For most of its history, the N.R.A. was chiefly a sporting and hunting association. To the extent that the N.R.A. had a political arm, it opposed some gun-control measures and supported many others, lobbying for new state laws in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, which introduced waiting periods for handgun buyers and required permits for anyone wishing to carry a concealed weapon. It also supported the 1934 National Firearms Act—the first major federal gun-control legislation—and the 1938 Federal Firearms Act, which together created a licensing system for dealers and prohibitively taxed the private ownership of automatic weapons (“machine guns”). The constitutionality of the 1934 act was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1939, in U.S. v. Miller, in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s solicitor general, Robert H. Jackson, argued that the Second Amendment is “restricted to the keeping and bearing of arms by the people collectively for their common defense and security.” Furthermore, Jackson said, the language of the amendment makes clear that the right “is not one which may be utilized for private purposes but only one which exists where the arms are borne in the militia or some other military organization provided for by law and intended for the protection of the state.” The Court agreed, unanimously. In 1957, when the N.R.A. moved into new headquarters, its motto, at the building’s entrance, read, “Firearms Safety Education, Marksmanship Training, Shooting for Recreation.” It didn’t say anything about freedom, or self-defense, or rights.