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Ronald Reagan Helped Pass The 1994 Assault Weapons Ban

Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczinski brings to light something I was previously unaware of, namely the role that Ronald Reagan played in passing the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban:

As the assault weapon ban vote neared, Reagan — who as president had signed 1986 legislation loosening restrictions on guns — wrote a letter with former Presidents Ford and Carter to the House of Representatives urging them to vote in favor of the ban.

“We are writing to urge your support for a ban on the domestic manufacture of military-style assault weapons. This is a matter of vital importance to the public safety,” the letter said.

“While we recognize that assault weapon legislation will not stop all assault weapon crime, statistics prove that we can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals. We urge you to listen to the American public and to the law enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of these weapons,” the letter said concluding.

More substantially, though, Reagan apparently persuaded at least two Republican Members of Congress to change their vote:

Congressman Scott Klug, a Republican from Wisconsin was an opponent of the assault weapon ban and the day before the vote stated his opposition to the ban. Klug only changed his voted after “a last minute plea from President Reagan” in the form of a handwritten note.

”Dear Scott: As a longtime gun owner and supporter of the right to bear arms, I, too, have carefully thought about this issue. I am convinced that the limitations imposed in this bill are absolutely necessary,” Reagan wrote Klug. “I know there is heavy pressure on you to go the other way, but I strongly urge you to join me in supporting this bill. It must be passed. Sincerely, Ronald Reagan.”

”I can think of no one who has been a stronger supporter of law and order and a stronger supporter of the Second Amendment,” Klug said in a statement regarding Reagan’s note announcing his support for the ban.

Another former Congressman, New Hampshire Democrat Dick Swett, also credited the former President with influencing his voting. Swett was unsure of how to vote on the ban, but made up his made after direct lobbying from Reagan.

The bill ended up passing the House by two votes, 216-214.

This wasn’t the first time that Reagan had come out against the Republican position on gun rights. In 1991, he authored a New York Times Op-Ed in which he called for passage of The Brady Bill:

Named for Jim Brady, this legislation would establish a national seven-day waiting period before a handgun purchaser could take delivery. It would allow local law enforcement officials to do background checks for criminal records or known histories of mental disturbances. Those with such records would be prohibited from buying the handguns.

While there has been a Federal law on the books for more than 20 years that prohibits the sale of firearms to felons, fugitives, drug addicts and the mentally ill, it has no enforcement mechanism and basically works on the honor system, with the purchaser filling out a statement that the gun dealer sticks in a drawer.

The Brady bill would require the handgun dealer to provide a copy of the prospective purchaser’s sworn statement to local law enforcement authorities so that background checks could be made. Based upon the evidence in states that already have handgun purchase waiting periods, this bill — on a nationwide scale — can’t help but stop thousands of illegal handgun purchases.

And, since many handguns are acquired in the heat of passion (to settle a quarrel, for example) or at times of depression brought on by potential suicide, the Brady bill would provide a cooling-off period that would certainly have the effect of reducing the number of handgun deaths.

Critics claim that “waiting period” legislation in the states that have it doesn’t work, that criminals just go to nearby states that lack such laws to buy their weapons. True enough, and all the more reason to have a Federal law that fills the gaps. While the Brady bill would not apply to states that already have waiting periods of at least seven days or that already require background checks, it would automatically cover the states that don’t. The effect would be a uniform standard across the country.

Today, nobody seriously challenges the idea of pre-purchase background checks. Indeed, thanks to computer systems, they are largely instantaneous in most cases (unless the computer system itself happens to be down). What we’ve learned in recent years, though, is that the background check system is incomplete. For example, it doesn’t necessarily catch people who have been adjudicated mentally ill or other problem areas. When the the Brady bill was first proposed, though, opponents characterized it as one step on the road to tyranny. I’d argue that they were wrong. The Gipper certainly thought so.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. EddieInCA says:

    I’ve said it multiple times in multiple threads…

    The real Reagan couldn’t/wouldn’t be nominated in today’s GOP.
    A. He signed an Amenesty Law.
    B. He raised taxes… MULTIPLE times.
    C. He favored gun control.
    D. He was from Hollywood.
    E. He was the president of a Labor Union.
    F. He had gay friends and co-workers.
    G. He was divorced.
    H. After the Marine Barracks attack, he had the military flee, rather than fight.

    The Ronald Reagan of myth doesn’t quite match up the Ronald Reagan of reality.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 62 Thumb down 7

  2. JKB says:

    Quick question:

    What happened in November 1994?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 14

  3. george says:

    @EddieInCA:

    The Ronald Reagan of myth doesn’t quite match up the Ronald Reagan of reality

    And oddly enough, the reality makes for a better President than the myth would have been.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 3

  4. Anderson says:

    Hush up, Doug, you with your reality-based Reagan!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  5. stonetools says:

    @JKB:

    Quick question:

    What happened in November 1994?

    And since that time , Congress has been cowering like whipped dogs before the NRA, instead of doing what’s right. It has taken the slaughter of 26 innocents to begin to break the spell-to the everlasting shame of the world’s greatest deliberative body.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 13 Thumb down 18

  6. anjin-san says:

    Reagan was a fairly complex man, a far cry from the cartoon character that today’s conservatives worship.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 3

  7. JKB says:

    @stonetools:

    Not the NRA. They’ve been logically acting in response to voter’s indicated preferences. See most voters don’t dwell in the ignorance of the gun banners. They know the “sensible” restrictions would have not stopped such attack nor are the restrictions the end. Voters know that lawful gun possession and carry is the most effective deterrent to such attacks.

    Now before everyone makes the claim, perhaps the voters’ opinions have changed. Many of the current politicians are betting their careers on it.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 17 Thumb down 17

  8. anjin-san says:

    @ JKB

    Not the NRA. They’ve been logically

    The NRA pulled down their FB page after the Sandy Hook tragedy. Just a few days earlier they had been crowing about reaching 1.7 million FB fans.

    They seem to lack the courage of their convictions.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 17 Thumb down 9

  9. EddieInCA says:

    The NRA have been F**KING cowards.

    No Twitter. No Facebook. No Comment.

    Cowards. Effing Cowards.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 19 Thumb down 14

  10. john personna says:

    Interesting statistics here:

    Study: Allowing The Assault Rifle Ban To Expire Led To Hundreds Of Mexican Deaths As Well

    Hmm. When you think about it, the converse of Fast and Furious is an assault rifle ban.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  11. bill says:

    @EddieInCA: he also broke up a union and shelled beiruit into rubble as we left. and he was a democrat before seeing the light! probably our last great speaker too, some people need to have shit sold to them with charisma.
    you guys wish you could have a Reagan-esque leader

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 10 Thumb down 11

  12. EddieInCA says:

    @bill:

    Dude…

    You missed the entire point. The Reagan in your head isn’t the Reagan that actually.. you know… existed.

    you guys wish you could have a Reagan-esque leader

    No. Not as much as you do. I like our leader very much, thank you. It’s your side that keeps nominating guys like McCain and Romney. It’s YOU who wishes you could have a Reagan-esque leader. In fact, right now, I think most in your party would even prefer the last GOP President… oh, wait….

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 19 Thumb down 5

  13. clif says:

    You mean he who wasn’t mentioned in the 2 long years the insane clown posse ran for the job of losing the presidency to Barack Obama?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  14. The Q says:

    JKB, the death penalty didn’t stop JFK or RFK or MLK or 26 innocents from being murdered either right? So, if we follow your logic, lets get rid of it since it didn’t deter the above crimes.

    But it may have stopped many crimes from being committed because the potential criminal thought about the penalties if they carried out their criminal intentions, therefore it should stand as a deterrent. At least that’s what all you wingnuts keep telling the “libtards” who want to abolish capital punishment

    The assault ban may have stopped many massacres that never happened because it made it harder to access these weapons.

    And of course, its impossible to track something which never happened.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 4

  15. matt says:

    @john personna: Once again assault rifles have been banned for many decades.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  16. matt says:

    Okay so the edit feature didn’t work right for me…

    @john personna: Once again assault rifles for most people have been banned for many decades.

    The only way to get a real legal assault rifle is to pass extensive background checks and to get the permission of your local state and federal authorities to own one. You then have to pay a large tax and other associated fees. Also you and the weapon will be registered with the government. There’s a reason why legal assault rifles aren’t used for shootings. It’s because they are extremely rare and expensive.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  17. James Williams says:
  18. James Williams says:
  19. Mitchell Young says:

    @EddieInCA:

    My main issue is immigration. Reagan signed an amnesty, it is true. That amnesty also had measures to control immigration that have been ignored, when not actually interfered with by the liberal and racialist (i.e. La Raza) side. The result of the amnesty — an illegal alien population four times bigger that it was pre-1986 amnesty.

    I’m pretty sure that as a lover of folksy wisdom, this time around Reagan would say “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  20. matt says:

    @James Williams: The term “assault weapon” was made up in the late 80s early 90s in an effort to gin up fear against modified guns. Assault rifles are something completely different. Do try to learn a little about the subject at hand before commenting.

    The assault weapon ban was better known as the scary gun ban in the gun owner circuit. It didn’t ban a single assault rifle and it actually banned some hunting shotguns and such accidentally. Funny thing is that during that ban you could buy an authentic AK-47 from Romania called a SAR-1 that was used in training (it was always semi-auto) for 350 bucks max. All they had to do was saw off the bayonet lug to make it legal for importation.

    @James Williams:
    That is not an assault rifle. That is a 223/5.56 hunting rifle tacticooled out to look like an assault rifle. There are substantial differences between a bushmaster ar15 and a m16 or m4. Mechanically and in function they are different.

    An assault rifle is a select-fire (either fully automatic or burst capable) rifle that uses an intermediate cartridge and a detachable magazine. It is not to be confused with assault weapons.[1] Assault rifles are the standard service rifles in most modern armies. Assault rifles are categorized in between light machine guns, which are intended more for sustained automatic fire in a light support role, and submachine guns, which fire a pistol cartridge rather than a rifle cartridge.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  21. matt says:

    Here’s an informative video to help you out.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysf8x477c30

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. JKB says:

    Now this is good. A real history of gun control in the US. Oh, guess what, it is generally all based on racist fears to keep guns out of the hands of blacks and other minorities. The bill Reagan signed was prompted by lawful open carry by the Black Panthers.

    So now, the Left is asking the first Black President to push for laws historically designed to keep blacks unarmed and helpless before those who would harm them. Interesting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  23. Bill23 says:

    I wish Fox News would tell their sheep the actual facts about Reagan, not the myth that they created.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

  24. Chuck U Farley says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Yet, the Statists still hate Reagan.

    Oh yeah….something about helping the fall of Communist Russia…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  25. Veritas says:

    So Reagan’s nomination of Kennedy and his amnesty were also wise decisions?

    Reagan would never have allowed American citizens to be disarmed and this is what we are seeing today. Only the truly stupid accept the Left’s propoganda. But we have seen Obama elected twice so we know at least 51% of the population has a really low IQ.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 7

  26. Jackie says:

    @EddieInCA:

    NRA has a twitter account. @NRA

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  27. Jackie says:

    @matt:

    Many ppl don’t know that AR does NOT stand for Assault Rifle, as is commonly believed. AR stands for the original company that manufactured it, ArmaLite.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3