Looking back to when Ronald Reagan, patron saint of Republicanism, favored gun control

Today’s Republican state and federal legislators who do the bidding of the gun lobby, even in the wake of the Newtown massacre,  seem to forget, if they’ve ever known, that the late Saint Ronaldus Maximus favored sensible firearms control.

Back when he was governor of California, Reagan signed into law something called the Mulford Act, which prohibited the carrying of loaded guns on one’s person or in one’s vehicle.

Reagan said at the time that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.”  He called guns a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” He said he didn’t “know of any sportsman who leaves his home with a gun to go out into the field to hunt or for target shooting who carries that gun loaded.” He said the Mulford Act “would work no hardship on the honest citizen.”

Twenty-four years later, on the 10th anniversary of his near-assassination, Reagan said this at a ceremony at George Washington University:

“With the right to bear arms comes a great responsibility to use caution and common sense on handgun purchases. And it’s just plain common sense that there be a waiting period to allow local law-enforcement officials to conduct background checks on those who wish to purchase handguns.”

In that same week, Reagan wrote an OP-ED PIECE in The New York Times that said this about the attempt on his life:

This nightmare might never have happened if legislation that is before Congress now — the Brady bill — had been law back in 1981.

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.

You can find fault, I suppose, with the overall effectiveness of those gun-control measures Reagan supported. But you can’t say this icon of Republican conservatism was opposed to any and all restrictions on firearms — as so many of his latter-day worshippers are.



  1. Luke Fredrickson

    I hope our local gun kook Ted Biondo reads this…he equates any limits on guns with Nazi fascism, yet I’m sure he was a Reagan bootlicker.

  2. All those armed agents and junior was still able to fire his gun.

  3. What happened to common sense in this gun issue? Mentally ill people shoot innocent children and we think we need more people with guns. This is nuts…in anyone’s rational mind. Mentally ill people shoot others because they are mentally ill. We need to get some sort of diagnoses and treatment policies for the perps, not arm people who are trained to care for our children. This is totally absurd in any sane situation.

  4. readingmike94

    the atlantic magazine had a great reflection upon the nra and when reagan was gov. it was the black panthers who marched into the general assembly with guns visible they had concel carry the gop and nra was shocked and pressed for gun control legislation the nra was primarily a hunter safety organization/western states organization until it was hijacked by more radical wing

  5. Kelly Thornton

    More gun legislation is a ridiculous effort. It also demonstrates a very scary oversimplification of the issues behind violence in this country. With that logic we should ban cars that hold more than a gallon of gas because the shooter stole a car also and drove to the school to commit this heinous act. The problem is that gun control is a lazy response. The only thing that would make a substantive change to mass killings is a better mental healthcare system. We need a lot more funding for research and development of treatments and to understand the functioning of those treatments. We need better mental health reporting to keep seriously mentally ill persons from buying guns although this last point is not at play in the Newtown shooting, but I believe was a relevant issue in the shooting committed by Jared Loughner. However sadly the main focus is on banning an inanimate object and the parade of celebrities (people that pretend for a living) will sway the weak minded of this country into believing that a ban is going to make them safer. Look at NY, LA, Chicago. Some of the toughest gun laws in the country, not a dent in crime. I know you will argue that the criminals are getting guns from neighboring states. Maryland and DC have used that excuse for years, then there was a report in a left leaning paper that revealed most of the guns were coming from a gun store in Maryland and were purchased through straw purchases. NPR ran an opinion piece from some girl in Chicago decrying the gun violence while asking for tougher restrictions, but readily admitted that a good portion of the guns in her community were purchased through straw purchases. So I infer that we must pass laws to protect these people from themselves, even though they show no compulsion to follow the current ones. Hell even Sara Brady committed a straw purchase to keep her son from having to go through the mandatory NCIS background check. More gun control is a repugnant waste of time. Unless this discussion shifts to a discussion of nothing but mental healthcare, we should prepare for the next horrendous event to happen.
    @ Seri
    Why is it so absurd to have armed security at a school. It is used so many other venues that are less valuable in my opinion. Banks, office buildings, and a whole host of other places have armed secutiry. It’s nice to know you don’t value children as much as you do your local bank branch. Guess that is why you haven’t been advocating for seat belts on school busses either, even though more people die in traffic accidents every year than do by criminal acts committed with a firearm.

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