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.