Archive

ShareThis Page
Nixon a leader in pursuit of gun laws | TribLIVE.com
News

Nixon a leader in pursuit of gun laws

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Few presidents in modern times have been as interested in gun control as Richard Nixon. He proposed ridding the market of Saturday night specials, contemplated banning handguns altogether and refused to pander to gun owners by feigning interest in their weapons.

Several previously unreported Oval Office recordings and White House memos from the Nixon years show a Republican president who at times appeared willing to take on the National Rifle Association, a powerful gun lobby then as now, even as his aides worried about political ramifications.

“I don’t know why any individual should have a right to have a revolver in his house,” Nixon said in a taped conversation with aides. “The kids usually kill themselves with it and so forth.” He asked why “can’t we go after handguns, period?”

Nixon went on: “I know the rifle association will be against it, the gun makers will be against it.” But “people should not have handguns.”

He laced his comments with some more colorful words not fit for the Sunday newspaper.

Nixon made the comments in the Oval Office on May 16, 1972, the day after a would-be assassin shot and paralyzed then-presidential candidate George Wallace.

As president, Nixon never publicly called for a ban on all handguns. Instead, he urged Congress to pass more modest legislation banning Saturday night specials, which were cheaply made, easily concealed and often used by criminals.

Not all of the president’s men shared his passion on the issue. The recordings and memos show that Nixon administration officials considered gun control a losing issue.

Nixon did say publicly that if Congress passed a ban on Saturday night specials, he would sign it. But in a sign of the NRA’s potency, this narrow piece of legislation never made it to his desk, and there is no sign that he ever sent a draft bill to Capitol Hill.

Today gun control advocates are saying no one needs an assault weapon to kill a bad guy. In Nixon’s time, the argument was that Saturday night specials were too poorly made to be relied on for self-defense or hunting.

“Let me ask you,” Nixon said to Attorney General John Mitchell in June 1971, “there is only one thing you are checking on, that’s the manufacture of those $20 guns? We should probably stop that.”

Saturday night specials sold for $10 to $30 at the time.

Mitchell responded that banning those guns would be “pretty difficult, actually,” because of the gun lobby.

“No hunters are going to use $20 guns,” Nixon countered.

“No, but the gun lobby’s against any incursion into the elimination of firearms,” said Mitchell.

The term “Saturday night special” originated in Detroit, where police observed the frequency with which the guns were used to commit weekend mayhem. Lynyrd Skynyrd memorialized the weapon in its 1975 song, “Saturday Night Special,” in which the Southern rock band sang: “Ain’t good for nothin’/But put a man six feet in a hole.”


TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.