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Posted by benEzra in Guns
Wed Mar 07th 2007, 02:48 PM
I heard last week from a fellow DU'er who argued that supporting the lawful ownership of guns (especially nonhunting guns) by civilians is somehow a "conservative" position, and that advocating bans on said ownership is a "progressive" position.

I have pointed out elsewhere that the ban-more-guns crusade of the late '80s/early '90s was a DLC thing, an attempt to pander to right-leaning law-and-order types by posturing as "tough on crime," and heavily influenced by "third way" Communitarian thought, which is IMHO reactionary rather than progressive. And, of course, the original "assault weapons ban" at the Federal level, enacted by a Bush-the-Elder XO and later codified into 18 USC 922(r), was reportedly the brainchild of arch-right-winger William J. Bennett at the direction of George H.W. Bush (who was clueless about Federal firearms law, as that link demonstrates).

But this morning, I ran across a couple of interesting articles highlighting the fact that the ban-nonhunting-guns movement originated as a conservative movement, pushed by the same right-wing moralists that foisted Prohibition and the Harrison Act on the nation, and the original opposition thereto came mostly from the left. H.L. Mencken (no friend of the Right) famously skewered the self-righteous "Uplifters," as he called them, in many of his essays, including this one:

The Uplifters are At It Again (Baltimore Sun, 1925)


But the gunmen, I take it, would not suffer from the high cost of artillery for long. The moment the price got really attractive, the cops themselves would begin to sell their pistols, and with them the whole corps of Prohibition blacklegs, private detectives, deputy sheriffs and other such scoundrels. And smuggling, as in the case of alcoholic beverages, would become an organized industry, large in scale and lordly in profits. Imagine the supplies that would pour over the long Canadian and Mexican borders! And into every port on every incoming ship!

Certainly, the history of the attempt to enforce Prohibition should give even uplifters pause. A case of whisky is a bulky object. It must be transported on a truck. It cannot be disguised. Yet in every American city today a case of whisky may be bought almost as readily as a pair of shoes despite all the armed guards along the Canadian border, and all the guard ships off the ports, and all the raiding, snooping and murdering everywhere else. Thus the camel gets in and yet the proponents of the new anti-pistol law tell us that they will catch the gnat! Go whisper it to the Marines!

Such a law, indeed, would simply make gun-toting swagger and fashionable, as Prohibition has made guzzling swagger and fashionable. When I was a youngster there were no Prohibition agents; hence I never so much as drank a glass of beer until I was nearly 19. Today, Law Enforcement is the eighth sacrament and the Methodist Board of Temperance, Prohibition and Public Morals by itself authority for the sad news that the young of the land are full of gin. I remember, in my youth, a time when the cops tried to prohibit the game of catty. At once every boy in Baltimore consecrated his whole time and energy to it. Finally, the cops gave up their crusade. Almost instantly catty disappeared.

The real victim of moral legislation is always the honest, law-abiding, well-meaning citizen --what the late William Graham Sumner called the Forgotten Man. Prohibition makes it impossible for him to take a harmless drink, cheaply and in a decent manner. In the same way, the Harrison Act (1916) puts heavy burdens upon the physician who has need of prescribing narcotic drugs for a patient, honestly and for good ends. But the drunkard still gets all the alcohol that he can hold, and the drug addict is still full of morphine and cocaine. By precisely the same route the Nation's new law would deprive the reputable citizen of the arms he needs for protection, and hand them over to the rogues that he needs protection against.

(Disclaimer--I don't know much about the site hosting that page, but the server I wanted to link to is apparently down.)

But the most interesting thing to me was the reasoning that eventually culminated in New York's Sullivan Law (proposed by, and named after, the famous Tammany Hall crook "Big Tim" Sullivan), the original you-can't-own-a-handgun-unless-the-power-brokers-like-you law:


Editorial, New York Times, January, 27, 1905

Among the best british traditions perpetuated and cherished in America is that of using natures weapons in the act of self-defense. That it is sincerely cherished is shown in the recent introduction at Albany of a bill by Assemblyman Tompkins to amend the Penal Code of this State relative to the carrying of loaded firearms concealed about the person. The amending section reads as follows:

Sec. 411-A Any person other than a peace officer who shall in any public street, highway or place in any city in this State having a population of upward of 100,000 persons by the last State census have or carry concealed upon his person any loaded pistol, revolver, or other firearm, without thereto fore, in the manner now provided by law, having been authorized to carry the same, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

Such a measure would prove corrective and salutary in a city filled with immigrants and evil communications, floating from the shores of Italy and Austria-Hungary. New York police reports frequently testify to the fact that the Italian and other south Continental gentry here are acquainted with the pocket pistol, and while drunk or merrymaking will use it quite as handily as the stiletto, and with more deadly effect. It is hoped that this treacherous and distinctly outlandish mode of settling disputes may not spread to corrupt the native good manners of the community. The case of a Columbia student who flourished and fired a pistol at his persecutors instead of using his "bare fist", as his presumably British-American descent would prescribe, is fresh in the public memory. The act now proposed and championed by Mr. Tompkins will diminish the number of homicides.

New York Times, March 15, 1905

Special to to The New York Times.

Albany. March 14.- The Armstrong bill prohibiting foreigners from carrying firearms under any circumstances unless specially licensed by local authorities passed the Assembly to-day. Arms of any description may not be sold to minors under sixteen years of age, according to bill's provisions.

The infamous Sullivan Bill passed the NYS Senate on 10 MAY 1911 and the NYS Assembly on 15 MAY 1911 and was signed into New York State law 29 MAY 1911.


Dix Signs Bill Compelling Licenses and Registry of All Sales

Special to The New York Times

May 30, 1911. pg. 1, 1 pgs

ALBANY, May 29.-Gov. Dix to-night signed Senator Timothy D. Sullivanís bill making it unlawful to carry a revolver or any other firearm that may be concealed upon the person without a written license. The provisions of the law will take effect on Sept. 1. Licenses for carrying small firearms are to be issued by Police Magistrates in cities and Justices of the Peace in rural districts.
The new law provides that dealers shall keep a register in which shall be entered the time of the sale, name, age, occupation, and residence of every purchaser of a revolver. Before the sale is made the purchaser must be required to show a permit for possessing or carrying the weapon.
The carrying of or attempt to use a blackjack, bludgeon, or sandbag and the carrying of a razor, stiletto, or any other dangerous instrument or weapon is made a felony by the new law. The carrying of firearms or dangerous weapons by persons not citizen of the United States is also declared to be a felony.

New York Times, Sep 3, 1911. pg. 06


Young Man Arriving from South with a Weapon in a Case Taken In and Held Without Bail.


Insist That They Must Restore Pledges When Called ForóMagistrate Finds Himself at Sea.

More confusion resulted yesterday form the enforcement of the new Sullivan Anti-Weapon law, which makes it a misdemeanor for any one to have in his possession without a permit, a pistol, revolver, blackjack, or bludgeon, and a felony for any one to have such a weapon concealed upon his person. A peculiarly puzzling case was presented to Magistrate OíConnnor in the arrest of a young Italian a few minutes after his arrival in the city from the South,, on his way to Italy. The young man was carrying a shotgun in a case as a present for his brother in Italy, when he was arrested under the provision of the Sullivan law making it a felony for a person of foreign birth to carry a dangerous weapon. Despite his appreciation of the young man's ill luck, Magistrate OíConnor felt that under the law he must hold im for the Grand Jury without bail.

Xenophobia and elitism. In the South, the elitism was mostly based on racism: case anyone was wondering why the South had some of the most onerous gun-control laws in the nation outside of NY, DC, and Chicago until very recently.

Here in NC, it is still a legal requirement that anyone wanting to purchase a handgun must appear at the local sheriff's office, in person, and receive authorization from the (usually white) Sheriff, and the criteria are somewhat discretionary, though less now than they used to be. That provision reportedly originated during the Jim Crow era, as a way to deter nonwhites from purchasing handguns. I can vouch for the fact that it is an intimidating process--and I am a middle-class, college-educated, bespectacled white guy whose dad used to babysit our local sheriff when said sheriff was a toddler in diapers. Imagine going through that process in 1955, as a man or woman of color...which was, of course, the point.

Now, lest anyone misunderstand me, I am not arguing the genetic fallacy here, i.e. that restrictions on the lawful ownership/use of firearms are bad because some such restrictions had racist origins. I do support background checks for purchase, and am OK with the requirement to obtain a license in order to carry a firearm on your person. I am merely speaking to the fallacy that restrictions on lawful and responsible gun ownership are somehow by nature "progressive," and its twin fallacy that opposing capricious restrictions is somehow by nature "conservative."

History shows that conservative elitism and xenophobia are 100% compatible with disarming the peons, as long as the elites and power brokers get to keep their armed bodyguards.

Contrast that with the view of a famous Democratic life member of the NRA:

"By calling attention to 'a well regulated militia', the 'security' of the nation, and the right of each citizen 'to keep and bear arms', our founding fathers recognized the essentially civilian nature of our economy. Although it is extremely unlikely that the fears of governmental tyranny which gave rise to the Second Amendment will ever be a major danger to our nation, the Amendment still remains an important declaration of our basic civilian-military relationships, in which every citizen must be ready to participate in the defense of his country. For that reason, I believe the Second Amendment will always be important."

-Senator John F. Kennedy, April 1960

"Today, we need a nation of Minutemen, citizens who are not only prepared to take arms, but citizens who regard the preservation of freedom as the basic purpose of their daily life and who are willing to consciously work and sacrifice for that freedom."

-John F. Kennedy

Agree or disagree with it, but gun ownership is NOT intrinsically a right-wing issue, and those who try to frame it as such are IMHO trying to win the debate without debating the issue itself.
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