Previously unreported tapes of Richard Nixon reveal the president once called for a ban on handguns.
The Associated Press reports Nixon took a hard stand during an exchange on May 16, 1972, the day after an attempted assassination on George Wallace:
“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.”
Publicly, Nixon never called for this measure, though Nixon said he would sign a bill that banned on “Saturday Night Specials” — cheaply made and easily concealed guns. Beyond that Nixon took no further action, seemingly advised not to pursue the issue. At the time, Attorney General John Mitchell told Nixon, “the gun lobby’s against any incursion into the elimination of firearms.”
Pro-gun interests are only more powerful today through the National Rifle Association. Meanwhile, the debate on gun violence is a different conversation on what commonsense federal reforms could pass, such as a ban on assault weapons, large-capacity ammunition magazines, and universal background checks. Even if Nixon’s handgun ban were part of our political conversation today, it would not survive contact with the Roberts Court. Five justices held in District of Columbia v. Heller that handguns enjoy special constitutional status and cannot be banned in the home.
Republicans, including Nixon and Ronald Reagan, have backed anti-gun violence measures, and yet President Obama’s commonsense, widely supported proposals have only met blanket resistance from the NRA.