Ronald Reagan in the 1953 film Law and Order. (AP Photo.)
In 1972, the Republican platform supported gun control, abiding by a simple proposition with which many of us in the reality-based community agree: less guns, less crime.
We pledge a tireless campaign against crime—to restore safety to our streets, and security to law-abiding citizens who have a right to enjoy their homes and communities free from fear. We pledge to…[i]ntensify efforts to prevent criminal access to all weapons, including special emphasis on cheap, readily-obtainable handguns…with such federal law as necessary to enable the states to meet their responsibilities.
Which shouldn’t be all that surprising given that, despite the beginnings of the movement in the other direction I documented in my last post, the National Rifle Association supported the same sort of gun control, too.
But by 1980, the Republican platform said this:
We believe the right of citizens to keep and bear arms must be preserved. Accordingly, we oppose federal registration of firearms…. We therefore support Congressional initiatives to remove those provisions of the Gun Control Act of 1968 that do not significantly impact on crime but serve rather to restrain the law-abiding citizen in his legitimate use of firearms.
That same year, for the first time in its 109-year history, the NRA endorsed a presidential candidate: the Republican nominee, of course, Ronald Wilson Reagan. Reagan, they said, would see to it that the Justice Department “will pursue and prosecute those in government who abuse citizens for the political ends of gun control.” (How’s that for paranoia?)
What happened in between? For one thing, as I suggested in my last post, gun-toting was no longer associated with the far left—with Black Panthers and other aspirants to armed revolution. More importantly, though, the culture of Americans who owned guns had evolved more and more toward what some have been mistakenly associating with the 1990s: the “tactical turn”—a moral vision of the world in which good guys and bad guys are obviously distinguishable, and the self-declared good guys wash themselves in fantasies about good guys overpowering bad guys via stockpiles of increasingly powerful weaponry. Joined, of course, by fantasies of liberal Gestapos ever poised to take those stockpiles away.