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Time Comes Out for Banning Private Sales…Again

Friday, September 19, 2014

With apologies to popular songwriter Paul Simon, Time magazine is apparently “still crazy after all these years.”  Crazy about gun control, that is.

On Monday, Time, which has supported gun control for decades, ran an article subtly promoting “universal background checks” on firearm transfers.  Titled “How Little Has Changed on Gun Control Since 1967” and written by “pop culture and entertainment” reporter Lily Rothman, the article compares President Lyndon Johnson’s campaign against interstate mail-order firearm sales in the 1960s to President Barack Obama’s campaign against so-called “online” sales today.

Rothman gets one important thing wrong, however.  She implies that Johnson never got a ban on interstate mail-order sales of firearms.  In fact, the Gun Control Act of 1968, which Johnson signed into law, prohibited all retail mail-order sales not involving federal firearm licensees, which is why Obama and other gun control supporters are being dishonest with their rhetoric about “online” firearm sales today.

By 1968, gun control supporters in Congress had already been working toward banning mail-order sales for several years at the urging of Sen. Thomas Dodd (D-Conn.).  As law professor Franklin Zimring explained some years later, “When [Dodd] became chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency in 1961, he ‘directed the staff of the subcommittee to initiate a full-scale inquiry into the interstate mail order gun problem.’”

Zimring further noted that Dodd introduced his gun control bill, S. 1975, on August 2, 1963, and three months later “amended his bill to cover mail order traffic in shotguns and rifles.”  Zimring added, “The bill died in the Senate Commerce Committee in 1964, but the forces leading to the adoption of the Gun Control Act of 1968 were already at work.”

At the end of Rothman’s article, Time refers readers to its rabidly anti-gun 1968 cover story, “The Gun in America.”  The story, which Time presented as “news,” was really a six-page rant, and in retrospect shows, as Rothman put it, “how little has changed” in the gun control debate.

With rhetoric essentially identical to that of anti-gun activists today, the article said “Americans have turned their country into an arsenal” and “Americans are engaged in a manic internal arms race.”  It declared “the U.S. must have gun legislation,” and lamented that “Attempts to tighten the absurdly loose laws have repeatedly been defeated.”

As to how the laws should be tightened, Time said “licensing for the owner, and registration for each of his firearms . . . would hardly be an outrageous imposition.”  But the magazine was also willing to go further, quoting a sociologist as saying, “I see no reason why anyone in a democracy should own a weapon.”  Given its radical language, the only clue that the article was written in 1968, rather than recently, is that Time didn’t try to buffalo readers by claiming to “support the Second Amendment,” and it didn’t insult readers’ intelligence by referring to registration, licensing and gun prohibition as “commonsense.”

Playing armchair Freudian psychologist, Time stated, “For the man with a feeling of insecurity or inferiority, a pistol in his pocket is the ‘equalizer.’”  But the magazine’s writers were apparently the ones needing a psychologist, because even though they admitted that “Gun controls obviously cannot stop crime or wanton killing,” they insisted that gun control laws “are essential” anyway.

Time’s accompanying cover not only indicated the article’s tone, it may have inspired the title of the 2001 book, Every Handgun is Aimed at You: The Case for Banning Handguns, by former National Coalition to Ban Handguns staffer Josh Sugarmann, now head of the anti-gun Violence Policy Center.

Curiously, Time neglected to refer readers to its February 1989 “Armed America” issue, which was far more relevant to Rothman’s “universal background checks” topic.

“Armed America” also featured a cover of the sort that eventually inspired Reason magazine to compose a “Top 10 list of the most horrifying, silly, irresponsible, or downright ridiculous Time cover panics from the past 40 years.” 

As the ghoulish cover indicated, the accompanying article was primarily designed to contribute to the media’s intense campaign against general-purpose semi-automatic rifles that gun control supporters called “assault weapons,” which had begun the previous month.  Toward that end, it claimed that “The Federal Government should ban outright the import or sale of paramilitary weapons to civilians.”

But “Armed America” is particularly relevant to Rothman’s article because it also said that Congress should prohibit private firearm sales, something that anti-gun activist groups, and Rothman, didn’t advocate until a generation later.

At the bottom line, Rothman’s message is consistent with that of Obama and anti-gun activists:  Congress is blocking gun control.  And in just over six weeks, those of us who understand where gun control supporters would like “universal checks” to lead will have the opportunity to prove Rothman right, with room to spare.

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