1969, March: The Battle For Gun Rights

There were two gun rights fights that began on Capitol Hill during February, 1969. The first battle was to repeal the back door gun registration requirement imposed by the ammunition registration imposed by the Gun Control Act of 1968. As I have mentioned from time to time, the ammo books were highly prized on the dark side since they listed the name, address, drivers license number, and the caliber of weapons that might be found at that address.

At the time, many states used social security numbers for drivers license numbers. A listing for “Fibber McGee, 79 Wistful Vista, Neverland, Illinois DL 123-45-6789” allowed anyone to open an account with McGee’s check, and clean Fibber and Molly’s bank account out.

Since ammo books were often left open on store counters, open for either inspection, photography, or theft, that back door gun registration was a serious and rapidly growing issue.

Senator W.E. Bennett of Utah introduced H.R. 845, “A bill to repeal back door gun registration.” As Senator Bennett said, with massive understatement and no small amount of irony when he introduced the bill:

“The runaway interpretation by the former Treasury Department regulation writer is grounds enough to go back to the original Judiciary Committee definition of ammunition.

However, there are other reasons as well, and they are more compelling. To force this kind of registration upon persons who buy rifle, shotgun, and .22 caliber rimfire ammunition is not going to affect the incidence of crime. The citizens of Utah and many other areas of the United States are deeply disturbed.

Other bills to exempt ammunition from GCA’68 were introduced at a better than one a week clip through February.

As fast as bills to repeal ammunition registration were introduced, bills to increase the punishment for gun toting criminals outran them handily. Among the bills were Majority Leader Mike Mansfield’s S.849, which would have added ten years for a first gun crime and 25 years for a second; and nine similar bills varying only in the severity of the punishment for a gun related crime.

However, gun registration and owner licensing bills were also popular. As of March 1, there were ten bills to repeal ammunition registration, ten to increase the penalty for gun crimes, and six gun registration bills before Congress.

In the House, those bills included H.R. 4200 by New York’s Bertram Podell, H.R. 2709 by New York’s Ogden Reid; H.R.4102, by Ohio’s Thomas Ashley. In the Senate, the bills included S.100 by Massachusetts Senaor Edward Brooke, which would have established a “National Firearms Identification Center” to oversee nationwide registration of all firearms and similar bills from Connecticut’s Thomas Dodd and Maryland’s Joseph Tydings.

In the states, more than 200 separate bills to either register guns, license gun owners, or increase the penalty for gun related crimes. Some of these bills did all three.

Arkansas’ H.86 would have registered and regulated the sale, possession, and use of firearms.

In Illinois, Senate Leader W. Russell Arrington was poised to introduce a bill to make a centralized library of FOID applications and permits; making gun registration an accomplished fact.

Iowa’s H.105 would impose a three day waiting period between purchase and delivery of any firearm.

Montana’s H.102 would require an ID and license for anyone carrying “weapons in fields and forests.”

In New York, S.925 would require anyone applying for a gun permit to submit a “certificate of qualification” in order to obtain a permit – but banned handgun instruction for anyone who did not have a permit. (Which reminds me of the Texas law that when two trains meet at a crossing “neither train can move until the other has left.”)

Obviously, the fight against gun rights was still in full swing. Later in this series we will get into a discussion of floor debates as the various bills work their way through committees.


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