UPDATE and Correction (2/26/13): David Barton responded to this post on his website in an article dated 2/21/13. He (or someone – the article speaks about him as if someone else wrote it) wrote:
In one part of the program, David specifically noted that even in the aftermath of the shootings of Presidents Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan, there were not calls for gun control – that even Reagan (while lying in the hospital recovering from the wound) voiced opposition to such efforts. None of these shootings was used as a reason to immediately call for increased regulation of guns, as was done by President Obama in the aftermath of Sandy Hook (thus applying Rahm Emanuel’s axiom to never let a crisis go to waste). But several of David’s obsessive critics, being more concerned with opportunism than truth or context, quickly took to websites and blogs claiming that his statement concerning Reagan was erroneous – that Reagan did support gun control. 1But David’s statement was completely accurate, for it was ten years after Reagan was shot, and three years after he left office before he declared support for the Brady gun control bill. David had made very clear that his context was presidential responses in the aftermath of shootings; and President Reagan, unlike President Obama, had not used an emotional national crisis to call for gun control.
To get the context, here again is what Beck and Barton said about Reagan at about 3:53 into the video (embedded below):
Beck: The guy who was shot and almost died on the table, Ronald Reagan – what did he do?
Barton: Fought gun control, was not going to allow it, and it didn’t, I mean it didn’t for 15 years. So you had the press secretary of Reagan [James Brady, who was also shot during the assassination attempt on Reagan] who is for it but Reagan himself said, no, no, no, we punish the perpetrators, not taking everybody’s guns away and we just fought that.
To me, the context does not make it clear that Barton was only talking about the post-assassination attempt period. Beck asked Barton what Reagan did on gun control and the correct answer would have been he initially opposed it but later changed his mind and favored the Brady bill.
However, my post does not make Reagan’s early opposition clear and I should have done so. Reagan did sign a gun control law while governor of California and while president signed a bill in 1986 which restricted new ownership of automatic weapons. However, that same 1986 bill relaxed some restrictions previously in place and Reagan had expressed opposition to strict gun control proposals. Thus, the proper response to questions about Reagan’s position is that he changed his mind over the years and came to favor some gun control proposals.
Barton also claims that prior incidents of gun violence did not bring calls for gun control. This is simply incorrect. Perhaps the sitting president in each case did not call for gun control but such proposals have been made by other political leaders in reaction to gun violence throughout our history. A quick review of the ProQuest database of newspapers finds many such calls after the attempt on Reagan and the murder of John Lennon a year before. Earlier, the National Firearms Act of 1934 was in part a response to mob violence at the time.
(Original post begins here)
With the national conversation on the 2nd Amendment, David Barton is out talking about the Second Amendment and his version of history. In this clip with Glenn Beck, he links the formation of the National Rifle Association to KKK busting activity — something not even the NRA does. But for the purpose of this post, I want to note how he misleads viewers about Ronald Reagan’s position on gun control. First watch (transcript of section from 3:53 to 4:11):
Beck: The guy who was shot and almost died on the table, Ronald Reagan – what did he do?Barton: Fought gun control, was not going to allow it, and it didn’t, I mean it didn’t for 15 years. So you had the press secretary of Reagan [James Brady, who was also shot during the assassination attempt on Reagan] who is for it but Reagan himself said, no, no, no, we punish the perpetrators, not taking everybody’s guns away and we just fought that.
Barton is off here. In the past couple of days, conservatives have been writing about Reagan’s views on gun control. As they point out, Reagan favored the Brady Bill and in 1991 wrote an op-ed for the New York Times advocating passage of the bill. Brady was for modest gun control and Reagan did not say no, no, no.
Writing in the Hartford Courant, Brett Joshpe reminds us that Reagan favored some gun control proposals. Joshpe notes that Reagan might be considered a traitor in his own party by today’s standards. Reagan’s op-ed in the NYT left no doubt where he stood:
This level of violence must be stopped. Sarah and Jim Brady are working hard to do that, and I say more power to them. If the passage of the Brady bill were to result in a reduction of only 10 or 15 percent of those numbers (and it could be a good deal greater), it would be well worth making it the law of the land.
In the op-ed, Reagan noted that he had signed a gun control law while Governor of CA. Furthermore, Reagan opposed the availability of assault guns. In 1994, Reagan joined former presidents Carter and Ford to favor a ban on the manufacture of assault weapons (also see these remarks on AK-47s). They wrote:
“This is a matter of vital importance to the public safety. . . . Although assault weapons account for less than 1% of the guns in circulation, they account for nearly 10% of the guns traced to crime. . . .
“While we recognize that assault-weapon legislation will not stop all assault-weapon crime, statistics prove that we can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals.
“We urge you to listen to the American public and to the law enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of these weapons.”
Clearly, Reagan’s views were misrepresented on the Glenn Beck show. Reagan did not oppose James Brady and did not say no, no, no.
UPDATE: Thanks to The Blaze for updating their article to reflect this post and Reagan’s actual position on the Brady Bill.
Also, I asked gun control expert UCLA prof Adam Winkler if the NRA was started in part to drive out the KKK as Barton told Beck, and he replied briefly: “No.” See his tweet here.
— Adam Winkler (@adamwinkler) January 16, 2013