I recenlty came into possession of several items belonging to a dead relative. Among them, I fould the following article. I thought it might provide some interesting reading. I split it up into several posts.
This is taken from the March 1969 issued of Playboy magazine. The author, Joseph Tydings was a Democraticmember of the US Senate, representingMaryland from 1965 to 1971. His stance on gun control and crime cost him cost him re-election in 1970.
AMERICANS AND THE GUN
An article by U.S. Senator Joseph Tydings, a deeply committed legislator and longtime sportsman-hunter offers a rational, viable method of controlling – not eliminating – this country's vast civilian arsenal.
“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
“I've had nothing yet,” Alice replied in offended tone, “so I can't take anymore.”
There is a tendency to feel that way about gun control.
Our fight began in March 1964, after President Kennedy was killed by a sniper in Dallas, using a rifle bought by mail from Chicago. The case was irrefutable. A man clearly deranged should not be able to buy a gun, and certainly not by mail from another state. Indeed, there could be no effective state gun-control laws unless interstate shipments were controlled.
So for years, a small group of us in Senate and an even smaller group of Congressmen attempted to persuade our respective judiciary committees that gun-control legislation - in the most modest for imaginable – should be cleared for floor action. We were not successful. (We did manage to get in interstate-mail-order handgun-sale provision into the Omnibus Safe Streets Act, but only after we served notice that no bill would emerge from the judiciary committee without it.)
Then, during a 60-day period last year, the debate was shifted. Assassins killed a Nobel Prize winner and a United States Senator who might have become the President; and we were no longer satisfied to fight so hard for the most modest of laws.
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all therunning you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”
We tried to run twice as fast as before – but it just wasn't fast enough. The opponents of effective gun control ran as fast as we did.
That there is public support for real gun laws is clear. Polls show that as much as 80 percent of the American people support them. Two thirds to 73 percent, the Harris and Gallup polls show, support registration and licensing of all firearms and licensing of gun purchases. And yet, the Senate voted 55 to 31 against registration and licensing.
The attacks on our proposals had an Alice in Wonderland quality perhaps unique in modern legislative history. The Constitution, opponents said, protects from Governmental interference in the “right of the people to keep and bear arms.” It did not matter that every constitutional scholar, the U.S. Supreme Court, the Attorney General of the United States and most law-school professor one cares to consult agree that there is no constitutional impediment to firearms-crime-control legislation. Indeed, they agree, the Constitution refers to the public's collective right to a citizen militia or a National Guard. The Congress, if it chooses, has the constitutional authority to outlaw entirely private ownership of guns, although I would oppose this.
Opponents said that the registration and licensing proposals – indeed, and gun-control proposal – are a plot to disarm the lawful. Criminals, they said, will not register their guns – only the law abiding will. Of course, confirmed criminals might not register their guns. But so what? If caught with an unregistered gun, the criminal or would-be criminal will go to jail. And registration records are immensely useful in tracing stolen weapons and in tracing guns to criminals, even if those guns are not registered in their names. As New Jersey Attorney General Arthur J. Sills testified last summer before our Senate subcommittee on juvenile delinquency:
Returning briefly to the efficacy of firearms registration, there is not doubt that such a program would be of immeasurable value to the police in solving gun crimes. It would also be valuable to the police in other respects. For example, it would allow the police to trace a firearm to the original owner if stolen or lost. Furthermore, a gun, once registered, would make the owner aware of his responsibility and would discourage an indiscriminate resale.
When a crime is committed by the driver of a car – in a hit-and-run accident or by fleeing the scene of a crime – the police have a good change of identifying the owner of that car through his license plate. But when a gun is found near the scene of a crime, there is little change in most states of identifying the owner, because the possession of that gun is not kept track of once it has been sold. Charles O'Brien, chief deputy attorney general of California, called his state's record of handgun sales “one of the most valuable aids to law enforcement in the solution of gun crimes throughout the the 58 counties of the state.”
Disarm the law-abiding? We didn't want to disarm anyone except criminals. We wanted only to deny the privilege to possess firearms to rehabilitated felons, mental incompetents, addicts and alcoholics, and to juveniles who did not have a parents consent.
But, said opponents, people commit crimes, guns do not. Although we proponents of gun control may be dense in the eyes of some, I don't think that any of us believes that guns alone commit crimes. But we do know that crimes are committed by people using guns. And, as 22 of the nations most noted criminologists wrote to me in a jointly signed letter, “The availability of guns contributes to the incidence of murder, serious assault and other crimes of violence . . . Effective gun-control legislation could reduce the availability of guns and therefore the incidence of crimes of violence.”
A University of Chicago study of homicides in that city showed that the death rate is about five times greater in gun attacks that it is in attacks by knife, the second most dangerous weapon. A very substantial percentage of Chicago's homicides are the result of attacks that may not be motivated by the desire to kill. Therefore, the deadliness of the weapon becomes a key determinant of the homicide rate. The Chicago study concluded, “The absence of firearms would depress the otherwise expectable homicide rate. . .” So it may be true that people, and not guns, commit crimes; but the FBI reports that people commit more than 130,000 crimes with guns each year; and when they do, they are likely to cause somebody's death. Just as in the case of automobiles (which don't cause crimes, either), we must control the weapon to reduce the problem. Just as we forbid a blind man to drive a car, we must forbid lunatics and dangerous criminals to posses guns.
Present laws would be adequate, said the opponents, if they were enforced. We don't need more laws; there are already too many laws in this country for the good of freedom. Lets just enforce the ones already on the books and then see if we really need Congress' intervention.
So we looked at the laws on the books and we discovered that, in truth, many are not being enforced. But somehow, we couldn't bring ourselves to issue an appeal to Texas to enforce it's law forbidding carrying of a gun in a saddlebag except when traveling; and to Vermont to enforce it's law forbidding children from having guns in their schoolhouse; and to Arkansas to enforce it's law forbidding possession of a machine gun for offensive or aggressive purposes. Try as we might, we could not believe that vigorous enforcement of these laws would significantly reduce crime. So we continued the fight.
“Stop interfering with the rights of honest Americans,” said the opponents. “If you want to do something about gun crimes, stop harassing honest hunters and start really punishing criminals. Stiffen sentences, throw them in jail – that's the way to control crime.”
Certainly, a lot of people believe in that - President Nixon, for one. Unfortunately for those who advocate this simplistic approach, it cannot be shown, in most categories of crime, that stiffened sentences, mandatory minimums and the like have an appreciable effect on crime rates. Heavier penalties for gun crimes already exist. Armed robbery is a more serious offense than simple robbery; aggravated assault is more heavily punished than simple assault; murder is the most serious crime of all. But heavy penalties have not prevented rises in criminal statistics. Quite the contrary. Since 1965, the gun-murder rate has increased 47 percent; aggravated assault by gun is up 76 percent; and armed robbery by gun is up 58 percent.
Heavy sentences may be desirable. They may have some deterrent effect we don't yet know about. And, in fact, I cosponsored an amendment to the gun gill that authorized penalties up to life imprisonment for gun crimes. But my amendment would not help solve gun crimes and help prosecutors secure convictions, as registration would. And it would not prevent criminal access to guns, as licensing would.
The most hysterical argument of the gun lobby is that put forward by the National Rifle Association: “No dictatorship has ever been imposed on a nation of free men who have not previously been required to register their privately owned firearms.”