Context — June 26, 2015, 5:29 pm

The Traffic in Guns

A Forgotten Lesson of the Assassination 

Published in the December 1964 issue of Harper’s Magazine, “The Traffic in Guns” explores how the gun lobby stifled gun-control legislation in the 1960s. The full article is free to read at Harpers.org through June 29. Subscribe to Harper’s Magazine for access to our entire 165-year archive.

[Lede]

From a Huffington Post report, published June 18, 2015, on President Barack Obama’s response to the massacre of nine African Americans by a white gunman in Charleston, South Carolina.

“I’ve had to make statements like this too many times. Communities have had to endure tragedies like this too many times,” [President Obama] continued. “Once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun. … We as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.”

The guiding principle of the NRA is the belief that the only justifiable laws are those providing stiffer penalties for the criminal use of guns, and that preventive measures, such as a registration requirement, would neither stop lawbreakers from obtaining guns nor reduce crime.

To support this thesis, the NRA vilifies as ineffective New York’s strict Sullivan law, which requires a permit to own as well as to buy a handgun. Congressman Dingell once called it “the continuing sorrow of collectors, shooters, and hunters.” The state’s high crime rate is cited as evidence.

But in fact, as Senator [Thomas] Dodd has pointed out, the homicide rate per 100,000 population in cities with some gun regulation is lower than in those with no controls. In the first group the rate in 1962 was: New York, 5.4; Chicago, 7.6; Los Angeles, 6; Philadelphia, 4.9; and Detroit, 5.5. In pistol-packing Phoenix and Dallas, with virtually no gun controls at all, the homicide rates were 8.1 and 13.4, respectively.

Opponents of gun-control laws question the validity of such comparisons. But this is really not the issue. For like most lobbies, this one is powered by dollars-and-cents logic, with a strong admixture of pseudopatriotism to give it added status.

Hunting, target, skeet, and trap shooting are big business today. Their devotees spend an estimated $200 million to $250 million a year on guns, ammunition, and shooting accessories. Even more lucrative are the “side” ramifications, which probably produce a billion dollars annually for the makers of automobiles, fuel, wearing apparel, and boats. 

Also worried about legislation that might hamper hunters are state conservation departments, which depend heavily on hunting license fees and taxes for financial support. There is, of course, no law now on the books or under consideration that would prevent the bona fide sportsman from buying any weapon or ammunition he needs to train his sights on a buck, quail, or clay pigeon. Indeed the genuine sportsman’s voice is seldom heard in the outcry against gun-control laws. The dominant note is the shrill voice of the superpatriot. His sentiments were once well synthesized by Goldwater’s ghost-writer, Karl Hess, in a magazine article. “The question of freedom, when stripped to its steel center, is just this: Who has the guns?” 

Read the full article here.

Share
Single Page

More from Carl Bakal:

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

July 2019

Ramblin’ Man

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Just Keep Going North”

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

El Corralón

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Marmalade Sky

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

New Books

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Trials of Vasily Grossman

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
“Just Keep Going North”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On February 5, 2019, the president of the United States (a certain Donald Trump) in his State of the Union speech warned of “migrant caravans and accused Mexican cities of busing migrants to the border ‘to bring them up to our country in areas where there is little border protection.’ ”? Wishing to see the border for myself, I decided to visit Arizona, where my ignorance of local conditions might save me from prejudgment.

Post
English Referendums and Scotch Voters·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

After years of post-Brexit uncertainty, Scotland’s independence movement has become resurgent

Article
No Joe!·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In the heart of the US Capitol there’s a small men’s room with an uplifting Franklin Delano Roo­sevelt quotation above the door. Making use of the facilities there after lunch in the nearby House dining room about a year ago, I found myself standing next to Trent Lott. Once a mighty power in the building as Senate Republican leader, he had been forced to resign his post following some imprudently affectionate references to his fellow Republican senator, arch-segregationist Strom Thurmond. Now he was visiting the Capitol as a lucratively employed lobbyist.

Article
Marmalade Sky·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On a November Saturday in 1990, Pam went over to Joe’s place to listen to records. It was raining in sheets that whipped around the corners of buildings and blowing so hard that women in heels were taking men’s arms to cross the street. Cars were plowing bow waves through puddles of scum.

As Joe was letting Pam into the apartment, a man emerged from the bedroom with a square sheet of black plastic in his hand and said, “Hey, man, you have the Sassy Sonic Youth flexi!”

Article
New Books·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Discussed in this essay:

Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark, by Cecelia Watson. Ecco. 224 pages. $19.99.

Four Men Shaking: Searching for Sanity with Samuel Beckett, Norman Mailer, and My Perfect Zen Teacher, by Lawrence Shainberg. Shambhala. 144 pages. $16.95.

Japanese Tales of Lafcadio Hearn, edited by Andrei Codrescu. Princeton University Press. 224 pages. $22.95.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

More than 20 emergency personnel rushed to a park in Queens, New York, to investigate a dead baby that turned out to be a doll.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Happiness Is a Worn Gun

By

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

Subscribe Today