You go town, excited to be heading to the local establishment that carries a fine selection of firearms. You’ve been saving up your shekels for months and the day has finally arrived. You walk into the establishment and the man behind the counter knows you. “Hello, young man – what can I do for you?” “If you still have that Colt I was looking at last September, I’d like to take it off your hands today,” you say. “I’m sorry Johnny, but I sold it last month.” The proprietor looks at your crestfallen countenance with sympathetic eyes for what feels like an eternity.  Then he begins laughing, and a few of the men in the store start laughing too . . .

“I do have a different one I can sell you, though” he says. You dig into your pocket, and pull out a wad of bills and two shiny coins and lay it all on the counter.  “I should have known you were pulling my leg, Mr. Sorenson.” Mr. Sorenson retrieves the gun from the case behind the counter, collects your money, gives you your change and offers to show you how to load it.  “First six shots are on me, Johnny.”

You buckle your uncle’s gunbelt – you had to add two holes with an awl – around your waist and your new revolver fits perfectly. It feels good on your hip. You thank Mr. Sorenson and you are on your way.

Wait, what?

No background check, no waiting period?  Are you even 21 years old?

None of that mattered in 1895. The only thing that mattered was that you had enough dough to cover the cost of the firearm. I imagine Mr. Sorenson would make sure you Pa approved of your purchase, or if he knew you to be a drunk he may not want your business. But otherwise, you were good to go.

It wasn’t until very recently that the “reasonable” restrictions on firearms ownership could even be considered remotely reasonable. For most of our history, a man could walk out of prison, head off to another part of his state and buy a firearm.

This is not to say that I’m in favor of allowing convicted criminals to purchase a firearm. What I am saying is that until very recently it was impossible to keep a convicted felon from purchasing a firearm – at least from legitimate establishments who would otherwise not want to sell one to a convict.

Remember, we’re viewing the 2nd Amendment through our modern eyes, in an era of fast communication that makes things like instant background checks possible. Before the modern era, nobody would make an argument about “reasonable restrictions” pertaining to the right to keep and bear arms. But did the restrictions become reasonable, or did they just become possible? Possible is not necessarily lawful even if it may be desirable.

Restraining a constitutional right prior to its exercise ought to be problematic on its face, no matter how noble the desired outcome.  “Reasonable restrictions” like those in Chicago and Washington DC thwart honest citizens far more than they do criminals.

The thing is, technology exists now to make prior restraint on things like the First Amendment possible. ICANN could require me to get a background check before it would assign a domain name to me to publish a blog. That it is now possible, but does that make it lawful? Does it make it desirable?

I took my class, I gave my fingerprints, I got my background check before buying a gun to carry.  As a practical matter, I’d rather be slightly inconvenienced than flat-out denied my right to keep and bear arms as I was for most of my adult life. On balance, it’s a win. But that’s not what the 2nd Amendment says.

Progressives used to be honest and respectful of the rule of law. When they got it into their pretty little heads to ban alcohol, they at least went to the states and got Prohibition ratified. They recognized that kind of intrusion onto a citizens’ life demanded a Constitutional amendment.  Would that we were that respectful of our rights today.

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62 Responses to Reasonable Restrictions – A Modern Invention

  1. America was much different culturally, ethnically, religiously, etc in 1895. A marvellous time to be alive before our current zeitgeist of paranoia and over litigiousness.

    What country does a “shekel” come from? It sounds familiar.

    • Bah, I think its a classic logical fallacy to think that there was ever a time when life was better than it is now… We live on average longer, healthier, more productive lives today than ever. Violent deaths, percentage-wise, is as low as its ever been for our species as a whole. We live in amazing times, where we can live in a country where many people are allowed to carry firearms, yet for the most part know that they live in a safe enough country that using them for defense is a relatively rare occurrence.
      Screw 1895, people only lived to be 46 on average… And there was plenty of gun-control, just on an informal, local basis, just ask black people in the South back then… My grandfather was a coal miner in the 30’s who had to deal with the “company” unilaterally disarming his town so that strikers were helpless and unarmed against the Pinkertons… And the state was complicit, because the local boys were bought off by the company. People forget how bad corruption was in the “good ol days”.
      I think we can have our cake and eat it too when it comes to the 2nd amendment. As long as a background check has no effect on how long it takes for you to purchase a firearm, then it doesn’t really impact your “right” to purchase now does it? Unless you’re a felon… So, if they can be made instantaneous… Sorry, just being theoretical here. I’m a tech guy…

      • Theory is fine, but in gray hair land, I wait on average 30 minutes or more due to the volume of NICS checks going through the system. That’s hard to squeeze by on a lunch break. Just saying.

      • I agree. When thinking to the “old” days, many factors need to come into into play, and romanticizing the past all too often leads to ignoring some of the problems that may not make it into movies, stories, or even history texts.

        Sort of like some D&D players who say they wish they lived in medieval times. Trust me, guys, you don’t.

        • Aww you poor thing, I’m so sorry you don’t have enough time to buy a gun during you lunch break…lol. I’ll take the minor inconveniences over the alternative. It may not be perfect, and you can never expect it to be, but at least we have rights, look at the rest of the world

        • I was being sarcastic. But yes, I’ve been known to buy firearms on my lunch break.

        • Dennis Miller had a one word response when someone waxed poetically about the “old days”… dentistry.

      • It’s a classical logical fallacy to assume that one’s society and era are the pinnacle of human existence. Keep in mind that we lowly civilians could mail-order submachines in the evil past. I’m a Yankee. Gun rights for slaves is a Southern issue.

        • Pinnacle? No… that would mean that the future will be worse… I just think that mankind in general is still on an upward trajectory… I’m an optimist like that. Its what sets me apart from alot of my shooting range friends…
          The most violent places in the world (barring wars) are the most old-fashioned… Papua New Guinea has one of the highest murder rates in the world.. and thats mainly because of how tribal their society still is… Honor killings, petty family feuds escalating into murders.. its all very old fashioned, and very tribal. Afghanistan, and Pakistan’s FATA… very, very tribal and medieval in their mindset and attitudes.. just using modern weaponry.
          Based on all that… you could have a super armed society with almost no violence… as long as the culture prevents it…. Sorry, I’m getting way too theoretical here fellas.. my bad.

        • Ah now I see where you’re coming from, Josh. Personally, I’ve always perceived history as cyclical and varying by region and people. Some really are just more civilized than others for a host of reasons.

          What you said about tribal societies is accurate. But it also varies by tribe. Personally I’d feel safer with Visigoths than Pakistanis. “Noble Savages” are a myth. But modernity also offers opportunities for degeneration and decadence. Given the choice between both I’d pick the middle.

          Granted, we can’t turn back the clock. But one day this globalized system will fall. It would take four Earths to bring the material comforts of America to 7 billion people. Oil production peaked in 2006. Consumer society and the state needed to enforce “rights” won’t last forever.

          Pessimism isn’t the right term. Realism sounds better. It’s refreshing to see conversations get theoretical! Thanks your for input Josh.

      • Before that it was a unit of measurement for money dating back to 3000 BCE Mesopotamia. If you’ve read the Hammurabi Code or the Bible you will see it there. It became the Israeli currency in 80’s, then was replaced by the new shekel (NIS). Whats so new about it, I don’t know.

    • I second that. No big fan of corn cobs here. Minus the racism, it would have been a fabulous time to be alive.

    • When the powers that be decided that ignorant Americans would be easier to control and scam they made a concerted effort to eliminate teaching school students basic reasoning skills, the Socratic method, and how to be logical thinkers.

      In many cases they replaced such instruction with indoctrination. Those with incurious minds were praised, while those who questioned the status quo in a way that the ideologues did not like were derided and persecuted rather than debated. This goes on to this very day.

      Question the political dogma of the left and the right. Challenge authority and whisper that the emperor has no clothes. You won’t be rewarded for it, I guarantee you that.

      • My wife and I were discussing at lunch today how even educated college degree holders come off as dumb in how the world really works. And how easily they are manipulated.

    • When blame shifted from perpetrator to the tool used is when the trouble started.

      That has been going on for centuries. I read an article that a British Lord threw a knife down onto a table and made an impassioned plea for knife control. An opponent asked if he had a fork.

    • Ergo my discomfort at the Fast & Furious antipathy here. Stinks of anti-government, anti-LEO, OMG-the-Attorney-General-is-black to me. YMMV.

    • Pair-o-dee: I think there is a big difference between inadvertently selling a gun to a thug and having the government break its own rules to sell a gun to a thug.

  2. Americans enjoyed considerably more economic and personal freedom back in those days, except blacks. It’s a shame that instead of extending those freedoms to everyone regardless of color we’ve pretty much regulated them all to hell.

  3. “It wasn’t until very recently that the “reasonable” restrictions on firearms ownership could even be considered remotely reasonable. For most of our history, a man could walk out of prison, head off to another part of his state and buy a firearm.”

    In Michigan, up until the mid-Nineties, there was still a law on the books that said when a man got out of prison, the State had to provide him with a horse and a rifle.

    A friend of mine’s uncle took advantage of the law and, upon his release, filled out the appropriate form and sent it to his local sheriff. After three weeks, with no court battle or other legal wrangling, they sent him a check for $500.

  4. Another thing I should point out is that a lot of antis I have had debates and discussions with either don’t care about rights or don’t understand them.

    “You don’t need THAT,” they say.

    Immediately I think of Marx’s famous slogan: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”

    This is what a lot of enemies of freedom believe.

    The authoritarians need their demons (gun owners, the rich, etc.) and their religion of envy is cancerous and disastrous.

    • I reply “need has nothing to do with it.”

      Then I reasonably point out that they don’t “need” a computer to enjoy freedom of speech or freedom of the press. We could “reasonably” ban ‘net access or blogs, and force them to publish their rantings with moveable type presses. Oh, and then for “health” reasons, we’ll restrict access to Linotype, because it contains lead. Just like bullets.

      As I keep pointing out, the best way to deal with these people and their sheep-like train of thought is to cram their logic down their throat as hard and frequently as possible. Their heads are thick and their egos are vast, so it will take repetitive application for the point to sink in.

  5. The roots of modern gun control are racist and targeted that “nasty black man with a gun.”

    That’s it in a nutshell. Look no further at the roots of the term “Saturday night special” to see what I mean. If one has a copy of “The Saturday Night Special and Other Guns” by R. Sherrill, one can see the truth behind the gun control movement coming into view decades ago.

    And liberals would have you believe that they’re the racially enlightened ones.

    But let’s look back even further. NB the wave of gun control laws in the post-Civil War era that swept across the South… and then into the northeastern states, all designed to prevent blacks from owning guns.

    Oh, BTW… the abortion debate as it’s roots in the same sort of racism in the era of eugenics in the 20’s and 30’s. Go look up the utterances and scribblings of Margaret Sanger to see the evidence there.

  6. I believe “reasonable restrictions” partly stems from the hazardous products being created around this time period. While firearm manufacturing from 1895 onward was getting safer (from a operating point of view), other products were not. From the early 20th century there are numerous, now banned, substances that caused enormous suffering. Lead being one, and a good example of profit > all mentality. Hell, x-ray machines were used in some stores to measure your shoe size, and that wasn’t even banned until the ’70s.

    Basically companies got greedy and caused severe health problems for a lot of people. Today there are all kinds of laws regarding how certain materials can be bought, stored, disposed of, etc. So now that “product safety” is everywhere, and firearms are caught in the middle because they are supposed to be a weapon. I’m guessing since politicians feel they can regulate whatever product is produced in America, they are free to do whatever they feel is necessary to somehow make firearms “safer” (determined by a definition of their choosing). It is good that some regulation was put in place to stop outright unscrupulous companies from making hazardous products and not acknowledging them as such, but regulation tends to spread like a virus in US law to the unfortunate amount and severity of gun laws we have today.

    Note: Originally my comment was supposed to be along the lines of “Guns are simply tools, tools/products became dangerous by greedy companies, got regulated, firearms got sucked in.” But I think I went a little off-topic so here is my disclaimer (ironic considering the content of this comment).

  7. Speech is still free, just each time you write an article for a newspaper you only have to have a license to speak, get that article approved, make sure you have never broken any libel or slander laws, and have a 2 week waiting period to make sure you don’t publish something in undue haste.

    What’s unreasonable about that?

  8. My biggest complaint about modern times would be the near instand mass communication we enjoy today. I enjoy most modern innovations but I also think we would be better off if we weren’t all so connected

  9. I find it remarkable that people so blithely accept the broad-brush of “felon” as a legitimate reason to deny a right to keep arms. Here’s why: There are literally several thousand so-called felonies which involve no violence. The federal statute (18 US Code §922) makes you a felon if you violated a state law, graded by the state as a misdemeanor, if the legislators for whatever reason gave the judge the right to impose a sentence longer than one year. Such longer maximums are generally written into state law when they wish to give the Judge the ability to supervise (put on probation) the person for more than a year, to make sure he or she has straightened out. Good examples are misdemeanor DUI offenders and misdemeanor tax offenders. These non-violent offenses should be effectively considered felonies under the federal statute, causing lifetime prohibition? That makes no sense. Indeed, you can break one of many EPA rules and end up a prohibited person.

  10. So what IS your point? “Reasonable Restrictions” didn’t exist in 1895? Maybe not as a matter of law, but there were a lot of other things that didn’t exist either, like civil rights and due process of law if you were a member of a disliked minority (not just black but also indian/poor/irish/italian/chinese, etc.) Also Miranda didn’t exist in 1895 nor did Mapp v. Ohio, meaning the exclusionary rule didn’t exist, so if the police beat the crap out of you to get a “confession” or kicked your door in without a warrant and found you doing something illegal, you’d still get prosecuted and the most the cops would get is a mild tut-tutting and a “don’t do it again.”

    And since we’re all about the first amendment here as well as the second, the first amendment pretty much meant nothing in 1895, as most of our current 1st amendment cases came out of WWI. Meaning that if you were some kind of undesirable, like a marxist or a trade unionist or, God forbid, a wobbly, the government would have no problem shutting down your printing press and probably wrecking it so it would never work again.

    Yeah, those were the good old days all right. :rolleyes:

    • First, law enforcement was not even REMOTELY as pervasive and militaristic as it is today in most of the country, nor were there nearly as many laws on the books to enforce. You could get away with a lot more back then. Due process did exist. As for racial bigotry in America during the late 1800s? The pervasive racism throughout America at the time was unfortunate, reprehensible, and regrettable. Minorities were treated like shit. But, by and large, the average person enjoyed much greater personal freedom (precisely because there were less laws and less law enforcement) in most places back then than they do in the US today.

      Economic freedom was also much greater.

      Opportunities, of course, depended on where you lived.

      • Sorry sir, but I disagree about the personal freedom thing. Yes, personal freedom was much less infringed by the federal gov’t, but you better beleive that local gov’t, and more importantly, the unspoken community (gov’t by neighbors) infringed the hell out of personal freedom.
        I’m not talking about minorities either, we are talking about drinking too much, working on the sabbath, leaving your cow in the commons too long, etc… It was all stuff that would get you punished by your neighbors and we aren’t talking about Homeowner Association fines… It was all very low-level, very uneven, and very open to manipulation by the local rich and powerful… Anyone could be a minority when it came to behavior…
        The community (gov’t by busybody, mob rule, etc) is exactly what would drive frontiersman ever further west… it was the first gov’t to take over in a new settlement.. and it could be very vicious… It was even written about in horror/satires such as the Lottery.

        • I’m willing to give up drinking on the Sabbath, but by god I’ll leave my cow anywhere I want to.

    • So what IS your point? “Reasonable Restrictions” didn’t exist in 1895? Maybe not as a matter of law, but there were a lot of other things that didn’t exist either, like civil rights and due process of law if you were a member of a disliked minority

      Do not infer what I have not implied.

      Unalienable rights endowed to us by our creator exist whether our neighbors recognize them or not. I would argue that those rights did exist as a matter of law, society was simply not up to the task.

      The case law you cite vis a vis free speech and the WW1 era – that is the rise of the progressive movement in which the Federal Government under Wilson and later FDR began asserting itself in ways to thwart that pesky Constitution.

    • Actually, my Irish ancestors did OK back in 1895 and were community leaders and even cops. My Grandfather was head of the county GOP and my Great-Great Grandfather started the VFW ( even though he fought in the Civil War). I suppose Irish were mistreated in big East Coast cities, but my Irish family moved out to Blue Creek Township, Adams County Indiana in the middle of a bunch of people from Germany and Switzerland. Then, the German and Swiss folk became my ancestors and family.

  11. OK, I will toss a peace of chum into the water. What limitations on the arms people can own are “reasonable”, if any? I get the impression most people on this site see no reason to restrict the sales of SBRs and silencers (present company included). How about machine guns? I have never heard a reasonable explanation why private citizens should own them (and yelling “Second Amendment!” over and over does not count). Would anyone care to argue we should be allowed to own grenade launchers?

    • I am not speaking definitively, but perhaps the “Militia” component provides guidance. We should not have the ownership of what any infantryman would carry infringed.

    • Tyranny is defined as that which is legal for the government and illegal for the citizen.

      We should be able to own any piece of combat equipment the military owns because, at it’s root, the 2nd Amendment was designed to enable us to oust an unjust government. How can we do that without equal force?

      • Yeah, good luck with that. Do you have your pennies saved for your $ 10 million Predator drone, armed with two $ 68,000 Hellfire missiles? Got anything that can reach 25,000 feet?

      • I actually agree with Silver, but the price tag for some of this stuff is sort of high.

        But one thing that does come to mind is that when my Dad and Grandfather were in WWI and WWII; Granddad had a battery of 155mm howitzers and Dad at one point had an M36 90mm Tank Destroyer, an M8 37mm Armored Car, .50 cal Browning Hvy Machine Gun, BAR, Thompson, 60mm Mortar, and Bazooka.
        So if we trust them to fight for our country, why does not our country trust them with weapons as civilians?

  12. ‘Progressives used to be honest and respectful of the rule of law.”

    True. The integrity of today’s common-man American citizen liberal or conservative is different than the common-man in the 196os. Despite their social and political differences, outlook, values, etc they generally did have a greater sense to respect the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. IMO, most politicians (left or right) were scum then as they are now.

  13. Mid 60s, bought my first revolver, right after I got out of service, a .38 spl. Had to show my driver’s liscense, hand over the money, and leave. As to the “good old Days”, anybody that yearns to have them back must have a short memory. My thinking is, if you follow the money from “Gun Contol” advocates, back up stream, you will run into a criminal connection of some sort. Less firearms the better for them, they are not going to be affected by any laws.

  14. Progressives used to be honest and respectful of the rule of law.

    Yes, Tim, I’m sure that FDR’s “court packing” plan was very respectful.

    • Nothing illegal or unconstitutional about that. No number of Supreme Court justices is specified in the Constitution.

      • Except that FDR wanted 6 more right away to tip the balance of the vote. If he had to wait 6 months between new justices, or even get Congress and the states to agree to an additional seat or two that would be different.
        Remember we got a new amendment after he died, he wasn’t as revered by everyone as the text books today like to say/

  15. “Progressives used to be honest and respectful of the rule of law. When they got it into their pretty little heads to ban alcohol, they at least went to the states and got Prohibition ratified. They recognized that kind of intrusion onto a citizens’ life demanded a Constitutional amendment.”

    And that little object lesson taught the Progressives something. It taught them that if they play by the rules to get their precious ideas enacted, then when the ideas don’t perform as promised (and they seldom do because their real purpose is so often something other than their public purpose), the Great Unwashed could undo all their hard work.

  16. About the only thing progressives don’t want to control is whom, or what, you mate with. Everything else is fair game, from what kind of toilet you flush to the paper you put in it, to what temperature you set on your thermostat and what kind of light bulb you use for it all. They even want to police what you say. At some point you’d think people would realize this is not progress. Promising freedom, they will make you a slave.

  17. During the good old days which my Grandparents lived in…
    Travel was by horse and buggy until about 1914. Mud roads by and large.
    Infant mortality was rather high and chickenpox could kill a child. ( Grandmother’s Brother died this way ).
    Mid-Wives were the medical care for many people back then.
    No electricity, flush toilets, running water in Grandparents childhood homes.
    Well water was for drinking and then the kids would fall in and drown. ( One of Grandmother’s Brothers again).
    Domesticated animals you sometimes ate. Laying hens are not very tasty.
    Hunting was not really for sport, more for food variety. Groundhogs! Yummy!
    Dandelions were a salad. Orchards and gardens were a food supplement.
    Guns were expensive and usually consisted of shotguns and .22lr rifles.
    Grandmother lived in a log cabin until 1913. She had a pet Possum.
    A lot of people spoke and were literate in both Platt and Hoch Duetsch as well.
    Swastikas were OK, as Hitler was still a little boy.

    • Sounds like paradise. Please pass the possum and a side of dandelions. Oh, wait — do you have any Gray Poupon?

    • My Grandmother told me about all of that, my Aunt like dandelion salad very much. And my great grandparents ate like mice for 5 years to save enough money to buy their first house with cash.
      My father lost twin brothers to pneumonia, when was the last time anyone you know in America lost children to a cold? We treat the most complicated diseases today and kids survive most of them.

  18. BTW, Pastors were not really paid back then. Usually the Pastor was a literate intelectual Farmer. Sunday School Teachers were usually the Pastor’s kids. The Cemeteries contained people all related to one another and it was not unusual to marry a Second Cousin. Many men remarried as many women died in childbirth.
    I have people related to me a couple times over and I have relatives who were from the same Father but different Mothers due to the high mortality rate back then. I have a large ancestoral family cemetery with rows of small graves of people who died as children and infants.

  19. Their reasonable restrictions, always boil down to anyone but them being disarmed, and working for them, guarded by their “people” who are of course “armed” by them.

    I vote we don’t ever do that again!

    In fact, I insist we don’t ever do that again.

  20. “Progressives used to be honest and respectful of the rule of law.”

    And they stopped that approach as soon as Prohibition was repealed – 1934, if I recall their first Act of Congress that trashed the 2nd Amendment.

  21. These so called “reasonable restrictions” and other socialist/collectivist nanny
    state B.S. and political deceit can be layed at the feet of America’s worse president
    ever in the the White House: Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ)! Not to mention the deceitful
    crooked anti-gun U.S. Senator Thomas Dodd (D0dd) of Connecticut! Also, the
    abusive dictatorial Supreme Court (Earl Warren) from this same era. We continue
    to pay for their high crimes and political atrocities to date! LBJ and Earl Warren
    deserved to be impeached and removed from high office! On the net:

    The John Birch Society (www.jbs.org)
    JPFO, Inc……………………(www.jpfo.org)
    Gun Owners of
    America ………………………(www.gunowners.org)
    Constitution Party of
    Oregon …………………………(www.gunowners.org

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