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“One may have a legitimate debate about whether some modern weapons or accessories, like silencers or large capacity bullet magazines, should be restricted or regulated. But for those who look to America’s past to extol a time when nothing stood between an American and a gun, they need to look again. In many respects, guns were much more strictly regulated decades or even centuries ago than they are today.” – Robert J. Spitzer in Guns Were Much More Strictly Regulated in the 1920s and 1930s Than They Are Today [at time.com]

55 Responses to Quote of the Day: When Was That Again?

  1. Yeah, MUCH more restricted! You had to undergo a background check to even get into the hardware store that they sold guns out of! You had to apply for a Sear’s & Roebuck catalogue, then get LEO sign-off for any purchase.

    Oh, wait, none of that’s true.
    I guess it was easier in the 20’s and 30’s.

    • Shhhhhhh… Don’t say that – we should use this to bolster support to repeal every gun law since the 1930s, maybe going back to 1933 or so. They win because suddenly guns are much more regulated, apparently, and we win because they’re actually not. Win-win!

    • They were very restricted.
      Between 1920 and 1930:
      * There were absolutely no internet sales.
      * The government didn’t issue a single FFL to a dealer.
      * The government didn’t approve a single NFA transfer.
      * You couldn’t buy an AR, AK, CZ, or Glock (among others) anywhere in the USA.

      I’m good at presenting facts completely out of context to support a ridiculous position. Maybe I should be an anti-gun journalist…wait no…can’t do it, I’ve got a sliver of self respect.

  2. Only restricted and regulated for minorities, white people could go into a hardware store and buy a Thomson sub machine gun with out any questions.

    • Even easier than that, they could send for one in the mail.

      Seriously, there was once a time when you could have a brand new machine gun shipped to your door without any hassle so long as you had the cash.

    • Oh, there were probably SOME questions………like….
      “Would you like it gift wrapped?” or “How about a couple boxes of ammo to go with that?”

  3. My father bought a bunch of surplus Garands from the local PD yard sale back in the day. Cash in the hand no checking anything.

    On the subject of these modern silencers..they’ve been around since 1900. Crazy modern technology. Must be full of lasers and microchips.

  4. Sigh. OK, genius, so why are NONE of those restrictions still in place? He makes it seem like hunters began preferring semi-autos, so the laws were changed (wedding 2a with hunting as usual.) The real answer of course lies in the same fact that doomed the precious 94 AWB to which he briefly alludes; they did not reduce crime. Criminals were still able to get what they wanted, and as the police stepped up their tooling to meet the threat the citizens almost universally demanded tose same rights. That is why, to this day, citizens tend to seek out the same firearms/calibers the police are using. If this guy scratched just a little deeper, he would see that he has actually just told the story of the failure of American gun control.

    • I feel like every anti-gun piece ever written is one surface-scratching away from telling the history of the failure of American gun control. Obviously this anti-gunner doesn’t look beneath the surface or at the big picture, if he did he wouldn’t be anti gun. This goes for all (non-statist) anti gunners.

  5. Yes, let’s go back to the 1920s. I want to order a Tommy gun and have it delivered with Amazon Prime. But, I will take USPS delivery if that’s the plan.

  6. Well a couple of things. First, technology advances. The polymer pistol wasn’t even an idea in the 20’s and 30’s. Design and production methods improve making the manufacturing easier, faster, and cheaper. Amazing that this always happens, yet certain folks act surprised we build houses without hand saws and logs.

    Second, citing the Prohibition Era probably not the best analogy for gun control since the rum runners, boot leggers, and mobsters of the day had guns and used them regularly for their illegal enterprise.

    Lastly, violent crime dropped throughout the new millennium until this year while gun ownership rose. Likely, there is little to no correlation between rising or falling crime and gun ownership. Criminals do what they do mostly regardless of how many households own guns or how many CCW permits are issued. The only benefit is when a criminal picks the wrong target, it may result in a career criminal not being around to continue his or her crime spree. Usually, someone else eventually picks up where the old criminal left off.

  7. Last night I watched the 9th circuit en banc hearing on Peruta. Alan Gura was asked a similar question. His answer was brillant. What he said was that back then was prior to Heller. The SCOTUS had not significantly stepped into the fday and the States had free reign to do anything they wanted. So reference to that time essentially is irrelevant. In my words, it would be like referencing ante bellum South regards black citizen rights. Not relevant anymore.

    RF you might want to post that link to the Peruta hearing. Paul Clement and Alan Gura were great.

    • Former Columbia University award-winning (since rescinded) professor of history at Emory University (since fired) who on about 2000 published an almost completely fabricated book on the history of firearms ownership in America. A central premise of which was that America gun culture is mostly recent and shallow, that most Americans didn’t even own guns until after the Civil War.

      He was trying to discredit the Secind Amendment as foundational to our country and culture. Along the way, he invented sources and “misread” other sources, to support his conclusions. A panel of world class historians investigated and found his work and ethics unprofessional and dishonest. He lost his awards, his job and ruined his academic career. Most recently he’s been teaching part time as an adjunct instructor at a school called Central Connecticut University, in addition to two other part time jobs to support himself.

      He has a new book out, not about guns, but he’s toast. He’s stil unrepentant about that last book and his lies. He claims he was “swiftboated” by the NRA.

        • The killer citations are in Bellesiles’ book- the guy cited probate records that were destroyed in the fire that followed the San Francisco quake in 1906. The only way to get access to those records now involves access to a time machine.

    • ARMING AMERICA: THE ORIGINS OF A NATIONAL GUN CULTURE is what he is most infamous for. The book was much touted back in its day, despite its many, many falsehoods. It pushed gun control in a big way by supposedly debunking Second Amendment activists claims. Eventually Bellesiles was exposed as a fraud.

      http://www.amazon.com/Arming-America-Origins-National-Culture/dp/0375701982/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1434559174&sr=8-1&keywords=arming+america

      A site that does a good job giving some detail what is wrong with his book:

      http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/1185

  8. Google search “1920 sears catalog guns”, It’s fascinating how restrictive it was back then. You had to pay for SHIPPING! What a brilliant way to deter criminals from getting guns!

  9. Maybe you can fool all the anthropology, women’s studies, and art majors, but anyone with even an basic understanding of American history knows that’s a lie.

  10. What the hell are large capacity bullet magazines , do they only hold large rounds? . it is like “journalists” throw all the anti-gun words in a blender abd see what comes out

    • At least he said magazines, and not, clipazines, clips, or atomic, cop killer, ammo-holder-thingies.

    • He’s one of the “Educated Elite”. He must have done alot of peer reviewed study of this very important subject. If he calls a standard capacity magazine a “Large capacity bullet magazine” he must be right.

      Or not.

      • Although, if we want to be accurate and not be spouting off about a subject we know little to nothing about, a “Bullet” is what comes out of the end of the barrel after the cartridge( which consists of the primer, brass, powder and bullet) which was in the standard capacity magazine but is now in the chamber, is fired.

    • “Bullet magazine” is weird wording but I do think “large” or “high” capacity magazines are a real thing. 9 round magazines for the lc9, 25 round 10-22 magazines, 40 round p-mags, or 10 round 1911 magazines are higher than that type of guns “standard” capacity.

      • In normal vernacular, “large capacity” would imply larger than standard capacity, but then given the extreme variations across firearms, the term “large” loses an objective meaning.

        Ex: 9 rounds of 9mm in an LC9 is a large capacity magazine but 19 in an XD(m) 9 is standard capacity. 5 rounds in average centerfire bolt-action rifle is standard, 10 is large, but 10 would be a very small magazine for an AR-15.

        Maybe “expanded capacity” or “extended” magazine is a better term? I’m asking here, not critiquing.

      • Those aren’t high capacity. High capacity is the 100 round C-Mag for the AR or the 25 round 1911 drum (yes it’s a thing). More than thrice the capacity of a standard capacity magazine.

        • Then again, the P90 (and PS90) have a standard 50-round magazine (read: clip). 100 rounds may not be ‘high capacity’ for long, though they may still be extended cap.

    • Yeah, I got that too. Just another sign that these leftist gun-control jerks don’t know anything about firearms. And when they do learn a word, they usually use it wrong and end up sounding like morons because they are so insincere about all of it.

  11. Even though it’s true, don’t you just hate how all political success is about marketing, rather than who’s right? Like that lovely photo of the author, with the kindly, mild-mannered, milquetoast smile and the soft photo filters to make him look even more likable. And of course, the goal is to make us appear, by comparison, mean, uncaring and unfeeling. It’s just one example of why we need to not just actually BE correct, we always need to work on the packaging of the message.

    To put it bluntly, one of the greatest literal gun-grabbers the world has ever seen, Hitler, came to power and bamboozled an educated, first-world nation by great marketing of his message with the passionate, emotive (but no real substantive content, mind you) speeches and the now infamous rallies. Because marketing.

    • That isn’t the whole story. In the incredibly easy read, “The Road to Serfdom” by Freidrich Von Hayek, it describes the preparation of the ground for Hitler to step into by the growth of big government with their socialistic/progressive programs decades prior to Hitlers power grab.

      Hayek wrote the book during WW II. He warned that England and the US would become vulnerable to such a concentration of power in the executive and the potential for another tyrant to take control if we went down the same road of social progressive/welfare programs. He didn’t mention Roosevelt by name, but I would not be surprised if he was thinking of him.
      Since then, He has been prophetic.

  12. And those “more strict regulations” in the 1920s and 1930s were just as unconstitutional then as they are now.

  13. Did not know about the specific state level restrictions prior to the NFA- and I wonder where they went. There’s plenty of propoganda from the time, a lot of great quotes about how state level restrictions are inadequate from gun control advocates. And of course the original goal of what would become the NFA did include banning handguns entirely.

    however, if you go back to right after the Civil War- when the real revolution in repeaters started. The US Army SOLD OFF their spencer (and other ) repeaters to civilians. Flooded the market. Put Spencer out of business. And what’s more- this occurred right after a horrifically bloody civil war where the repeaters proved themselves. And it’s a heck of a bigger jump from muzzleloading to lever action than from lever action to semi-auto.

    So it really depends how far back you want to go. The idea that new technologies that allow faster firing are too dangerous for civilians is not traditional.

    • Go all the way back. Like the saying goes, everyone’s always looking for the better rock. China banned weapons and farmers employed field implements and improved on hand to hand combat.

      “When the last gun is gone, I’m digging mine up and shooting the rest of you.” Might sound inflammatory, but that’s exactly what gun-brabber’s arguments sound like to me.

  14. He makes a pretty weak argument overall and doesn’t really support that conclusion quoted here, that guns were much more regulated back then.

    He mentions a few examples from some individual states, but those examples (like magazine capacity) from a few small states back then, hardly outweigh the many examples of mag limits in more and larger states today.

    He also doesn’t mention the obscene selectivity with which those laws were enforced back then. Sure, they were on the books, but certain demographics often got a pass, while certain others went to jail, ti a much greater degree than would occur today.

    Beyond that, he just vaguely refers to “various” other restrictions. Well. We cannot very well assess the severity of restrictions then versus now if he doesn’t specify them; certainly not enough to declare today our halcyon days.

    Ultimately, what I’m hearing out of this gungrabber is that all we firearms freedom proponents should just sit down, shut up, and eat our spinach, because we whiners don’t know how good we have it.

  15. “even centuries ago than they are today.”

    I call BS. I went to the to the full article and it merely states that a few states (” At least seven, and as many as ten states “) had bans (or attempted bans) on semi-auto weapons. It should be noted that:

    1. It was at the state level and not federal.

    2. Even if we grant the higher number of 10 that is less than a quarter of the 48 states in existence as of 1917.

    3. “Machine” guns (gas operated firearms) were still relatively new and a working and unified definition did not happen until later. Individual states and individuals were grappling w/ new technological realities.

    4. “Centuries”! Where was the arms control in the 1790’s? This author does not go back far enough. The 1920’s was not that long ago. You go back before 1914 (Harrison Narcotics Stamp Act) virtually any gadget or substance (drugs & explosives) could be had legally and without any licensing. Heck, the broomhandle mauser came out in 1896 – before any of the laws this misinformed NY Prof. would like to site.

    • I think the guy is confusing ownership and carrying. Ownership was indeed much more liberal for everyone (including blacks, by the way, so long as they could afford it, and so long as they could find a store that’d sell it to them) in 1920s, much less in the 19th century. But as far as carry goes, the period starting roughly with the end of the Reconstruction era, and ending with late 80s, was indeed more stringent overall, if you look at all the states that prohibited both open and concealed carry at that time.

  16. “A 1927 Massachusetts laws defined prohibited weapons as, “Any gun or small arm caliber designed for rapid fire and operated by a mechanism, or any gun which operates automatically after the first shot has been fire. . . shall be deemed a machine gun.””

    And I thought that only the current crop of Congress-critters were idiots. I wonder if this was the seed for Sugarman’s idea for blurring the lines between full- and semi-auto.

  17. Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see any actual stats in the article that indicated if the laws did any good in reducing crime. You know, evidence and such…

  18. Why is it that you don’t even have to finish the quote to know where they stand? When they say things like “silencers or large capacity bullet magazines” you know its all down hill.

  19. Violations of individual liberties and writings supporting or justifying those violations will be used by people and governments in the future to support tyrannical laws. The game of “see, this was allowed” is nothing new. Even the Heller decision played the game. By using “what was allowed in the past” doesn’t make for more free societies. It results in an overall distillation of individual liberty over the long term.

  20. Yes, so what. The Progressives were pushing totalitarianism around the 1920’s. Their two greatest and well-known achievements of the time were Prohibition and Fascism. Frankly, I cannot see why a Progressive would think bringing up any of their past exploits would be useful to their cause.

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