“It Wasn’t Always Like This” The Evolution of Gun Control

12/27/2017 12:06 PM | Anonymous

By Harold Moskowitz

Until about 1925, few Americans questioned a person’s right to own a firearm for protection of life and property. In the eighteenth century, armed farmers helped win our independence. Firearms were essential for homestead defense against Native American attacks and wild animals in the nineteenth century. As the nation expanded westward, the Colt revolver became the “Great Equalizer” in mining camps and “cow towns.” Ranchers and farmers would not have agreed upon much except the usefulness of Henry and Winchester rifles.

However, America was changing. Power farm equipment replaced horses. There was much less need for ‘hired hands’ for harvesting. Millions of these now unemployed men and their families migrated to the cities where they joined the throngs of immigrant families. The dramatic increase in urban population gave cities increasing political power over rural areas. By 1910, census data indicated that a majority of the population lived in cities.

Rural people felt comfortable with firearms and knew how to handle them safely. In the densely populated ethnic neighborhoods of cities like New York, firearms were viewed as a dangerous menace. In the southern part of Manhattan, criminal street gangs used handguns to eliminate rival gang members and for extorting money from shopkeepers. In 1903, two rival gangs, the Eastmans and the Five Points Gang had a five-hour shootout. When police arrived, both gangs began firing at responding officers.

The firearms used by the criminal gangs were not illegal to possess but there was a ten dollar fine for carrying a concealed firearm in the city. State Senator Timothy Sullivan represented this part of the city and instinctively saw an advantage in proposing a gun control law in Albany. His “Sullivan Law” took effect in 1911. It made buying or selling a handgun a felony in the state unless the person had a license for the handgun. Licenses were required for state residents if a firearm was small enough to be concealed. Possession of an unlicensed firearm would be a misdemeanor but carrying the weapon became a felony. The law was a “may issue” statute. Police were given authority to decide whether or not a person would receive a concealed carry license. The jury is still out on whether or not Sullivan actually believed in gun control.

At the time, he was also the head of the New York City Democrat political machine “Tamany Hall.” For getting out the vote on Election Day, prepaid drinks were available at local saloons for those who voted “the right way.” Intimidation at the polls was also a useful method of guaranteeing votes. “Big Tim” Sullivan had a working relationship with the leaders of both the Eastmans and the Five Points criminal gangs. He is said to have also had his own “soldiers” for use on Election Day. Passage of his law would make it possible for his own men to be among the few who could legally carry firearms in the city. New York City historian George Lankevich has claimed that the law’s motivation was for Sullivan’s friends on the police force to plant handguns on his political rivals’ thugs and have them arrested.

The Sullivan Law was the start of gun control. In 1927, Congress ended mail order handgun sales. Due to a rash of bank robberies and Prohibition Era use of Thompson submachine guns by gangsters, Congress passed the Firearms Act of 1934. It regulated machine guns plus rifles and shotguns with shortened barrels. The Firearms Act of 1938 helped the states to enforce their own recently enacted gun control laws by requiring individuals and manufacturers to have a federal license for making, sending, receiving, or selling firearms.

Elected politicians since Timothy Sullivan have capitalized on gun-related violence for personal gain. They are aided and abetted by the news media. The spotlight needs to be on the real causes of violence in our society: the constant failure of urban elected officials to prosecute under existing laws those individuals who are killing and injuring others with illegally possessed handguns; the insufficient resources for treatment of people with mental health issues; the proliferation of movies, videogames and song lyrics which glorify violence while degrading the value of human life.

We need to express clearly to the younger generation why Second Amendment rights are important for all law-abiding people. Erosion of the Second Amendment is a civil rights issue and should be constantly portrayed as such whenever an opportunity presents itself. Finally, those whose ultimate goal is to end the individual right to keep and bear arms wait for the public emotion which follows each mass shooting. With perceived public support, they incrementally push forward with their agenda. Without a solid constitutionalist majority on the Supreme Court, we will likely have to deal with ongoing erosion of the Second Amendment.

A 2nd Amendment Defense Organization, defending the rights of New York State gun owners to keep and bear arms!

PO Box 165
East Aurora, NY 14052

SCOPE is a 501(c)4 non-profit organization.

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