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Bang! Bang! You're Dead
Martin Kane
March 18, 1968
Bonnie and Clyde have given the burgeoning cult of violence a campy stylishness, and a lot of Americans are going out and buying guns—not necessarily for sport. With the long hot summer just ahead, has the right to bear arms become outmoded? This question has brought much rhetoric, but here is a careful study—and specific recommendations
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March 18, 1968

Bang! Bang! You're Dead

Bonnie and Clyde have given the burgeoning cult of violence a campy stylishness, and a lot of Americans are going out and buying guns—not necessarily for sport. With the long hot summer just ahead, has the right to bear arms become outmoded? This question has brought much rhetoric, but here is a careful study—and specific recommendations

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"If those who wish to link firearms laws with crime compared metropolitan areas of nearly equal size, they would find Dallas with an overall homicide rate of 10.3 per 100,000 people, Milwaukee with a rate of 2.3 and Minneapolis-St. Paul with a rate of 2.1, and all with liberal gun laws.

"Both Alabama, the state with the highest homicide rate, and Vermont, which has the lowest, also have liberal firearms laws. And with 304 cities of varying size from all parts of the country reporting no willful killings of any kind, it would indicate that crime is affected by something other than firearms laws."

Despite such statistical evidence that mere possession of a gun does not inspire the vast majority of sportsmen to homicide, clamor for legislation of some sort is at its loudest since the days when Prohibition mobs were shooting it out for control of territory. And there is good reason for some of the proposed legislation. There is, for instance, the matter of selling guns by mail, a ready source of unrestrained supply for criminals, unsupervised juveniles and kooks.

Some mail-order advertising would seem to be addressed deliberately to the deranged. An advertisement for a tiny derringer pistol points out that the weapon was potent enough to polish off "two of our country's presidents, Abraham Lincoln and William McKinley. Remember," the ad continues, "that no matter how tough or big your opponent is, if you learn how to use a...derringer properly you will always be the victor."

Another house, announcing a sale of low-priced firearms, calls the sale a "long hot summer special."

An offer to sell, quite legally, a 20-mm. semi-automatic antitank gun ($99.50) describes the weapon as "hard hitting! Ideal for long-range shots at deer and bear or at cars and trucks and even a tank if you happen to see one."

As matters stand, anyone, whether legally entitled to possess a weapon or not, can get one by mail. All he has to do is lie a little. The coupons used in advertising of mail-order guns require only that the buyer sign some such statement as:

"I certify that I am 18 years or more of age; that I have never been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year—that I am not a fugitive from justice; that I am not a mental incompetent, a drug addict or an adjudged drunkard—and that I am not prohibited from legally acquiring a firearm by state or local laws." No sworn affidavit is necessary.

The most persistent advocate of firearms control in the U.S. has been Senator Thomas J. Dodd, who began introducing gun-control legislation as far back as 1963. He and a number of colleagues had been disturbed at the time by the almost total absence of control over the sale of handguns through the mails. In Chicago, members of his staff found 25% of guns from two mail-order houses were going to persons with police records ranging from misdemeanor to felony. Another report shows that 13 mailorder customers had previously been arrested for murder. Quite similar conditions prevailed in Washington, D.C.

So Dodd introduced legislation to control the mailorder sale of handguns—but not rifles or shotguns, which are seldom used in crime. He had the support of the National Rifle Association, long a vigorous and highly successful opponent of what it regards as needless restrictions on the rights of the shooting fraternity. The NRA even helped Dodd draft the law.

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