The NRA, though it accepts mail-order advertising in The American Rifleman, does in fact favor legislation that would make it less likely for weapons to fall into the hands of other than the law-abiding. William F. Camp, a director of the association, would make it a requirement that mail orders for handguns be accompanied by a certificate from the buyer's local police, a concession that does not sit well with members who are aware of how difficult New York City police, for example, have made it for the law-abiding to obtain handguns, for sport or protection, under the state's Sullivan Law. (The original intent of the Sullivan Law was to get guns into the pockets of supporters of the Tammany Hall politician for whom it was named, while denying the privilege to henchmen of his opponents. Some of the latter even considered sewing up their pockets, because Sullivan men were not above slipping a pistol into the pocket of a rival and calling the police.) The law, as interpreted and enforced by police nowadays, amounts to all but total prohibition of the possession of handguns.
The NRA is vigorously opposed to the registration of firearms, however, partly on the ground that it would be a needless nuisance, observed only by the law-abiding in any case, and on the less persuasive ground that it has sometimes worked against the people in countries where registration is required by law. The Nazis, for instance, took advantage of gun registration when they seized Czechoslovakia. Registration told the invaders who owned guns, which were promptly confiscated. The same happened more recently when the military junta took over the Greek government. Could it happen here? Sinclair Lewis used to think so, though in these times the possibility seems too remote to be taken seriously.
Opponents of registration make the point that a registered weapon is quite as deadly as an unregistered one and that registration requirements would be observed only by the law-abiding.
The "right" to bear arms, if that is what it is, is cited constantly by opponents of restrictive gun legislation. Not only the U.S. Constitution but the constitutions of 35 states declare the right of citizens to bear arms. It was supported as a right by John F. Kennedy when he was a Senator and by Hubert H. Humphrey, now Vice-President, in an article written for the magazine Guns. In neither case was the issue so bitterly debated as it is now, and it is quite probable that both gentlemen were appealing politically to the mystique of American weaponry that has come down to us from pioneer days—a persistent factor even now when shooting is concerned mainly with hunting for sport, peppering paper targets or such shotgun sports as trap and skeet. Actually, the courts have been rather vague as to whether the right still exists in a day when we do have a militia, the National Guard and police forces as well, and it is no longer necessary to take down the old muzzle-loader to put meat on the table.
So it might be possible for Congress to pass, and later have accepted by the Supreme Court, extremely restrictive, even potentially confiscatory, legislation. That is scarcely likely, however. For one thing, some 25 members of Congress are members of the NRA. For another, though the mood around Washington now seems to favor some kind of weapons legislation, prevalent opinion is that something more moderate than the Johnson-Dodd proposal probably will get through.
The NRA, despite widespread belief that it is opposed to any and all anti-gun laws, has its own suggested program of legislation. Testifying before Senator Dodd's subcommittee last spring, Executive Vice-President Franklin L. Orth recommended that Congress:
1) provide a mandatory penalty for the possession or use of a firearm transported in interstate commerce or foreign commerce and used in the commission of a crime;
2) prohibit licensed manufacturers or dealers from shipping any firearm to any person in any state in violation of the laws of that state;
3) place "destructive devices" (bombs, grenades, mines, crew-served military ordnance, etc.) under the tax and registration provisions of the National Firearms Act [of 1934].
4) require that a person who orders a handgun by mail or over the counter in a state other than his own submit to the seller a sworn statement that he is over 21 years of age, is not prohibited by federal law from receiving a handgun shipped in interstate commerce and his receipt of the firearm is not in violation of any state statute. The affidavit would contain the name and address of the principal local law-enforcement officer of the locality to which the handgun would be shipped, and the seller would have to forward the affidavit by registered or certified mail to that law-enforcement officer and receive from him a reply indicating receipt of this notification. The seller would be required to wait at least seven days after receipt of the notification by the law-enforcement officer before shipment could be made.