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Pierce writes: "This has been a public service announcement on behalf of how things are supposed to work."

Lyndon B. Johnson. (photo: Getty Images)
Lyndon B. Johnson. (photo: Getty Images)

This Is How We Once Changed Gun Laws

By Charles Pierce, Esquire

04 October 17

Look at the steps taken by Lyndon B. Johnson.

y October 22, 1968, President Lyndon Baines Johnson was as lame a duck as ever sat in the White House. Reviled by more than half of his own party, he’d dropped out of a race for re-election in March of that year. His party’s convention had been a bloodbath. Its nominee, Hubert Humphrey, was hated almost as much as Johnson was by most of the same people. The Republicans were gearing up to put Richard Nixon, of all people, into the White House. In Miami, while accepting his party’s nomination, Nixon had said:

For a few moments, let us look at America, let us listen to America to find the answer to that question. As we look at America, we see cities enveloped in smoke and flame. We hear sirens in the night. We see Americans dying on distant battlefields abroad. We see Americans hating each other; fighting each other; killing each other at home. And as we see and hear these things, millions of Americans cry out in anguish. Did we come all this way for this? Did American boys die in Normandy, and Korea, and in Valley Forge for this?

Listen to the answer to those questions. It is another voice. It is the quiet voice in the tumult and the shouting. It is the voice of the great majority of Americans, the forgotten Americans—the non-shouters; the non-demonstrators. They are not racists or sick; they are not guilty of the crime that plagues the land. They are black and they are white—they're native born and foreign born—they're young and they're old. They work in America's factories. They run America's businesses. They serve in government. They provide most of the soldiers who died to keep us free. They give drive to the spirit of America. They give lift to the American Dream. They give steel to the backbone of America. They are good people, they are decent people; they work, and they save, and they pay their taxes, and they care.

So, in addition to LBJ's other problems, the howling of backlash and reaction was growing, and Nixon was just the right vehicle for it. But shortly after LBJ had dropped out, Martin Luther King had been shot to death in Memphis and Robert F. Kennedy in Los Angeles. Enough, thought Lyndon Johnson, and he put together a gun control bill and forced its passage even though he was at the nadir of his career in terms of political power. He did not get everything he wanted, but what he got was remarkable enough and, when he signed the bill, this is what he said:

Some of you may be interested in knowing-really-what this bill does:

--It stops murder by mail order. It bars the interstate sale of all guns and the bullets that load them.

--It stops the sale of lethal weapons to those too young to bear their terrible responsibility.

--It puts up a big "off-limits" sign, to stop gunrunners from dumping cheap foreign "$10 specials" on the shores of our country.

Congress adopted most of our recommendations. But this bill--as big as this bill is--still falls short, because we just could not get the Congress to carry out the requests we made of them. I asked for the national registration of all guns and the licensing of those who carry those guns. For the fact of life is that there are over 160 million guns in this country--more firearms than families. If guns are to be kept out of the hands of the criminal, out of the hands of the insane, and out of the hands of the irresponsible, then we just must have licensing. If the criminal with a gun is to be tracked down quickly, then we must have registration in this country.

The voices that blocked these safeguards were not the voices of an aroused nation. They were the voices of a powerful lobby, a gun lobby, that has prevailed for the moment in an election year. But the key to effective crime control remains, in my judgment, effective gun control. And those of us who are really concerned about crime just must--somehow, someday--make our voices felt. We must continue to work for the day when Americans can get the full protection that every American citizen is entitled to and deserves-the kind of protection that most civilized nations have long ago adopted. We have been through a great deal of anguish these last few months and these last few years-too much anguish to forget so quickly.

In case you’d forgotten, that’s what presidential leadership—even from the lamest duck ever to hold the office—looks like.

This has been a public service announcement on behalf of how things are supposed to work. your social media marketing partner
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