Was Ronald Reagan Anti-Gun?

OPresident Reagan makes an address at a rally for Texas Republican candidates at Wild Briar Farm, Irving, Texas on Oct. 11, 1982. (Photo: Reagan Presidential Library)

The Gipper. The Great Communicator. Ronald the Right Anti-Gunner?

For many, President Ronald Reagan stands as the paragon of conservative principles, American values, and Republican might. Reagan led what is still considered the Golden Age of American conservatism, and Grand Old Party presidents have been measured by his 6’1” standard ever since.

But when it comes to gun control, Reagan’s legacy is less clean cut than his signature style. Answering this article’s titular question is, in a word, fraught. Complicated. Contentious. (Ok, three words.)

Reagan was the victim of a gun-wielding, would-be assassin in 1981, but five years later signed the important piece of pro-gun legislation since the Second Amendment. He was both an NRA member and a supporter of the Brady Bill. He spoke out in favor of shooting sports and called AK-47’s “machine guns.”

Much depends on one’s definition of “anti-gun.” If supporting any type of firearms regulation warrants the anti-gun label, then Reagan falls into that category. But if truly anti-gun individuals must support gun confiscation a la Australia, then Reagan probably gets a pass.

I won’t pretend to have a direct line into Reagan’s psyche. At any point in his career he may have acted out of sincere belief or political expedience. Is the real Reagan the man who signed the Firearms Owners Protection Act or the one who wrote a letter supporting the 1994 “assault weapons” ban?

The answer, of course, is “both.” Reagan’s views likely changed over time, but his legacy should be judged on the sum total of his actions, not on what he did or said in one particular moment.

Post-Presidency Support for Gun Control

Reagan’s stance on guns most recently drew national attention in 2013 when then-president Barack Obama cited The Gipper in his push for a renewed “assault weapons” ban: “A majority of Americans agree with” a ban on assault weapons, Obama said in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre. “And by the way, so did Ronald Reagan.”

Obama’s evocation of the Republican saint drew ire from the right, but he wasn’t wrong. In 1994 Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan penned a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives encouraging Congress to pass the gun ban.

“We are writing to urge your support for a ban on the domestic manufacture of military-style assault weapons,” the letter began. “This is a matter of vital importance to the public safety.”

The three former presidents cited the 1989 ban on “assault weapon” imports to prove that “we can dry up the supply of these guns” and make them “less accessible to criminals.”

Reagan’s stance on this issue shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Five years earlier he called AK-47’s “machine guns” in his response to a question about hunting, conservation, and military style weapons:

In the clip above, a USC student asks whether taking “military style” weapons away from criminals would lead to gun confiscation from hunters who support conservation.

Reagan responds, in part, “I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen to own guns for sporting, for hunting and so forth or for home defense. But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for the defense of the home.”

Reagan’s remarks wouldn’t pass pro-gun muster by today’s standards, and his support for the 1994 “assault weapons” ban may have been the straw the broke the camel’s back.

“The vote on the assault weapon ban was contentious and barely passed the House of Representatives,” notes Andrew Kaczynski over at (gag) Buzzfeed. “At least two members of the House of Representatives credited Reagan with influencing their votes. The bill passed 216-214, a margin of two votes.”

Kaczynski names two Congressmen who were supposedly swayed by Reagan’s words, but does not provide evidence for his claims. Still, the weight of Reagan’s influence no doubt helped in some way to pass the infamous 10-year ban.

Reagan’s support of the Brady Bill represents his second major vote in favor of stricter gun regulations. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was signed by President Clinton in 1993 and instituted background checks for all firearm purchases from FFLs as well as a five-day waiting period. While the waiting period has since been revoked, all firearm purchasers must still pass a background check when buying a gun from a licensed dealer.

In a 1991 op-ed entitled “Why I’m for the Brady Bill,” Reagan recounted the attempt on his life ten years earlier: “Four lives were changed forever, and all by a Saturday-night special — a cheaply made .22 caliber pistol — purchased in a Dallas pawnshop by a young man with a history of mental disturbance.”

“This nightmare might never have happened if legislation that is before Congress now — the Brady bill — had been law back in 1981,” Reagan said.

The Brady Bill passed two years after Reagan voiced his support.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

Reagan supporters point out that the late President made many of his pro-gun control statements after he left office. The Gipper may have privately favored stricter firearms regulations, but he didn’t use his power to pursue that agenda. If Reagan were truly “anti-gun,” wouldn’t he have used his substantial power as President to pass more gun control?

Gun control proponents certainly saw his inauguration as a step in the wrong direction.

“One of the darkest hours for handgun control advocates was the election of Ronald Reagan,” wrote the New York Times in 1981. “Suddenly, with Mr. Reagan’s inauguration, the battle shifted from winning passage of stiffer handgun control legislation to trying to keep the conservative tide in Congress from sweeping away laws already on the books.”

Anti-gunner fear turned out to be well-founded. Five years after he took office, Reagan signed the Firearm Owners Protection Act, which effectively saved the firearms industry from ATF abuse.

Prior to the FOPA, ATF agents used their power under the Gun Control Act of 1968 to harass firearms owners, collectors, and dealers nationwide. As Dave Hardy outlines for the NRA-ILA, the Gun Control Act did not require the ATF to prove criminal intent in its prosecution of illegal firearm sales. Private individuals who sold too many guns per year without a federal firearms license were targeted and convicted, even if they did not understand the convoluted web of firearm regulations.

Firearms dealers who sold guns from their private collection had their entire inventories seized, and, even after charges were dropped, the feds were under no obligation to return their property.

Abuses of the Gun Control Act became so widespread that the NRA-ILA secured a congressional hearing. Following testimony from the firearms dealers, Sen. Dennis DeConcini said, “The problem appears much greater in scope and more acute in intensity than I have imagined. It is a sobering experience to listen to average, law-abiding citizens presenting evidence of conduct by an official law enforcement agency of the federal government that borders on the criminal.”

The Firearm Owners Protection Act sought to correct these abuses and protect the firearms industry from the federal government. It instituted a wide variety of reforms, the most important of which are listed below:

  1. Required the government to prove criminal intent on the part of firearms owners.
  2. Clarified “engaged in the business of” to include only those who bought and sold firearms for a living.
  3. Required the government to pay the owner’s attorney’s fees in the event the owner won their case.
  4. Required the government to return the owner’s firearms if the owner won their case.
  5. Prohibited more than one annual search of a gun store’s records.
  6. Allowed dealers to sell firearms at gun shows.

The bill’s only capitulation to the anti-gun lobby was its increased restrictions on the ability of individuals to own fully automatic weapons. Many have criticized this portion of the bill (rightfully so), but, on the whole, it represents a major win for firearms owners.

Hardy articulates the bill’s significance well: “Would we have survived this far if, for the last 25 years, gun dealers had been subject to arrest on paperwork errors and their entire inventories confiscated even if they were found not guilty; and gun shows had regularly seen half a dozen honest collectors hauled away in handcuffs?”

Reagan oversaw the passage of the FOPA and signed it into law in 1986. In that moment Reagan lived up to his reputation as a defender of the freedoms of the American people. While his subsequent actions would throw that reputation into jeopardy, it’s difficult to argue that Reagan was anti-gun in the same way as Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Chuck Schumer are anti-gun today.

Why the Change?

Still, Reagan’s stance on guns seems remarkably inconsistent. How could a lifetime NRA member support the ’94 “assault weapons” ban and the Brady Bill, two of the biggest gun control victories in recent memory?

Some of Reagan’s apparent inconsistency might be explained by the noting differences between gun culture today and gun culture in the 80s. Times have changed, especially in terms of semi-automatic sporting rifles like the AR-15 and the AK-47.

Where before these rifles were used primarily for target shooting, today thousands of hunters and shooters use AR-15s for hunting and 3-Gun competitions. It’s tough to claim, as Reagan did in 1989, that these firearms have no place in the world of hunting and shooting sports. If he were alive today, he may have changed his mind.

It’s also worth noting Reagan’s extraordinary speech at the 1983 NRA Convention. He vowed to “never disarm any American who seeks to protect his or her family from fear and harm.” He stressed the importance of constitutional freedoms as “every American’s birthright” and noted that gun control is the first step towards total confiscation of all law-abiding citizens’ guns. He even observed that those who want to inflict harm on others aren’t fazed by stricter gun laws.

So, was Reagan anti-gun? Sometimes. But more often, especially during his time in office, he worked to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution, including the right to keep and bear arms.

About the Author: Jordan Michaels is a new convert to the gun world. A Canadian immigrant to the United States, he recently became an American citizen and is happily enjoying his newly-acquired Second Amendment freedoms. He’s a communications professional, a political junkie, and an avid basketball fan.

{ 50 comments… add one }
  • Rick July 23, 2017, 7:40 am

    The Elite, regardless of lip service, or how much you like or dislike. Must have absolute control… It’s in their ‘genetics’. To be 100% defenseless is be 100% controlled.. The illusion of freedom is a dog wearing an electronic collar within the boundaries of his masters wireless fence yard..

  • LC July 22, 2017, 9:37 pm

    It appears that most of the children replying to the above post have no existential experience in the 1960’s in the Black Panthers and the Weather Underground. Americans were afraid of terrorism at home as everything was coming unglued for student riots to Chicago 1968 police state crackdown during the Democratic National Convention.
    Ronald Reagan was always pro gun, but he knew the difference between armed revolutionaries intimidating Americans. He was a empathetic man, and when he was almost assassinated, he felt guilty about others who were hurt. Sarah Brady and Nancy Reagan both manipulated the President for the Brady Bill as Jim Brady was endlessly paraded in a wheelchair advocating for the gun ban. It is impossible to not be swayed when your friend took a bullet for you and is a cripple in a wheelchair.
    That is not making any excuses for President Reagan as he was wrong in these instances. He also is the President who started arming citizens through the Civilian Marksmanship Program in promoting armed Americans.
    I agree that a Ronald Reagan of sound mind today would recognize the need for law enforcement, keeping weapons out of terrorists hands, and that semi automatic AK 47’s in American’s hands was an answer to coup taking place in the American regime today.
    Ronald Reagan is pro gun, but was influenced by select events. It would be of assistance if those writing articles or commented actually were of that era to understand the events and mindset of Americans or at least had read the volumes Mr. Reagan published on the entire subject, instead of select content which explains none of the historical perspective.

    • Myron August 9, 2017, 6:13 pm

      I love your respectful request for people to delve a bit deeper into the historical context of President Reagans actions.

      Calling the Black Panther group terrorists is a lacking a bit of historical context though.

      Law enforcement in many communities “acted” as an invading force that was designed to maintain America’s long history of racial and economic imbalance.

      Governor Reagan started California down the path of extreme gun control because many of the Black Panthers actually read and followed firearm laws. I will not insult you in saying that the group was perfect, but neither was Hoover, Cointelpro, or local law enforcement.

      I still agree that Reagan was much more complicated than the average American citizen gives him credit. Who else could become such a respected and cherished figure after violating the slogan Act and negotiating with Iran to keep the hostages until he was president? Who else would then get away with authorizing one of the largest drug running operations in the 29th century? Who else could also get away with running guns and funding a covert war?

      As sensitive as we are about politicians today, sometimes I wonder if mass media and the internet just allow the masses to see the garbage that our leaders do in more real time and in high definition.

      As the owner of approximately 70 weapons, I pray that our country would fully live up to the constitution equally for all, including the 2nd Amendment.

    • Myron August 9, 2017, 6:13 pm

      I love your respectful request for people to delve a bit deeper into the historical context of President Reagans actions.Calling the Black Panther group terrorists is a lacking a bit of historical context though.Law enforcement in many communities \”acted\” as an invading force that was designed to maintain America\’s long history of racial and economic imbalance.Governor Reagan started California down the path of extreme gun control because many of the Black Panthers actually read and followed firearm laws. I will not insult you in saying that the group was perfect, but neither was Hoover, Cointelpro, or local law enforcement.I still agree that Reagan was much more complicated than the average American citizen gives him credit. Who else could become such a respected and cherished figure after violating the slogan Act and negotiating with Iran to keep the hostages until he was president? Who else would then get away with authorizing one of the largest drug running operations in the 29th century? Who else could also get away with running guns and funding a covert war?As sensitive as we are about politicians today, sometimes I wonder if mass media and the internet just allow the masses to see the garbage that our leaders do in more real time and in high definition.As the owner of approximately 70 weapons, I pray that our country would fully live up to the constitution equally for all, including the 2nd Amendment.

  • mtman2 July 22, 2017, 9:37 pm

    WE all had alot to learn from the 70’s thru the 90’s.
    potus Reagan was caught betwern a rock and a hard place on this issue and didn’t have good input like WE have come to developed and developed since. My God he face down the Soviet Union.
    Now WE have full understandings of what WE couldn’t get out into the public forum then.
    We’re doing it now tho- and the word is spreading as to the fullness of the 2nd-Amendments purpose and meaning…

  • Ed July 22, 2017, 6:18 pm

    Whatever his personal political thoughts, as a successful politician Ronald Reagan of course existed within the political context of his times. His public political personality was expressed in at least two phases: in the 1940’s and up to 1960’s, he was more the right wing conservative; a vigorous anti-communist, and later the law and order Governor of California, calling for the police and national guard to suppress by physical force the anti-war protests at CA campuses. After the Vietnam War and Watergate the press and certain parts influential parts of the political establishment turned to the left and this affected the Republican political position: the standard conservative position circa 1979 would today probably be classified as RHINO today – think of Gerald Ford, William F Buckley, etc. So as a politician running for POTUS in the 1980’s Reagan operated within that context – recall that more true red conservatives such as Barry Goldwater’s political career didn’t go beyond governor. With respect to CA, there is also the long term historical context of gun control that Ronald Reagan inherited: unlike other western states, until the Federal Supremacy Clause imposed the Heller Decision, CA never had any position in its state constitution regarding the Second Amendment and the right of ordinary law abiding people (not an official militia / the CA National Guard) to own possess and bear firearms. The gun control movement in California starts back in the 1920’s and during The Great Depression. Besides any small inputs from the then minority left, it was also an objective of conservative right wing statists, who were afraid of armed people in labor movements and in organized crime, as well as minorities owning firearms. The latter issue came to a head in the the Civil Rights Era- recall the Black Panthers carrying loaded M1 Carbines and revolvers in the State Capitol and getting in shootouts (justified or not) with the Oakland PD. This is why CA urban Mayors and law enforcement probably pressured Reagan to sign the Mulford Act, which banning loaded open carry in CA in urban counties and incorporated areas. This long existing gun control culture from both the right, middle and left also explains why shall issue concealed carry in CA didn’t exist until fairly recently, unless one had political connections (as Reagan probably did to carry conceal). Today, despite the Tea Party, other anti-establishment movements, and President Trump, things haven’t really changed that much – the apparatus is still there. The state and federal circuit courts and SCOTUS will probably leave it up to each state (and county- in California), as to how far Heller applies to self defense outside the home. But reality and natural law is also a factor: in many places violent crime is a real threat and the police cannot be everywhere to protect innocent people – a fundamental failure in the contract between the modern state and it’s law-abiding citizens.

  • Reality Bites July 22, 2017, 12:53 pm

    Reagan was a former Hollywood Actor and a Politician. He was not an expert at self defense. He grew up in an era where there was a lot of racism, and the main purpose of gun control laws was to keep guns out of the hands of black people. It was Reagan who signed legislation as Governor that turned California from an Open Carry state to a mockery: the new law stipulated that guns may only be carried openly without a permit if they were unloaded. This legislation was in response to the Black Panthers walking into the State Assembly floor packing loaded guns as part of a protest. The Assembly was present at that time. The Panthers would regularly form protests where they were armed and would confront the police.

    The so called “Assault Weapons” turned out to be very useful for defending one’s home or business as proven by the 1990 LA Riots. A handgun or a pistol is sufficient when the attackers are few in number, but a large crowd of criminal gangs storming a house or business will overwhelm anyone defending the premisis.
    And sometimes riots (LA Riots) or natural disasters (like Hurricane Katrina) cause the entire police department to run away..in which case a person who is on their own will have a definite need for such weapons for self defense.

    The NRA during Reagan’s life had deviated from its original purpose (which was to improve marksmanship for militia members) to advocating sporting purposes (hunting and target shooting). It was late in Reagan’s life when the NRA started to focus on the 2nd Amendment and Self Defense.
    Reagan also suffered from Alzeimer’s disease…and appeared to be suffering some dementia during his second term as President. He may have very well signed the Firearms Owners Protection Act under a mistaken impression that the legislation did not contain any Gun Control restrictions. (We will never know). His disease, and experience of surviving an assassination attempt and numerous threats against his life as President may have very well changed his views on the 2nd Amendment.
    It is very common for people’s views to change over time as their life conditions change.

    The above isn’t a defense of Ronald Reagan but when considering whether or not Reagan was pro or anti second amendment, his life and common experiences of his generation have to be taken into context. As well as the fact that our viewpoint on the primary purpose of the 2nd Amendment as a society is constantly changing over time.

    Remember the first Police Department in the United States was started in Boston in 1838, followed later in New York City in 1845. Prior to 1838 there were no police anywhere within the United States. People had to carry arms in order to protect themselves as they went from home to town and back, as well as on travel. They had to protect themselves not just from bandits but also from Indians, Slave Revolts, and had to also protect the nation in case of Invasion (such as the Brits invading Washington DC in the War of 1812 and burning down the White House. Or invading New Orleans).

    Later as Police Departments started to be established, and the Post Civil War Reconstruction Era people were very racist and afraid of the newly freed slaves retaliating for decades of slavery, passed may issue laws for carry permits. The sheriffs of those cities would only grant a carry permit to a white man. The laws were written in a way to be racially neutral so they couldn’t be challenged in the courts. However a Florida Supreme Court Justice in a Court Case actually revealed in his majority opinion the original purpose of may issue concealed carry laws, during the 1940’s. This was the era that Reagan grew up in and became an adult. Carry permits were only selectively given out. Open carry was normally banned in a state.
    The NFA had passed in 1934 in response to prohibition mafia, and bank robbers like Dillinger restricting access to Machine Guns, “Silencers”, short barrelled rifles and shotguns. The $200 Tax Stamp fee in 1934 was equivalent to $3644 in 2016 money. A shotgun that costs today about $200 would have cost about $11 back in 1934.
    A poor person (usually Black) could never have been able to afford or even want to apply for a Tax Stamp for a sawed off shotgun. The NFA was designed to allow access to such weapons only to wealthy (usually white) men. This was the primary purpose of this gun control law like the carry permits. To restrict access to firearms by poor black people. It was this same purpose that Reagan signed into law the Mulford Act in California. While Reagan was not overtly racist he did have trust issues when it came to minorities walking around in public with weapons. And this mistrust was very common for his day and age. And it was also naturally understandable and justified if one takes a hard look at the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (table 6). Even though this data hadn’t been compiled back in the earlier part of the 20th century, it was part of common knowledge if not substantiated by actual hard data.

    Today…we are in a cultural war that in many ways echoes the two very different philosophies of the Federalists like Alexander Hamilton (who pushed for a Constitution and a powerful Central Government) and the Anti-Federalists (like George Mason, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson) who mistrusted concentrating such power in a Central Government and insisted upon a Bill of Rights that would limit such power. It was the Anti-Federalists who gave us the 2nd Amendment (with Madison’s grudging blessing). Today this same battle is being fought between people (so called “Liberals”) advocating for greater power for Government and lesser amounts of Freedom and power for the Individual and State Government, and those who seek smaller Government and more freedom. (Libertarians and some Conservatives)

  • John Butler July 21, 2017, 5:14 pm

    No mention of his signing of and his support of conservative Don Mulford bill (Mulford act) also supported by all conservative grouptand the nra, while he was governor of California nor his pushing a waiting period a few years later.. today he would be considered a liberal

  • Mike Watkins July 21, 2017, 3:50 pm

    Ronald Reagan’s legacy was far more than whether he was pro- or anti-gun.

    In the context of that era, I regard him as pro-gun, despite the GOPA (which overall was a positive for 2nd Amendment Rights) and his opinions about the Brady Bill.

    But when Reagan was elected in 1980, the US was sliding towards catastrophic liberal hatred of all things conservative. The intelligentsia and the social scientists had already made it fashionable to regard the US as this crude world bully and exploiter and plunderer. Then the disastrous end of Vietnam (where we never should have been–read A Bright Shining Lie by Sheehan) and the stage was set for Jimmy Carter to lead us all into self-hatred and remorse for being the most free and prosperous Nation on earth.

    Ronald Reagan turned that around. Instead of remorse he taught pride. Instead of detente with the Soviet Union, he said boldly “That is an Evil Empire.” His example encouraged the people of Eastern Europe and eventually the USSR to begin demanding freedom. His leadership turned the US military from resignation at being no more than “tools in the hands of an imperialist government,” into recognition of themselves as the force for freedom it has always been. (Notwithstanding that in recent years the civilian government has again pushed our military into misguided missions of “nation-building”).

    I lived through all of that. I was a patriotic young American when Vietnam was ramping up. I enlisted in the Marines and fought as a grunt in Vietnam, where I was confounded by the differences between what we were told by our govt, and what we saw and experienced. I endured the years when many of us never spoke of having been in the military and especially of having served in Vietnam. I saw the opinion makers–college professors, the media, all sorts of American leaders–teaching that we were evil and corrupt and that most of the world’s ills were the fault of the US.

    That begin to change when Ronald Reagan told us to hold up our heads and be proud. When the Berlin Wall came down, when Poland elected non-communist leaders, eventually when the Soviet Union fell, the America-haters were muted, if not silenced.

    Never fear, those who tell us to despise ourselves and look to the ilk of Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, and Manuel Ortega as shining examples of progressive rule have never given up. They’re back, nearly as strong and strident as ever (and as detached from reality).

    Trump’s election proved a large number of the American People don’t buy into the liberal bullshit, but as in the past, have been cowed into silently accepting the screeds of liberalism.

    Rather than fighting over whether Ronald Reagan was pro- or anti-gun, we need to give our attention to the larger struggle to define just what the US is to be.

    Frankly, I’m not sure if there’s a lot of hope for our side, in the long run.

  • Dee Cee July 21, 2017, 2:47 pm

    Ronald Reagan was one of the most prolific gun and cocaine smugglers the world has ever known.

  • Andte July 21, 2017, 12:27 pm

    If he wasn’t anti gun, the I guess he was just anti gun for African Americans. Everyone knows that it was after the Black Panthers practiced their constitutional rights that’s what prompted him to sign anti gun legislation as the Governor of California.

    I guess it scared the shit out of him to see a bunch of blacks practicing that right.

  • Kris July 21, 2017, 12:25 pm

    There is no universal definition of either “pro-gun” or “anti-gun”. I consider myself to be “pro-gun” but many people who are “pro-gun” would consider me to be “anti-gun” because I believe that the prohibition on felons buying guns is acceptable (although I do feel there should be a nationwide system for non-violent felons to get back their gun rights. I also believe we need to “clean-up” the issue of mentally disturbed people buying guns. There are people out there who while not convicted felons are mentally disturbed to the point where they shouldn’t be able to own a gun. Yet government agencies under democrats are regularly trying to expand the definition of “mentally disturbed” to prohibit more and more people from being able to own a gun. They would like to call a hypochondriac “mentally disturbed” and prohibit them from owning guns. They do this not by legislation but by rule-making and that should be prohibited. This country needs a CLEAR CUT DEFINITION as to what is and what isn’t so mentally disturbed as to lose the right to own a gun.

    As to Reagan….IMO he fell on the “pro-gun” side of the fence but not by a whole lot. He was a “centrist” (for that time) on guns with a slight “pro-gun” tendency. But he certainly wasn’t “anti-gun”. As to some of his later statements…..As people get older, they tend to mellow a bit and become more introspective. There were several other people wounded in the assassination attempt on Reagan. Hinkly didn’t intend to shoot those people but he was such a sicko that he didn’t care how many people he hurt if he “got” Reagan. I have to hope that anyone who found him or herself in the position of knowing that several people were seriously hurt because someone tried to kill them would at least take a long hard look at their position on guns. Especially as we get older. That is a heavy burden to bear. So all-in-all, Reagan was not “anti-gun”but he wasn’t dyed-in-the-wool “pro-gun” either. To get anything done in legislatures usually requires some compromises. And when it comes to the compromises Reagan was willing to make, I’d take Reagan EVERY TIME over Carter or Mondale.

  • cisco kid July 21, 2017, 12:18 pm

    History proved Reagan right on both bills. The Brady Bill over the decades has caught tens of thousands of felons trying to buy new guns but unfortunately the NRA prevented the Brady Bill from vetting second hand guns which has allowed criminals a total field day in regards to buying tens of thousands of second hand guns out on the street faster than they can buy a hamburger. The NRA has proven to be the criminals best friend.

    Reagan was also correct in banning full auto weapons as todays carnage is bad enough but one notices darn few crimes being carried out with full auto weapons because they are so expensive and hard to get.

    • Ton E July 21, 2017, 6:08 pm

      No he was not right and he was anti gun the Brady bill was Reagan caving to the anti gun lobey and the Hughes Amendment is the definition of an infringement.

  • Larry July 21, 2017, 12:17 pm

    If you’ve got a true AK-47, you better have a special tax stamp as that is a real “machine gun”, being that it is capable of full auto fire. It’s the same now as it was then. Also, wasn’t President Reagan suffering mightily from the ravages of Alzheimer’s in 1994 when he supposedly “signed” that letter supporting the “assault weapons” ban?
    Let’s not use revisionist history to try to paint a great President as something he was not.

    • Gary Hansen July 21, 2017, 2:03 pm

      Ronald Reagan gave support to the Brady bill only a few weeks before his battle with Alzheimer’s was announced. He had earlier opposed the bill. Nancy had long supported the Brady bill. Puts things in perspective.

      • Milton Schick July 26, 2017, 2:19 am

        Larry is correct and Gary is a bit off base concerning the ravages of Alzheimer’s. My second wife died in my arms as the result of her fight against Alzheimer’s. A close friend for the past 30 years recently died from dementia and Alzheimer’s. I have direct experience dealing with people who have Alzheimer’s. In everyone who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, the disease actually starts several years before and then sneaks up to the point where it is obvious something is wrong. Then it gets diagnosed. Ronald Reagan probably had the beginnings of Alzheimer’s up to 5 years before it was recognized and diagnosed. Remember, Alzheimer’s was not even recognized as existing by the medical community until the early 1980s. The great conservative, retired U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater from Arizona, became someone else later in life. In hindsight, Goldwater had Alzheimer’s which altered the way he thought. Goldwater made many Liberal pronouncements he never would have made when he was younger. Anything Ronald Reagan did after he left office that seemed out-of-character can be contributed to his Alzheimer’s, period.

  • Jake July 21, 2017, 11:24 am

    I actually met Ronald Reagan a couple of times. We grew up only two blocks apart though separate by about 40 odd years. While I think the world of him and have that prejudice I can tell you some facts.
    In the 1930’s as an “Officer of Horse Cavalry” in the Iowa National Guard, Reagan chased off an attacker mugging a woman outside his apartment with his 1917 .45 acp Service Revolver. He later admitted he was planning to beat the guy with it as he had no .45 moon clips home at the time.
    As President of the Screen Actors Guild he received so many death threats from Communists in Hollywood that he always carried an S&W .32 snubbie.
    As President he made gifts of guns to foreign leaders. I remember him giving Mexican President Jose Lopez Portillo a Remington 700 LH in .30-’06.
    The old timers weren’t used to MSR’s and I am confident he might feel differently today. Maybe his idea of civilian firepower was limited to Winchester lever guns and handguns, but we know he believed strongly in our right to have all of those regardless of where he fell on what were the new at the time MSR’s.

    • Kris July 21, 2017, 12:31 pm

      Jake….Very well said about Reagan.

    • Matt July 21, 2017, 2:12 pm

      Great points and well written. There is a lot missing from the above article and probably way too much to write to help a reader who wasn’t an adult at that time to understand the mentality toward guns. The level of anti-gun sentiment was thick. A few crazies who went on murderous rampages quickly revealed to other crazies that the media will “put your names and faces up in lights” and remove you from your obscurity if you just go out and kill people. The descriptions of the ATF abuses in those times don’t even scratch the surface. Like the article eluded, the ATF back then were abusing lawful gun owners at every turn in an attempt to boost their congressional budgets. People like Schumer (poster boy for the need for term limits) and a lot of others back then were trying to pass any legislation that would act as a defacto gun ban. One of Schumers most absurd was “taggents”, microscopic tags placed in gunpowder with serial numbers intended to be obtained from crime scenes and then used to prosecute people. It doesn’t take too many minutes to come up with a huge list a fallacies with that scenario, including the cost to the consumer and the simple fact that the such a thing didn’t exist then. Do a little research and you’ll find that Hillary was charged with the first real attempt at universal health care. She is under oath stating that part of her plan to pay for the ill-conceived healthcare was by raising the cost of guns and ammo anywhere from 25% to 1000%. Reagans was privately pro-gun. Politically, he had to tip toe around Washington when it came to guns the way a politician would these days concerning the repeal of “nobamacare”. It should be noted that the prohibition on the manufacture and import of “fully automatic” guns was typical pork barrel bs attached to a very pro-gun bill. Even the NRA supported the signing of the bill with the idea that they would attempt to have the “full auto” language removed at a later date. As any collector knows, that hasn’t happened but we also know that the full auto portion of the bill was just “feel good bs” that the opposition could taught as a “win” for themselves………… It also has to be noted that the “assault weapons” bans was also a bs, feel good joke. Even at the time of its passage and considering the broad language they used to define an assault weapon,,,,,, they (assault weapons) accounted for less than 1/4 of 1% of ALL gun crimes.

  • Mr. Spatkles July 21, 2017, 9:38 am

    At the time of President Reagans remarks re: the AK-47 as well as now I do not see the NEED for someone to own a fully automatic weapon. That is different then wether they have the constitutionally guaranteed RIGHT to own one.

    Reagan was both a supporter of NRA and the 2nd Amendment as well as the constitution in its entirety. For Obama to invoke his name can be likened to Hitler invoking the Pope to support his agenda.

  • Retrocon July 21, 2017, 8:54 am

    Don’t over complicate it. Up to, and including, his presidency, Reagan was pro-Second Amendment, and an enthusiastic gun owner himself. I met, and had some custom work done by his custom gunsmith, who relay a few stories.

    But it’s not complicated. In 1994, Reagan announced that he had Alzheimer’s. The disease is subtle, and crept up on him. While it was doing so, he was confronted constantly by his past, particularly, what happened to his friend, James Brady. Brady was shot because Reagan was targeted. Between the gradual loss of his mental faculties, the increasing seclusion post presidency, Sarah Brady’s activism…

    Well, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he was influenced by some letters or made some comments. And, as far as the AK-47 comments, the VAST VAST majority of them on this planet ARE “machine guns,” even if those were not the ones being imported.

  • Billy July 21, 2017, 8:41 am

    When he was referring to “AK-47” and “Assault weapons” I wonder if he was thinking of the fully automatic military versions and not the semi-auto civilian versions? A lot of people who know nothing about guns and support a ban,do not know the difference. Unfortunately some do know the difference and still want to ban them.

  • Mr. Derp July 21, 2017, 8:32 am

    The fact that he signed the FOPA that included the Hughes Amendment is more than enough proof for me that he was anti-gun. The lying liars at the NRA apparently said they were going to take the Hughes Amendment to court and get it overturned and never did. Now they never will. Can you imagine the uproar the Democrats would cause if the GOP sought to “legalize full-automatic assault machine guns that kill 93 million people a year and fire 400 assault clips per second”? There is no way these Democrat Lite GOP cucks we have in office would ever go to bat for us to get our rights back. Once you lose a right you NEVER get it back and the Hughes Amendment is proof.

    An AR-15 that cost $500 in 1985, with $100 worth of parts and labor, plus a $200 tax stamp is now worth $30,000 – effectively putting legal full-auto FAR out of the reach of the overwhelming majority of law abiding citizens. To make matters worse, there are a handful of elitist snob gun owners with loads of money and influence that they use to LOBBY AGAINST OVERTURNING HUGHES. These snobs want to “protect their investments” so they are OK with keeping plebs like me infringed.

    • Ton E July 21, 2017, 6:12 pm

      I couldn’t have said it better myself plus Reagan as Governor of California supporting the Mulford act. Reagan was a hypocrite.

  • Chris July 21, 2017, 8:25 am

    “…his legacy should be judged on the sum total of his actions, not on what he did or said in one particular moment…”
    The same could be said for all the Confederate soldiers and officers whose memorials they want to destroy today.

  • Jeffrey L. Frischkorn July 21, 2017, 8:23 am

    One of the greatest dangers that any single-issue group faces is relying on the word and even actions – of one politician over another. Their goal is all about survival: their survival. They can and will turn on you at the drop of a hat if they believe that doing so will shield them. This is true whether you are talking about the AMA, the unions, the teachers, or the NRA., which is foolish for its constant gushing in issue after issue of the \”American Rifleman\” magazine. You are donations and votes; nothing more.

  • Rye Miles July 21, 2017, 7:58 am

    It’s starting to look like President Trump is the most Pro-Gun POTUS we’ve EVER had!

    • Ton E July 21, 2017, 6:14 pm

      Based off of what? He’s been all over the place regarding his stances on gun rights.

    • ejharb July 23, 2017, 2:52 pm

      So we have natl reciprocity and can buy suppressors otc? Nope!
      He did hire a gun grabber for communication director though.
      We are being played!
      Watch and see,,,,

  • Bill Fairfax July 21, 2017, 7:47 am

    Honestly for the early 1980’s he was pretty conservative , now compared to today’s conservative politicians he’s pretty liberal. I meet President Reagan in 1984 when I was stationed in S Korea, I got to be the tour guide for his tour of the DMZ and Pam Mun Jom , he was certainly still in full charge of his faculties at that point in his life , I don’t believe his disease started until after he was no longer in office. He was an impressive person for an 18yr old PFC to be meeting and showing around , plus it was fun to disarm all the Secret Service guys before they went into JSA (only the guards can be armed , while your assigned to JSA/JSF your part of the UN) . I think people need to remember how much politics and well society in general has changed since the ” Reagan Era ” . Really what do you think Ronald Reagan’s reaction would be to transgender bathrooms ? I’m guessing pretty dam conservative if not just old school offended (right wing ) . I think by 1994 he was being influenced by Alzheimer’s and he’d almost been killed by some idiot with a gun this could shift your views .

  • Roy Baker July 21, 2017, 7:15 am

    You left out the fact that Reagan signed the Mulford Act while governor of California. He clearly was in favor of No Guns For Negroes. He was a scumbag whose gun control (people control) was much more far-reaching than Obama.

    • Jake July 21, 2017, 11:35 am

      That is totally wrong. The Reagans were considered “negro lovers” because the Eureka College Football players would often stay at Reagans home in Dixon when traveling to games because they were not welcome in any hotels traveling to and from games. Reagan’s best friend from high school was a Black man named Winston McReynolds. When Winston was dying President Reagan would secretly visit him because he refused to trade on his friendship to become more popular with Black voters.
      When reporters would come to town looking for racist dirt on Reagan the local Black people would tell them how the Reagans were among the few unafraid to stand up for equal rights in the 20’s and 30’s and associate with Black people. The filthy presstitutes never printed a word of it.

  • JGinFlorida July 21, 2017, 6:48 am

    Mr. Reagen was a politician. A very good one. He knew that to get elected with his constituency he had to support the 2nd amendment. Once he left office, he resigned from his NRA Life Membership, did he not? (To illustrate the point about politicians and private versus public positions, on at least two other occasions Reagen revealed what he really thought, once about making the corporate income tax zero and another about treating dead Nazi rank and file as victims, he retreated immediately when subjected to a barrage of media criticism.)

    • CaptMidnight July 21, 2017, 12:46 pm

      ~ Funny no one ever mentions his signing of a bill to repeal Open Carry in the Peoples Republik of Kalifornia when he was Governor/Commissar either………

  • Dan July 21, 2017, 6:39 am

    Ronald Reagan was a politician. Politicians do what they are told to do by their handlers – the man was adept at delivering lines – nothing more. Our current president is motivated by self interest, and even more likely to turn against us if our interests conflict with his, or to appease public sentiment after a widely publicized incident involving firearms.

    • Dewey July 21, 2017, 7:19 am

      Bingo!

    • ejharb July 23, 2017, 2:55 pm

      And it’s begun. Google scaramucci and gun control. 2a-ers are about to be grabbed by the puzzy

  • singleshotcajun July 21, 2017, 5:58 am

    #5 FOPA is interesting
    Prohibited more than one annual search of a gun store’s records.
    I know a few FFL 01 dealers that were audited multiple times in a single year during the Hussein reign just because we are in South Texas.

  • Roger July 21, 2017, 5:51 am

    Regan had a large gun collection. I wonder if the state consficatex it from him due to his illness.

  • The Equalizer July 21, 2017, 5:28 am

    Don’t be too hard on Reagan’s stance on guns after he left the Presidency. By 1994 he was well into his Alzheimer’s disease. He had probably forgotten what he signed in 1986.

    • ATheoK July 21, 2017, 8:19 am

      I agreed with The Equalizer regarding President Reagan’s alzheimer’s disease being a likely contributing factor.

      Ronald’s opinions and statements became more and more Nancy’s words as time went by; until his memory completely failed him.

      A prime example is Ronald Reagan’s “ARs are machine guns” statement.
      As with so many others who believe that statement, the claim is ignorance and false assumptions manifesting as absurd conflation.

      Prior to Alzheimer’s, President Reagan knew the difference between a machine gun and semi-automatic firearms. As time went by, Ronald read from Nancy’s scripts and repeated Nancy’s opinions.

  • Theo Smith July 21, 2017, 4:36 am

    Wow! completely left out Reagan taking away open carry from California with the Mulford Act one of the worst gun control laws.

    Governor Ronald Reagan commented that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons”

    • Rick July 21, 2017, 7:51 am

      That’s what _I_ was going to say!

  • Jordan R July 21, 2017, 3:59 am

    Author is an Antigun scumbag. The Hughes Amendment to FOPA was the worst and everything good about FOPA besgides that has been undone.

    • Rick July 21, 2017, 7:54 am

      WTF? The Hughes amendment was successfully added because the Act was going to be signed. Unfortunately, that’s how the sleeze works in DC. And how is Reagan to blame for FOPA issues down the line?

  • NavyVet1959 July 21, 2017, 3:28 am

    Let’s not forget that Reagan signed the Mulford Act (anti-gun legislation in California) back when he was governor of California in 1967. He stated that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons”. That’s pretty anti-gun as far as I’m concerned. Sure, he was better than the other alternatives, but he wasn’t a TRUE CONSERVATIVE.

    • loupgarous August 1, 2017, 3:47 am

      Not only was the Mulford Act un-Constitutional, it was likely passed for what would now be regarded racist reasons.

      The Black Panther Party of California had begun armed patrols of Oakland, CA (what’d now be called “cop-watching”) after the lethal shooting of a black man by Oakland city police. The Mulford bill (called “The Panther Bill” by the California press) was a direct response to the armed Black Panther Party patrols.

      Certainly, the Black Panthers of California in the late 1960s had a racism issue of their own to deal with. But in police academy I learned of the citizen’s right and duty to defend himself from an unlawful assault, even if it is committed by a police officer acting in the course of his duties.

      This was during a lecture by a deputy district attorney who’d been along on several “no-knock” police raids. One of those raids was of the wrong dwelling (typo on the search warrant). The resident of the home, unaware of the identity of the people with guns who’d just kicked his door in, hid in his bedroom closet, a loaded 12-gauge shotgun in his hands. Fortunately, the raiding party identified themselves as police after kicking the man’s door in, but the attorney lecturing us told us it was one of the scariest moments of his life because the man would have been on solid grounds if he’d killed one or all of the raiding party before they identified themselves to his satisfaction.

      I honestly don’t know if the Black Panther Party really saw themselves as under imminent danger of an unlawful attack, because their propaganda was so slanted as to put that belief in serious doubt. But open carry of loaded weapons in California never became a issue until the Black Panthers armed themselves while watching police their scanners told then were arresting blacks. It’s pretty clear that by stripping ALL Californians of their open carry rights, Mulford and the co-sponsors of his act were able to disarm the Black Panthers, and that the California press were aware that this was the reason for that law.

  • Steve Day July 20, 2017, 7:47 pm

    It’s important to take into account that in the later years of Reagan’s Presidency he was suffering from Altzheimers disease, with the First Lady pulling the strings and basically in control.

    So the question is: When exactly did Nancy Reagan take over the reigns? And, were her “guiding hands” behind RR’s anti-gun or pro-gun actions?

  • Mark N. July 20, 2017, 7:41 pm

    There is one major oversight in this article. HUUUUGE oversight. Up until 1968, it was perfectly legal to carry loaded pistols and long guns anywhere in the State of California. Not that anyone did, but it was legal. This was of course a period of major social upheaval, especially in California. In 1968, the Black Panthers, as part of a protest, visited the State Capitol–armed. Which was perfectly legal; but it raised a firestorm of protest in the petrified Legislature. Acting with alacrity, it proposed and passed a bill banning the open carry of loaded firearms pretty much everywhere in any incorporated city or town. Governor Reagan signed the bill, and so started the long down hill slide into 2A oblivion in this state. I am not sure, but I think that the law was challenged on 2A grounds, but in the pre-Heller era, the 2A did not apply to the states, and California did not have an analogue. Thus the challenges were defeated; and since this was a decision of the California Supreme Court, there have been no challenges to California laws since. Four and a half decades later, when some people began openly carrying unloaded firearms as a form of protest, again the Legislature acted with alacrity and banned the open carry of, first, hand guns, and a year later, long guns, in incorporated areas.

    Thanks, Governor Reagan, thanks for nothing. His view of the 2A, if it is consistent at all, is what we now call the FUDD perspective: hunting, sport shooting, and defense of hearth and home., no more. No “automatic” or “military style” firearms (despite the indisputable fact that the Founding Fathers intended for The People to own and bear “military style” firearms as a defense against tyranny), because they are not for hunting, and OF COURSE no carrying of guns in public.

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