Gun Control


Gun Control, by Robert Kukla, Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 1973, 448 pp., $8.95.

Gun Control is a National Rifle Association's-eye view of recent efforts to eliminate private firearms ownership in America. Author Robert J. Kukla, an NRA Director, is largely successful in his attempts to provide an extensively documented, roughly chronological record of antigun activities and legislation and to argue that the present intent of antigun forces is, indeed, to disarm the American people.

Gun Control covers, in detail, the period from 1963, and the attempts by the late Senator Thomas Dodd to control mailorder handgun sales, through the passage of the euphemistically titled "Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968" and, finally, the Gun Control Act of 1968. Kukla's tale of legislative maneuverings and compromise will scarcely surprise today's Watergate-jaded public. But perceptive readers will be appalled at what passes for principled argument, and at the lack of any clear conception of what is at stake in the gun control controversy—on both sides.

An impressive collection of statements (one wants to say "threats") from the ACLU, Franklin E. Zimring (coauthor of the antigun "Bible," Firearms and Violence in American Life), Carl Bakal, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Illinois Democratic Party, the New Republic, and the National Commission on Reform of Federal Criminal Laws (established by Congress during the Johnson administration) thoroughly establishes Kukla's second point. His lesson is clear: we should pay attention to those who say they will disarm us. They mean it.

However, the book is badly flawed. It sprawls, but this may be due more to the nature of the subject than to the author's style. Libertarians may well find Kukla's repetitious right-wing sermonizing tiresome. Moreover, Gun Control has no table of contents, and the index is hopelessly inadequate.

Because of its rambling structure, Gun Control is hard to summarize. It is nevertheless valuable for the light it sheds on the activities and motivations of both sides, and offers many insights of interest to libertarians.

One of the most interesting of the latter is the role played by the domestic firearms industry in antigun legislation. More than a few bills (some passed, some not) have offered market protection against imported arms. U.S. manufacturers have frequently and unobtrusively supported these bills, while touting "America's armed heritage" in their advertisements. The 1968 Omnibus Crime Control and Gun Control Acts, whose anti-imports resulted largely from industry support for earlier bills, has made life difficult for such large and reputable import firms as Browning and Walther, and likely impossible for some smaller firms. (Farewell to the fine little Walther PPK, the favorite of Ian Fleming's "James Bond." The PPK fell victim to dimensional requirements promulgated by the IRS which was designated by Congress to interpret and enforce the 1968 Acts.) Kukla reports these political activities of the domestic firearms manufacturers without comment, appearing to see no harm in them.

Although Kukla does not bring us up to the present, libertarians should note that the U.S. firearms industry and the NRA are currently supporting legislation to ban the so-called "Saturday Night Special" handgun. The chief objections to the SNS seem to be that it is cheap (presenting a considerable market challenge to the domestics), small caliber, compact (easily concealed), and frequently has a die-cast zinc alloy frame, making it possibly less durable than a far more expensive handgun make in the U.S.A. (In the latter consideration, we find antigun sentiment masquerading as consumerism.) The SNS issue is a stalking-horse for the attack on more expensive handguns. Once the SNS is banned, the issues of cost and construction will be conveniently forgotten. Debate over extension of the ban to handguns of longer barrel, larger caliber, etc. will be wasted effort.

If this sounds like the old "slippery slope fallacy," Kukla has another lesson for us. Those who claimed (in 1963) that legislation proposed then was merely a prelude to registration and attempted confiscation were right. The slope has proved to be very slippery, indeed. The 1968 Omnibus Crime Control and Gun Control Acts now require registration of any firearm sold by a licensed dealer. Outright handgun confiscation bills are now in Congress (e.g. Rep. Michael Harrington's H.R. 12727).

Finally, it is discouraging to note the frequency with which the NRA (that all-powerful bastion of the "uncompromising and well-heeled gun lobby") has capitulated and helped write "reasonable" compromise legislation. Now the NRA is throwing the SNS to the wolves in a frantic attempt to forestall further inroads on our right to keep and bear arms. Some people, especially those who rarely think in terms of principles, never learn.

Flawed as it is, Gun Control will still provide insights into the running battle over the right to bear arms, and should prove useful to anyone who wishes to join the fight.

Robert L. Archibald is a graduate student in Philosophy at the University of California, Riverside, and a former aerospace engineer. He has been active in opposing gun control legislation for a number of years, and is an Endowment Member of the National Rifle Association.