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President Ronald Reagan on Gun Control

The 40th President weighs in.

Nationwide focus this week is on what President Obama had to say Wednesday about gun-control (and in New York on the passage of Governor Cuomo’s gun-control bill). But I'd like to look back for a moment on an earlier time, the time of President Ronald Reagan.  

It’s natural that as the debate on gun control moves forward, folks will pick up this quote or that—a sound bite here or there—and use it to buttress their position. I’ve seen this happen with the words of Ronald Reagan who, as President, was of course shot and almost killed in an assassination attempt.

“Those who seek to inflict harm are not fazed by gun-controllers,” is one quote that is getting a lot of attention today. But there was another quote, one we don’t hear as much, which he made as Governor of California:

“There’s no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.”  

As folks parse and grapple with President Obama’s words this week, it might behoove us to consider President Reagan’s. Rather than lining up behind one of the above quotes or the other, is it possible to see them both as true?  

It’s hard to disagree with President Reagan’s statement that those who seek to inflict harm are not fazed by gun controllers. Fazed means disturbed or disconcerted. Those who seek to inflict harm are by definition disturbed, undeniably disconcerted. The question is: Should they be allowed to be legally walking the streets of our cities and towns with loaded weapons? The Second Amendment notwithstanding, Ronald Reagan’s answer to that question—“There’s no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons”—bears consideration:

It’s true that President Reagan’s position on gun-control shifted a few times. But in 1991 he decisively, passionately and eloquently threw his support behind the Brady Bill, requiring background checks and a seven day waiting period for handgun purchase. In an Op-Ed piece published in the New York Times looking back on the assassination attempt he survived, the former president said: 

“This nightmare might never have happened if legislation that is before Congress now—the Brady bill—had been law back in 1981... If the passage of the Brady bill were to result in a reduction of only 10 or 15 percent of those numbers (and it could be a good deal greater), it would be well worth making it the law of the land.” 

Around the same time, at a gathering at George Washington University marking the 10th anniversary of the attempt on his life, he was quoted as saying:   

“With the right to bear arms comes a great responsibility to use caution and common sense on handgun purchases. And it's just plain common sense that there be a waiting period to allow local law-enforcement officials to conduct background checks on those who wish to purchase handguns." 

Update on Initiatives

Back in Newtown, CT, scene of the latest massacre, folks have created Sandy Hook Promise, a non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to encouraging and supporting “common sense solutions that make their communities and our country safer from acts of violence like that which occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December, 14, 2012.” 

Thomas Bittman, co-founder of the group, embraced his entire community when he said “The middle ground, and the answers, I actually think are going to come from gun owners themselves." Indeed, the latest poll from Pew Research Center  does indeed show support for reasonable controls from gun owners and non-owners alike. Also in Newtown, the mother of the youngest victim, Noah Pozner—whose body was riddled with eleven bullets—is expressing her own very personal views. 

Let’s continue to pay attention to the voices of Newtown, as sound bites vie for our attention. A soon-to-be released study from this week’s Johns Hopkins University symposium on gun violence will go a long way in helping us get past these sound bites toward newly helpful policy. More on that next week.

In the meantime please contact the White House to express your support for the new gun control measures. Here’s the link:  

http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/preventing-gun-violence#share

Please sign the petitions at Demand A Plan, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, One Million Moms for Gun Control, We The People, and Americans for Responsible Solutions.

Please read my previous posts on gun control: Repairing the World: The Truth About Ending Gun Violence Now (December 20);  There is No God: Continuing Thoughts on Gun Control (December 27); Sabbath to Stop Gun Violence (January 3); and Christina’s Letter: More Thoughts on Gun Violence (January 10). 

Your comments are welcome.

Rabbi Mark Sameth is the spiritual leader of Joyful Judaism: Pleasantville Community Synagogue an inclusive, progressive synagogue – with members from twenty towns, villages and cities all across Westchester and “A Hebrew School Your Kids Can Love.” Read The New York Times article. Follow Rabbi Mark on Twitter . Weekly meditation at the synagogue every Saturday morning at 9 am is open to the public; everyone – without exception - is welcome and warmly invited. OUR MEMBERSHIP DRIVE IS ON. See “Top Ten Reasons to Join PCS” - as well as service times and events - at www.ShalomPCS.com.

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James Adnaraf January 20, 2013 at 04:08 AM
I agree with reasonable gun control, and it appears that Reagan did too. Rabbi, when you bring up other topics, including abortion, the role of government, the issue of low marginal tax rates, please bring up Reagan's views on those as well. After all, we shouldn't just cherry pick his views when they seem to be consistent with ours. As a matter of fact, when Rabbi Mark discusses controversial issues in the future, I will be looking for him to refer to Reagan's views on them. That is fair, is it not?
James Redmam January 20, 2013 at 02:56 PM
Reagan also doubled the debt to GDP ratio. He's not exactly an ideal president, from a conservative point of view. Conservatism is about small government. Reagan was a big government President. Clinton presided over a decrease of the debt to GDP ratio. Clinton was more conservative, fiscally, than Reagan. Bush, again, and Obama, are increasing the debt to gdp.
James Adnaraf January 21, 2013 at 06:38 PM
The point is, Mr. Redman, that if you are going to take Reagan's opinion on gun control, cite his opinion on other issues as well.

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