By Phillip Chesser
Fifty years ago this November, Lee Harvey Oswald used a mail order, military style, bolt action Carcano rifle equipped with a scope to murder President John F. Kennedy. Earlier that year, using the same rifle Oswald had taken a shot at General Edwin Walker, called a right wing extremist by the media, and missed. According to Gerald Posner’s Case Closed, which chronicles Oswald’s life and the Kennedy assassination, former Marine marksman Oswald had practiced with the rifle many times at an abandoned gravel pit.
Like most bolt action military rifles manufactured for infantry use, the inexpensive Carcano was an accurate and effective weapon in practiced hands. Oswald bought the rifle and scope by mail order for about $16.50.
Predictably, immediately after the assassination the gun control crowd blamed the rifle and bemoaned the fact that it was so easily available through mail order. As a result, not long after the assassination Congress passed and the president signed a law prohibiting such mail order gun purchases. Rifles could (and still can) be bought by mail order, but the law requires that they be delivered to local gun dealers and picked up there by buyers.
Incidentally, bolt action military rifles like the Carcano, for example, the popular Mouser 8mm K-98 and the .30-06 Springfield, originally designed to be assault weapons for soldiers, have been modified over the years for hunting. “Sporterized” .30-06 Springfield rifles were once very common (the father of one of my childhood friends had one and used it often to hunt deer). The K-98 Mouser action has also been very popular with hunters and in practiced hands can take down a 600 pound elk at some distance. Magazine capacity is limited; five rounds for the K-98, but practiced, skilled riflemen with plentiful supplies of five round stripper clips can load and fire very rapidly. German soldiers used the rifle to great effect in both world wars. And of course Tennessee sharpshooter Sgt. Alvin York used the bolt action Springfield rifle in World War I to kill enemy machine gunners. He also used the venerable seven round semi automatic 1911 .45 caliber pistol to kill more German soldiers.
In 1966, armed with a high powered 6 mm hunting rifle, University of Texas engineering student Charles Whitman barricaded himself atop the Texas Tower at the University in Austin, then shot and killed sixteen people and wounded thirty-two others. The rifle and ammunition had been purchased legally. And the people killed by Whitman’s limited magazine capacity hunting rifle were just as dead as those killed more recently by weapons with high capacity magazines. Like Oswald, Whitman was a former Marine.
After Whitman was killed by courageous police officers, an autopsy of his remains revealed a brain tumor. Further investigation uncovered information that he had told a doctor he felt like killing people. In any event, the mail order gun purchasing prohibition didn’t stop Whitman.
Sometime later gun control fanatics shifted their attention to handguns, saying things like “Handguns have no use but killing people.” One could buy long guns off the rack in gun stores without a background check, but in Maryland where I lived in the 1980s and 1990s and also in other states, buyers had to wait a week before picking up handguns they had purchased. Some states prohibited handgun purchases by out of state buyers. In addition, at that time Maryland had strict rules about carrying handguns in vehicles: they had to be unloaded and out of the driver’s reach and could only be carried to and from shooting ranges. None of these laws kept Baltimore from being among those big American cities with the highest murder rates, but legislators and gun controllers felt good about making life inconvenient for law abiding gun owners.
Later on in the 1980s gun control enthusiasts developed an obsession with “Saturday night specials,” inexpensive handguns then widely used by robbers and muggers. In Maryland a Saturday night special law was passed over the objection of self defense advocates, and gun controllers once again felt warm and fuzzy.
Gun controllers’ current obsession with assault rifles began in the 1990s and was followed by the assault weapons ban, which had no effect on gun violence. In fact one of the nation’s murder capitals and also the President’s hometown is Chicago, where most of the killing is done not with assault weapons but with handguns.
As for assault weapons, any firearm can be used to assault people, just as any knife can be used to stab people, but rifles with beautifully polished wooden stocks and pretty blued barrels don’t look as menacing to clueless gun control advocates as do semi-automatic AK knock offs or .223 caliber AR-15s, some of which to me look like Mattel high capacity squirt guns.
In the early years of the 2000’s, driven around by his mentor John Allen Muhammad, teenage DC sniper Lee Boyd Malvo used a .223 Bushmaster to murder nine innocent citizens and wound three others. The Bushmaster can carry a high capacity magazine, but he could have been just as murderous with any hunting rifle, for he never took more than one or two shots from his hiding place in the trunk of their modified sedan. Killers with a will and a plan will not be deterred by laws that ban ugly weapons with high capacity magazines.
But the call for banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines has nothing to do with saving lives and everything to do with disarming law abiding citizens. It’s the camel’s nose in the tent. Using phrases such as “No hunter needs a thirty round magazine,” gun controllers hope to turn public opinion towards more restrictive laws. When a new gun ban doesn’t work, they will then push for more restrictions. Dishonest protests to the contrary, their true goal is the abolition of private gun ownership. They have an irrational fear of law abiding gun owners, not because they fear for their safety, but because law abiding gun owners show a sense of independence that threatens the gun controllers’ religious attachment to and their worship of the all powerful government.