We are going to start back about 1956, when I was 14 years old. Back then all my friends had BB guns, but my parents would not let me get one. I guess it was the "you'll shoot your eye out" mentality. Anyway, one day after school I went to a friend's house after school. This friend of mine, his younger brother, and father were big into hunting at the time. Mostly birds, rabbits, and squirrels, since deer were almost non-existent back then. Hunting was something I was interested in because another guy I knew used to take me hunting rabbits with him and let me use his .22. My friend, and his family had quite a few guns, and he had an old Mossberg bolt action .22 caliber rifle with a scope on it, that he wanted to sell. So, I decided on the spot that I wanted it, and was going to buy it, and did. Cost me $5. To put it bluntly, when I got home my parents were none too happy, but they agreed, that if I would be careful with it. I could keep it. Background check? The word didn't even exist back then.
My Grandmother lived just down the road from us, and I spent hours in her backyard target shooting. I got very good with that gun, and never had any kind of accident with it. That would come later. Many pots of squirrel stew were made on my mother's stove. It IS very good!
A couple of years later, 1958, I got a job working with a General Contractor for the summer, and decided I wanted to get a shotgun, so I could go bird hunting that fall. I saved my money, and when I had enough. I ordered my shotgun. How did I order it? I got out the Sears, Roebuck, and Co. catalog, opened it to the "gun" section (yes, they sold guns - lots of them - even had their own brand, J.C. Higgins), picked out the one I wanted (Remington pump action 16 gauge), filed out the order form, and then I had a problem. I had to send a check, since they wouldn't take cash, and credit cards didn't really exist back then. No problem with a 16 year old ordering a gun, no background check, but I wasn't old enough to have a checking account! So, I gave my mother the money, and she wrote out the check for me! I mailed the order, and about a week later, the Railway Express office called and said I had a package from Sears. I went (I had just gotten my driver's license) and picked up my new shotgun! Boy, was I on top of the world. Went hunting many times that fall, mostly for ducks, and Ruffed Grouse.
This picture is the inside front cover of the 1959 Woodbury High School yearbook. Yes, that is the Superintendent holding a double barrel shotgun on the Senior Class. How many yearbooks today would have a picture like that in them? I was in High School back then, and if we were going hunting after school with a friend, we brought our guns to school on the school bus, stored them in our locker, and took them home on the friend's school bus. Everyone obviously knew, and nobody thought a thing about it. Later, after I graduated, I went to college at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, CT. My roommate and I both liked to hunt, so we brought our guns to school, and kept them in our dorm (actually a Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity house) room closets. Once again, everyone knew and if we went hunting the "house mother" of our dorm, would wish us good luck as we went out the door. The dorm cook even volunteered to cook anything we got for us (as long as we cleaned it first)!
That's what the "gun environment" was like back then. Nobody really cared if you had a gun. That was the mentality across the country. Nearly every home had a gun of some sort.
On December 17, 1959, I was involved in an incident that has, and will be with me for my entire life. My female cousin called me and asked if she could come over because she needed help with her math homework. She was about 3 years younger than me. While we were in my bedroom doing her homework, she asked me if she could see my shotgun, I said "sure", and went and got it off the gun rack, I pointed it in her general direction and worked the action to make sure it was empty, and when I closed it, the gun went off. My finger never touched the trigger. Fortunately, the bird shot in the gun hit her on the outside of the right shoulder. It took out a hunk of flesh, but did no permanent or life threatening damage. She spent a few days in the hospital, and was released. Except for a scar on the shoulder, there was no permanent after effects. When I think of what could have happened! Wow! The police were called, they asked me some questions, determined that it was entirely accidental, and nothing further needed to be done. Today, I would have been charged with something, if only to show they were doing something about a shooting.The gun was checked, it functioned perfectly, and never malfunctioned again. Whatever happened to it that night remains a mystery to this day! So to this day, and since I became a handgun instructor, gun safety is numero uno on my list. I've been there and done that!
November 22, 1963, JFK is assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald! When it was found out that he had bought the rifle he used via mail order, the outcry was fierce, and the Congress promptly banned the mail order selling of guns. Think about that for a minute. You could no longer buy a gun through Sears, or anywhere else, but Oswald could have gone to any gun store, and bought the gun over the counter, no questions asked. So what did that law actually accomplish. Did it prevent people like Oswald from purchasing a gun? Not at all, but it did restrict the right of people with no evil intentions, from getting a gun by a simple method. Someone who might want a gun for self defense, and had trouble getting around, and would have trouble getting to a gun store, or the person whose work schedule would require him to take time off from work to go purchase a gun. This is the first example of restricting the rights of law abiding citizens, in an attempt to stop bad people from getting guns, and it obviously had no effect at all. The first example of "feel good" legislation!
Fast forward to 1968, two more tragedies hit the country. Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated in April, and then Bobby Kennedy is shot and killed in June! The outcry was tremendous! We have to do something about the easy access to guns. Congress did it again. They passed the "Gun Control Act of 1968. This law required, among other things, that anyone who went to a gun store to buy a gun, had to fill out a Form 4473. This was a form that asked a bunch of questions about you. Were you a felon? Have you been using drugs? Are you subject to a restraining order for domestic abuse? Lying on this form carried a penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Now that should make a whole lot of bad guys sit up and take notice before they go try to buy a gun, right? Well, the problem arises when we find out how often those people are prosecuted. We're talking 1960's, 70's, 80's, and early 90's. This was before the NICS (National Instant Check System) was passed as part of the Brady bill in 1993. Of the refusals, which turn out to be lying on the form, very few are referred for prosecution, meaning the law is not doing it's job. In fact, Vice President Biden was quoted as saying “And to your point, Mr. Baker, regarding the lack of prosecutions on lying on Form 4473s, we simply don’t have the time or manpower to prosecute everybody who lies on a form, that checks a wrong box, that answers a question inaccurately.” So the government says they don't have the manpower to enforce existing gun laws, but people are pushing to pass more laws. Where will the manpower come for that? Once again the people who will obey the new laws are the law abiding citizens who will be further inconvenienced, while the criminals laugh, and go about their business.
Within the first year (1997-1998) Project Exile resulted in:
- 372 persons indicted for Federal gun violations.
- 440 illegally possessed guns seized.
- 300 persons arrested or held in State custody.
- 222 arrestees (more than 74 percent) held without bond.
- 247 persons convicted.
- 196 persons sentenced to an average of 55 months of imprisonment.