How Long Have They Been Coming To Take Our Guns? [Trenchant Edges]
Hoo boy, we got a live one today. Estimated reading time: 9 minutes, 39 seconds. Contains 1930 words
Welcome to the penultimate issue of the Trenchant Edges, the newsletter about fringe culture and the people who generate it where I chase what I find strange like a psycho running after a white whale.
I’m your host Stephen Fisher and today we hunt one of popular politics’ most enduring ideas: That liberals/the left/international bankers/monopolists/globalists/”the jews” who talk about gun control are secretly trying to confiscate all guns.
Before we get into that it’s worth knowing two things: first, I’m pro-second amendment. I don’t have strong feelings either way on gun control, because I think the actual problem with say, mass shootings, has less to do with access to weapons than it does with cultural milieus that glorify random acts of violence as revenge for your life sucking.
I don’t mean TV or video games. I mean the literal nazis who have been online and spreading conspiracism and the concept of leaderless resistance (IE: terrorism) since the early 1980s.
Robert Evans’ The War On Everyone is a concise introduction to this subject and I don’t really want to repeat his work. It’s about 3 hours and it puts quite a lot in context.
A strong thread in that story is decades of fearmongering about gun confiscation.
This brings us to the second thing.
A sentence that does not spark joy for me: So, I was reading the Turner Diaries, and thinking about Tim McVeigh’s praise for the book’s “defense of the second amendment.”
The Diaries are one of the vilest, racist, cruel, and lethal books in history. It advocates a fascist coup against a state persecuting white men and features a lot more protagonist rapists than most books would try to sell as a feature. I cannot overstate how bad this book is on all levels.
If you want an overview, youtuber ThoughtSlime made an introduction. Point is, it’s a literal terrorist manual and encourages people to become terrorists. We know that because of how often it appears as an influence on right-wing terrorists after they act.
The Oklahoma City Bombing was explicitly modeled after a similar terrorist attack in the book. Down to using the same kind of fertilizer bomb.
So, they were written by National Alliance founder William Luther Pierce in 1978.
And the first thing that hit me was that, well, Timmy McVeigh wasn’t kidding about how prominent the defense of the second amendment is in this book. It’s the subject of the first chapter, which I won’t describe in detail because it’s exactly as racist as you’d expect from a neo-nazi trying to talk his people into becoming terrorists.
What got really under my skin about it was the tone of how it approached the idea of gun confiscation, mocking those who didn’t believe it would come or who accepted the new rules.
This whole thing couldn’t be an explicitly neo-nazi myth, could it?
Hunting The First Gun Confiscation Fearmongering
I used to joke that President Barack Obama mentioning gun control was a subsidy for the gun industry. Since gun sales would spike whenever he mentioned the issue.
It doesn’t seem funny now.
So, I put a pin on my mental timeline in 1978 and started poking around.
A half-hour of googling got me a TON of pro 2A material after 1980, but precious little before.
It was a dead-end, except for a 1976 article in the journal Current History by John M Ashbrook, a US Representative from Ohio, warning that all gun control was code for gun confiscation.
You can look at it here. If your library doesn’t give you access, just reply to this email.
Ashbrook’s big claim to fame was trying to primary Nixon for the 1972 Republican nomination, which didn’t go well for him.
This was something of a relief.
Even by the first couple paragraphs of the article, it’s clear the basic framework of fears about gun control are fully formed by 1976.
This both proved to me that it wasn’t purely a neo-nazi trope and that Pierce hadn’t invented it. My sense that he was responding to skeptics in that first chapter was right.
But it was otherwise a dead end. Seemed pretty clear that Ashbrook didn’t invent the idea, and I was able to find hints from Cato institute fellow David Kopel that, indeed, the 1970s were the birth of the modern Pro 2A movement.
From a document on his website listing ten books about the 2nd Amendment:
The same document heavily mentioned a 1960s gun prohibition movement, which I’ll need to investigate further since the main examples I knew of were explicitly anti-Black Panther gun control restrictions and LBJ’s Gun Control act of 1986.
Looking up the history of gun control in the US proved a pretty good idea, and one we’ll get back to.
The first modern gun control act was FDR’s National Firearms Act of 1934, which imposed high taxes on certain kinds of guns like sawed-off shotguns and silencers. It was upheld by the supreme court in 1939. Time Magazine has a pretty good overview of the modern era here. But it skips over many racist gun control laws, which you can read about here.
Gun control laws are reactionary in the sense they’re imposed after a tragedy under the theory they can reduce further tragedies. The St Valantine’s Day massacre for the NFA and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy for the GCA of 1968.
It was at this point that I decided to shift gears again.
With an overview of how gun control was implemented over the last hundred years, I had an idea about when the topic started to explode. So I started going through my mental catalog of “usual suspects”.
But I couldn't find examples of gun control fearmongering in any of the early documents I could find from Robert Welch’s John Birch Society, George Lincoln Rockwell’s American Nazi Party, or Willis Carto’s Liberty Lobby.
All of these group’s descendants traffic HEAVY in this fearmongering, so I got more certain something happened at the end of the 1960s that kicked this off.
Thanks to Wikipedia, I found a reference to the Gun Owners of America’s founder, HL Richardson, a California State Senator who successfully lead a grassroots effort to defeat a 1975 bill to ban all handguns in California. The GOA is somewhat notorious for being a more hardline version of the NRA and for being talk radio host, conspiracy theorist, and John Bircher descendant Alex Jones’ favored gun rights organization.
Jones has been CONSTANTLY talking about gun confiscation for his entire career, which I’ve heard examples of as early as 2003.
At this point, I started getting frustrated. I had found plenty of evidence that predated the Turner Diaries, but not an, uh, smoking gun.
So I started thinking about various people I knew who might have another line in on the subject. Of those, two responded: The host of the excellent podcast Parallax views and UCLA professor Adam Winkler.
Parallax Views’ JG Michael pointed me to a book I’d recently gotten a copy of because of a few references to it from Alex Jones’ show, Gary Allen Larry Abraham’s 1971 None Dare Call it Conspiracy.
Adam Winkler (author of the book gunfight) speculated that it might have deeper roots than the early 70s and suggested I check out the rhetoric around FDR’s 1934 NFA.
Now, I haven’t had a chance to dig through anything from the 1930s, as that’s a whole different mess of right-wing groups. It’ll be a lot of fun once I figure out how to find propaganda from the Bund or silver shirts. Time to talk to a librarian, I think.
Meanwhile, None Dare Call it Conspiracy, on the other hand, I actually have access to.
And as of right now it’s the first money shot.
Before we go into the specifics, I want to call back to the first post on this investigation, where I said that the JBS’ influence is comically outsized compared to its reputation?
Well, Gary Allen and Larry Abraham were both JBS members.
And the JBS now sells more than a dozen books fearmongering about gun confiscation.
Now, we can kinda tell NDCiC is one of the first books to talk about this subject because it’s not a big part of the book. In fact, gun confiscation only is mentioned twice.
It’s mentioned as a step in the Rockefeller plan to merge all countries into a single utopian state. Literally, it’s the New World Order conspiracy of the 90s.
Banning handguns is step #2 on the FOURTEEN SIGNPOSTS TO SLAVERY in chapter 8.
Compared to later versions of this narrative, where taking the guns is the masterstroke that ends resistance, this almost qualifies as not being in this story at all. This suggests it’s near the beginning of fears of gun confiscation.
And, indeed, the Gun Control Act of 1968 was only passed 3 years earlier. Not much time for an idea to germinate, spread, and mutate.
But I don’t think it was the GCA that provoked it. And I might have found a smoking gun after all.
Cool Guns Stand Up Against Peer Pressure
LBJ didn’t just help pass the GCA. He created the U.S. National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, and US News and World Report summarized their findings at the time like this:
A licensing system for all handguns, with possession restricted to those who can prove they have a special need for such guns.
Government confiscation of all guns not licensed, with the Government paying for guns seized.
Now, uh, that seems pretty extreme.
But here’s the fun bit: We have the final report of that commission. We can go back and look for ourselves. You can look here. There are 81 number paragraphs in their recommendations starting on page 298 of the pdf.
I’ve cut out a lot, obviously.
Most of the recommendations are more structural.
Now, this is a huge document I haven’t read more than an appendix of. But if these recommendations are consistent with the rest of the text, then US News and World Report have done their readers a disservice.
Now, it’s true the report suggests restricting handgun ownership, but I couldn’t find any hint of a 90% ownership reduction as an estimate or target.
I low key suspect they’re confusing the 90 million guns America had in private hands in 1968 with 90%, but that might be too uncharitable, especially since I’m not reading the original article.
But I think this report is the most likely candidate for the acute cause of the gun confiscation backlash, with or without misinterpretation.
It definitely fits the timeline for the explosion in the discussion and is at least for the moment the best evidence I’ve got for where this whole thing started.
Well, that turned out to be a lot more complicated than I expected.
I probably shouldn’t have let myself get sidetracked in an 8-hour research and writing jag like this the week I’ve started winding up with my primary client, but there you have it. Whoops.
But it’s this kind of thing that I really appreciate.
Some still unanswered questions:
What was the national discourse around gun control like around 1968?
How was it before ‘68?
What did the original US News and World Report say about the commission’s report? How did other news outlets react?
What about the 1930s? Seems likely there was some pushback there too.
How did gun confiscation go from a minor point in None Dare Call it Conspiracy to the centerpiece of the Turner Diaries?
But those are questions for another day.
We’ll see you tomorrow for a discussion on exactly where we’re going next with this newsletter.
(We’ll have to hold off on the discussion of Dabrowski’s positive disintegration for another time)
See you soon.
Who did I miss?
Is there anyone else here you’d like to know more about?
A possible wrinkle in my timeline: The US News and World Report issue is from (with a little squinting) August 11th, 1969, where the final report is from Dec 10th, 1969.
Which means they were reacting to a preliminary report.
I haven't read this yet, I just heard about it from the ACLU. Its focus is much earlier, so I'm excited to see you trying to fill in the gaps of the modern era.