Howell Raines is a former executive editor of the New York Times and is writing a nonfiction book about Civil War times in Alabama.
As a hunter who has owned firearms since adolescence without breaking any laws or feeling under-gunned, I think I am equipped to offer a modest proposal that could produce a safer America and also break the maniacal hold of the National Rifle Association on the nation’s recreational shooters, not to mention Congress.
My proposal is simply that we revert to the gun laws that prevailed in the United States around 1960. From a public-safety standpoint, that was far from a perfect world. The cheap revolvers called “Saturday night specials” ruled the night in many cities. Loopholes as to the sale and registration of long arms allowed the importation of the mail-order rifle that Lee Harvey Oswald used to kill President John F. Kennedy in 1963.
Yet law-abiding hunters and target shooters had all the weapons and firepower they needed and were not in a state of constant turmoil over state and federal laws that restricted most shotguns to three rounds and most semiautomatic rifles and handguns to fewer than 20 rounds. American gun and ammunition manufacturers such as Remington, Winchester and Colt were thriving. Nobody argued that a six-shot revolver was inadequate for home-protection emergencies. Deer and elk hunters who used larger caliber rifles felt amply equipped with standard magazines of a half-dozen or so shells.
A return to these basic restrictions on loadings would appeal to most hunters, firing-range shooters and gun collectors who battle the nonstop whirlpool of NRA paranoia. It would give members of Congress, including those from rural, pro-gun states, a sellable policy with a history of limiting mass shootings in public places while protecting the sporting and self-protection practices of law-abiding citizens. And it would reduce the body count from shootings in public places.