WASHINGTON (AP) — Few presidents in modern times have been as interested in gun control as Richard Nixon, of all people. He proposed ridding the market of Saturday night specials, contemplated banning handguns altogether and refused to pander to gun owners by feigning interest in their weapons.
Several previously unreported Oval Office recordings and White House memos from the Nixon years show a conservative president who at times appeared willing to take on the National Rifle Association, a powerful gun lobby then as now, even as his aides worried about the political ramifications.
"I don't know why any individual should have a right to have a revolver in his house," Nixon said in a taped conversation with aides. "The kids usually kill themselves with it and so forth." He asked why "can't we go after handguns, period?"
Nixon went on: "I know the rifle association will be against it, the gun makers will be against it." But "people should not have handguns." He laced his comments with obscenities, as was typical.
Nixon made his remarks in the Oval Office on May 16, 1972, the day after a would-be assassin shot and paralyzed segregationist presidential candidate George Wallace. As president, Nixon never publicly called for a ban on all handguns. Instead, he urged Congress to pass more modest legislation banning Saturday night specials, which were cheaply made, easily concealed and often used by criminals.
Not all of the president's men appeared to share his passion on the issue. The recordings and memos show that Nixon administration officials saw gun control as a political loser.
Nixon, a Republican, did say publicly that if Congress passed a ban on Saturday night specials, he would sign it. But in a sign of how potent the NRA was even 40 years ago, this narrow piece of legislation never made it to his desk, and there is no sign that he ever sent a draft bill to Capitol Hill.