The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

March 9, 2013

AP Enterprise: Nixon wished for total handgun ban

(Continued)

At a June 29, 1972, news conference, about six weeks after Wallace's shooting, Nixon said he'd sign legislation banning Saturday night specials. Later that year, the Senate did pass such a bill, but the House never acted on the legislation.

The bill's sponsor, Indiana Democrat Birch Bayh, said in a recent interview that the NRA helped prevent his bill from getting through Congress. The Nixon administration supported an unsuccessful Republican alternative Senate bill on Saturday night specials that had a definition the NRA preferred.

The shooting of another politician put gun control back on the radar the following year. On Jan. 30, 1973, two robbers shot Sen. John Stennis, D-Miss., and surgeons initially thought he would die. Stennis survived and lived until 1995.

The day of the shooting, Nixon told White House special counsel Charles Colson, "At least I hope that Saturday night special legislation, at least we're supporting that, you know. We're not for gun control generally, but we are for that. God damn it that ought to be passed. Or was it passed?"

When Colson told him it hadn't, Nixon instructed his counsel, "We better damn well be for it now, huh?"

At a news conference the next day, the president repeated his call to ban Saturday night specials. He also volunteered a comment that few national politicians would make today: "Let me say, personally, I have never hunted in my life. I have no interest in guns and so forth."

By March 1973, aide John Ehrlichman was telling Nixon that gun control was a "loser issue for us."

"You've got a highly mobilized lobby," he told the president. "I think what we have to do is carve out a little piece of it, and Saturday night specials, of course, has been our tactic."

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