Ronald Reagan is invoked by many as a transformational president. Barack Obama fashioned his own presidential trajectory after the Gipper. Shrilling for the General Electric Corporation as an influencer and publicly switching political and ideological affiliations, Reagan transformed from a conservative Cold War New Deal liberal actor to a law-and-order “Goldwater conservative” Republican politician (who never ceased to act), leading the charge against so-called subversives and communists in Hollywood and the country.
From 1967-1975, Governor Reagan attempted to transform California into “Reaganland” by spearheading campaigns, policies, and laws against progressive movements, the Black Panther Party’s right to self-defense, Angela Davis’s professorship at UC Berkeley, and even justifying discrimination in property sales. Reagan told the Los Angeles Times in 1966 that free citizens had a “basic and cherished right to do as they please with their property. If an individual wants to discriminate against Negroes or others in selling or renting his house, he has a right to do so.” In other words, the Constitution protects discrimination – of certain people by specific others. Reagan perfected the coded appeals of dog-whistle politics, most notably as President, as he blamed “welfare queens” for all the nation’s economic problems. These are just a few of the long list of reactionary actions that Governor “Dutch” championed and later nationalized as POTUS.
In this video clip, recorded at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, circa February 1989, “the Teflon President” shared his views on banning assault weapons. This speech marked Reagan’s first public appearance after leaving office and occurred shortly after a mass shooting at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California, on January 17, 1989.
“I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen to own guns for sporting, for hunting, and so forth, or for home defense. But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for the defense of the home.”
Given that “the great communicator” self-identified as a staunch Cold Warrior (he is not responsible for the fall of the Berlin Wall), it is no surprise that he identifies a weapon associated with the USSR. Even the NRA will tell you the AK-47 and the AR-15 have more in common than being one of many machines manufactured as part of the Cold War arms race. Both are semi-automatic assault rifles that destroy human tissue, bones, and organs.
Reagan is not challenging the Second Amendment but instead taking a position on the type of weapon to be used for self-defense. I wonder what Reagan would say about Andrew Lester shooting sixteen years young Ralph Yarl twice at point blank range in Kansas City, MO on Thurday, April 13, 2023.
It is also unclear if Reagan would have been able to, or would have desired to, resist the legions of patriots claiming an originalist interpretation of the Second Amendment that says NOTHING about assault weapons. If, from the perspective of an originalist interpretation of the Constitution, weapons were for personal home self-defense (this is not what the Second Amendment protects), then the musket should suffice. But originalists tend to pick and choose from the Constitution like Evangelicals approach the Bible – what is most convenient and useful to make a political argument.
The video of the entire speech is available here.
Check out this archival Boing post with videos about when the NRA supported gun control.