“The debate over gun control is one of the most urgent and vital in America.”
You might agree with that sentiment right now – but that’s the lead sentence in a story in The Buffalo Evening News in 1972. It’s shocking to read a story about an issue that consumes so much American thought today has barely moved in more than 50 years.
The story continues.
“At times of violence or assassination, Americans tune into the hopeful optimism of those who see the end of violence around the next corner of gun legislation.
“Even more regularly, gun-owning groups assure us that the 30 million handguns in the nation have nothing to do with violent crime in the United States.
“Each side is convinced that it is absolutely right, and nobody bothers to get facts straight. Sadly our national debate over gun control is often a battle of empty slogans.
People are also reading…
“Before we get suitably serious about the gun problem in this country, it will be necessary to clear away some of the rhetorical excesses that have marked the gun control debate.”
The story offers the reflections of several Buffalonians on gun control, including the Buffalo Police Commissioner, the Erie County Sheriff, and a Kenmore man who served as a director of the National Rifle Association.
“In the long run, there must be a sensible system which will protect citizens’ rights and still curb illegal use for firearms, but no one’s come up with it yet,” said Buffalo Police Commissioner Frank N. Felicetta in 1972.
“I believe it is important to safeguard (the right to keep and bear arms), but we must also explore every possibility to reduce injury caused by firearms, taking into serious consideration proposals for gun control legislation which encourage rather than discourage the safe and proper possession and use of firearms by all Americans who chose to have them,” said Erie County Sheriff Michael A. Amico.
NRA Director Charles F. Wolff, who lived in Kenmore, said “It all boils down to the simple fact that if the present laws were fully enforced and if severe penalties were provided for firearms misuse and if the courts levied these severe penalties for such misuse, then there would be no need for further controls.”
Reading this article, which was written more than half a century ago, leaves the reader to wonder not how the debate has progressed over the last five decades – but if it has progressed at all.
The 1972 article concludes:
“A campaign to remove the handgun from civilian ownership raises harder questions. In a nation dedicated to individual freedom, in an era when we are finding that the criminal prohibition of things like marijuana and abortion might not be worth the cost, here is a special irony in hearing liberal politicians urge a criminal prohibition of handguns.
“Yet the handgun problem is a special problem. With the possible exception of heroin, never has a product cost so much and given so little to the quality of American urban life.
“A strategy as unstylish as prohibition may be the appropriate solution to the handgun problem. It may not. But before we can make intelligent choices in this area, we must face the real issues.”