All week we have been seeing stories and articles about this day 50 years ago. In the history of our country, 4 Presidents have been assassinated and 6 attempts have been made, all with guns. While looking for information I found this article about the guns used in assassinations and assassination attempts of Presidents and/or candidates. Some of the shooters had mental illness, some just hated the current government and wanted to change it by bullet. There are things we don't know about the shooters, about the scenes of the assassinations and about the motives and we may never know. Conspiracy theories have evolved about the Kennedy assassination and they continue to this day. That is often the case with shooters and mass shooters. The incidents happen so quickly and take everyone by surprise and it's often not until months or years later that the pieces are put together to try to make sense out of the tragedies.
One thing we do know is how Lee Harvey Oswald got his gun. He ordered it through the mail. 50 years later, has anything changed? Actually, the gun control act of 1968 was passed partly as a result of the assassination of our nation's 35th President. This law established a category of prohibited people to whom guns should not be sold. It also set up the licensing system for firearms dealers and prohibited the import of certain types of guns and mandated background checks for sales by the licensed dealers. In part because of the availability of guns through mail order, guns ordered that way were mandated to go through a federally licensed dealer. The same guns could be purchased through a private seller, however. The act says this ( from the linked article) about private sales:
Today, we still have a system in place that allows the private sale of guns without background checks. There are now many more private sellers selling guns from their "personal collections". These sales have been at the center of the current controversy about whether we should require sales through these private sellers to undergo background checks.Private sales between unlicensed individuals who are residents of the same state are allowed under federal law so long as such transfers do not violate the other existing federal and state laws. While current law mandates that a background check be performed if the seller has a federal firearms license, private parties living in the same state are not required to perform such checks under federal law. State laws however can prohibit such sales.A person who does not have a Federal Firearms License may not be in the business of buying or selling firearms. Individuals buying and selling firearms without a federal license must be doing so from their own personal collection.Under the Gun Control Act, a federally licensed importer, manufacturer, dealer or collector shall not sell or deliver any rifle or shotgun or ammunition for rifle or shotgun to any individual less than 18 years of age, nor any handgun or ammunition for a handgun to any individual less than 21 years of age. 
Presidential assassinations or attempts have sometimes focused our country on laws that would strengthen our system of gun laws. But the corporate gun lobby which doesn't like gun laws, lobbied to make changes to the 1968 gun control act during the debate of the passage of the "Firearms Owners Protection Act" of 1986. The NRA lobbyists insisted that licensed dealers not be monitored more than once per year by ATF agents, whose job it is to make sure that firearms dealers are not violating laws in the selling of deadly weapons. This debate occurred in the context of the attempt on the life of President Reagan in 1981. John Hinckley, the shooter, purchased his gun from a pawn shop even though there were red flags that should have been enough to stop him from buying a gun. But of course we didn't have a system in place to flag people like Hinckley as a prohibited purchaser of a deadly weapon. His gun was what is known as a "Saturday Night Special." They are still available in most states.
And back to the corporate gun lobby, they have made a shameful attempt to exploit the anniversary of the shooting of JFK by selling coins with the image of the President as advertised in the American Rifleman magazine. From this article written by Josh Sugarman of the Violence Policy Center:
This week I received the latest edition of the Rifleman. Like its predecessor of 50 years ago, it contains numerous gun ads. However, six-shot revolvers and bolt-action hunting rifles have now been supplanted by high-capacity concealed carry pistols and semiautomatic military-style assault rifles. And they can't be purchased through the mail. (Although the magazine does have a breathless article promoting Internet gun sales, and, in an editorial decision that would be shocking for its timing if it wasn't, well, the NRA, a feature on mobile devices to aid the accuracy of snipers that "can take the guesswork out of... long-range ballistic solutions.")
The magazine also features a full-page ad and accompanying multi-page "advertorial" presenting a "Historic NRA Exclusive Offer" from NRA corporate donor Universal Coin & Bullion to purchase a John F. Kennedy half dollar -- "The Last Circulating 90 percent Pure Silver Half Dollar Minted in U.S. History!" -- for only $11.95 (plus "Priority Shipping & Insurance").
Universal Coin & Bullion is one of the NRA's top "corporate partners" and a member of the "NRA Business Alliance." It has given between $500,000 and $999,999 to the organization. (In addition to non-firearm financial patrons like Universal Coin & Bullion, financial support for the NRA from gun industry "corporate partners" alone may be as high as $60 million since 2005).Follow the money. As Sugarman says, it is not coincidental that Lee Harvey Oswald purchased his gun from American Rifleman and 50 years later the magazine is exploiting its' corporate connections to sell a coin to commemorate the 50 year anniversary of JFK's assassination. What goes around comes around I guess. But I digress. Let me continue my thread about gun laws and Presidential assassinations and attempts.
James Brady, the Press Secretary to President Reagan was severely injured in that assassination attempt and to this day lives with the life long debilitating injuries suffered in that attack. Sarah and Jim Brady decided that something had to change after Jim's injury and began their 6 year push for passing a law to require that people on the prohibited purchasers list be kept in a federal data base ( now called the National Instant Check System) so they could be stopped from purchasing guns. The law was passed on November 30th, 1993. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Brady law. But Congress again left out a class of gun sellers in the law- private sellers.
Since that time, private sellers have come to be a large market for gun sales. In fact 40% of guns are purchased through private sales with no background checks. This is not how it was envisioned when the law was passed. That means that felons, domestic abusers, dangerously mentally ill people and others who shouldn't have guns get them anyway. The corporate gun lobby opposes any attempt to change this law and finish the job. The law has been working so far and has stopped felons and others who are seeking guns from licensed dealers from getting them. This means that felons are attempting to buy guns from licensed sellers. When they can't succeed there, where do they go for their guns? One place is private sellers. We should stop them at every point of sale. We should stop them wherever we can. We should stop dangerously mentally ill from getting guns. They are trying and they succeed. They succeed when we allow guns to be sold without background checks. Why make it easy? Is should be hard to get a weapon designed to kill another human being(s) shouldn't it?
There is no reason that makes any sense for opposing the latest attempts to save lives. As we approach the one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook school shooting on December 14th, we need to remind our elected leaders that they have had the chance over the past year to prevent at least some of the deaths due to bullets by passing a background check bill. But they have failed us. That is shameful pandering to those whose interest lies in making profits and not saving lives. We lose too many people every day to bullets to ignore the problem and fail to act.
Since Robert Kennedy, the brother of President Kennedy, was assassinated in 1968, more Americans have died from gunshot injuries than Americans who have died in wars since the Revolutionary War. This is a fact and it's stunning information. We are talking about 1,384,171 real people who have died from gunshot injuries since 1968. The families of that many people have been grieving the loss of a loved one for many years now. If this cause of death was anything but firearms, we would have done something to stop and prevent the loss of life long ago.
Where are you today? Are you standing with the 90% of Americans, including gun owners, who want to strengthen our country's gun laws? Are you standing with the Americans who believe that requiring a background check on all gun sales just makes common sense? Are you fed up with the equivocating and lack of courage on the part of our country's leaders who just won't do the right thing in the face of strong evidence to the contrary? Do you believe, as I do, and many others, that our Congress needs to finish the job started with the passage of Brady law? For there is unfinished business. Private sellers at gun shows, flea markets and Internet sites are selling guns to people they don't know or don't know they can pass a background check. This puts guns into the hands of those who shouldn't have them. It should be unacceptable. It is unacceptable. It's time for that to change. Tell Congress to finish the job and pass a background check bill. It's "easy peasy" as this video from the Brady Campaign points out:
And I will end with this great article from Huffington Post using the words of a young John Kennedy's book, "Profiles in Courage":
Let's get to work. The time is now.Which brings us to the question of what must we do now? How should we deal with the collective shock, that sick feeling which lands like a stomach punch when we learn of the latest random victims of gun violence such as six-year-old first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School (20) or the college students at Virginia Tech (26), or moviegoers in Aurora (12)?When Washington, unsurprisingly, fails to even get a vote on commonsense background check legislation the ball is unmistakably placed in the citizen's court. We can live up to JFK's legacy and demonstrate as daughter Caroline said this year, "the indispensable virtue that he most admired, courage."