Two tragedies that spurred gun control debate

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From the exhibit, The day JFK was shot: A retrospective in the Science/History Division of the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County. Running through February. [Photo: David Kramer, 2/22/18]

Running through February in the Science/History Division of the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County is a small but captivating exhibit: The day JFK was shot: A retrospective.  Flanked by a life-sized cut out of John Kennedy, the display cases contain newspapers, books and magazines from the library’s collection related to Kennedy’s assassination by Lee Harvey Oswald on November 22nd, 1963.

The blaring headlines of newspapers from around the nation still resonate with the shock of that fateful day.  The headlines reminded me of other photographs I’ve seen of stunned passengers in subways and trains reading newspapers in silence.

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From the exhibit, The day JFK was shot: A retrospective in the Science/History Division of the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County. [Photo: David Kramer, 2/23/18]

Last week we awoke to another shooting tragedy, this time at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Sadly, we’ve almost become desensitized to these acts of violence.  But, we are told, this time might be different as students from around the county demand meaningful action.

In relation to the Parkland killings, often overlooked is that Kennedy’s assassination also led to a nation-wide gun debate.

As reported by ABC News‘ Kevin Dolak on the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s death, Gun Debate Spurred by Kennedy Assassination Rages on Today (Nov. 21, 2013), a dozen firearm bills were introduced in the wake of the assassination.  Most failed, but factored into the overall tightening of gun laws since 1963.

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From the Vietnam Veteran’s Walk of Honor in Highland Park. [Photo: David Kramer 2/22/18] Of small note, Kennedy did not die in his wife’s arms but actually survived the trip to Parkland Hospital. See 56 years ago when JFK spoke at the War Memorial. Two days after his debate with Nixon. Nine days after RFK was here.

At the same time, Kennedy’s assassination and subsequent calls for new gun control laws prompted responses from gun rights advocates like the NRA:  In the days after the shooting, the NRA stated:

Gun restriction laws penalize the honest man and protect the criminal element. Even if you did ban all guns, criminals will find a way to get them.

The rhetoric and the flash points of the debate seem little changed in 55 years.

See also  Kennedy Assassination and America’s Gun Culture. Watch a 1963 report here.

As explained by Dolak, one aspect of the assassination was particularly vexing. Oswald had purchased his rifle, a Mannlicher-Carcano, for $12.78 through an ad placed in the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine by a Chicago mail order house. A ban was introduced by Thomas Dodd, D-Conn, on mail order sales of rifles and shotguns.

Dodd’s bill failed.  It finally took the murder of Bobby Kennedy five years later to advance the legislation. In 1968 that President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Gun Control Act into law, banning mail order sales of rifles and shotguns and prohibiting most felons, drug users and people found mentally incompetent from buying guns.

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From the Vietnam Veteran’s Walk of Honor in Highland Park. From In ’68 when Vice President Humphrey and former Vice President Nixon campaigned in Rochester

We don’t yet know the ramifications of the current debates and whether Parkland will be a watershed moment or just another numbing shooting in an unending series of numbing shootings.  Nor do we know if the outcome will be more armed teachers or more bans on assault weapons.

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Highland Park, 2/5/18 [Photo: David Kramer] From Larry Nassar and the Myths of Violence

ALSO ON JFK AND RFK 

56 years ago when JFK spoke at the War Memorial. Two days after his debate with Nixon. Nine days after RFK was here.

November 3rd, 1964: When Rochester’s Senator Keating lost to RFK in the wake of LBJ’s landslide.

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  1. George Payne

    Very poignant. I did not know that such a backlash against guns occurred as a result of the shooting. I appreciate how you leave open the possibility for reform while acknowledging the gridlock that has remained for the past 55 years.

    That said, I do not subscribe to the official Warren Commission narrative. One of the strangest events that day was the first press accounts which quoted various members of the Dallas police force as saying the assassin’s weapon was a .30-caliber Enfield and a 7.65mm Mauser. One Secret Service man said he thought the weapon was an “Army or Japanese rifle” of .25 caliber.

    It was not until the FBI said it had discovered that Oswald had purchased an Italian-made 6.5mm rifle from a Chicago mail-order house that the official story changed. Then all accounts and all sources agreed: The former .30 caliber-Enfield-7.65 Mauser was now a 6.5mm Italian-made rifle with telescopic sight.

    Dallas policemen of that era would certainly not mistake a Mauser for a Carcano.