Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives Urging Enactment of Gun Control Legislation
[Released September 15, 1967. Dated September 14, 1967]
Hear Mr. President: (Dear Mr. Speaker:)
In August of last year, a demented sniper sat with an arsenal of weapons at the top of a University tower and coldly and systematically killed and maimed 44 Americans.
The horror of that senseless slaughter shocked the entire Nation. Yet, today, 13 months later, Congress has failed to enact a gun control law. In those intervening 13 months, guns were involved in more than:
--2,600 accidental deaths
--43,500 aggravated assaults
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover has just reported that the use of firearms in dangerous crimes is on the upswing. For the first six months of 1967 there was a:
--24 percent rise in the use of guns in aggravated assaults.
--37 percent rise in the use of weapons in robberies.
A civilized nation cannot allow this armed terror to continue.
An enlightened Congress must not allow it to continue.
The time has come for action.
Last year, two million guns were sold in the United States. Many of them were sold to hardened criminals, snipers, mental defectives, rapists, habitual drunkards and juveniles.
There is no excuse for this.
There is no excuse for a holdup at gun point on a dark city street or an armed robbery in a house where children are sleeping. We are long past the point where we can allow lethal weapons to be hawked by the same mail order techniques used to market frozen steaks or baskets of fruit. We are long past the point where we can allow an enemy of society to buy and use a weapon of death and disorder--when existing state laws would not even allow the same person to drive a car, or to vote.
Last February, after an exhaustive report by the National Crime Commission, I recommended that the Congress enact the State Firearms Control Act of 1967--the third such gun control bill I proposed since I became President. That legislation is designed to:
--Stop interstate mail order sales of all firearms.
--Stop over-the-counter sales of firearms, other than rifles and shotguns, to any person who does not reside in the State in which the seller does business.
--Stop sales of handguns to any person under 21, and sales of rifles and shotguns to any person under 18.
--Curb imports of firearms into the United States.
Despite the urgency, however, the bill has not been enacted by Congress, and has not as yet been reported out of the Senate or House subcommittees.
The challenge of any gun control bill is to keep weapons from the hands of the dangerous and still permit the law abiding citizen to acquire them.
The Administration's bill meets that challenge. It is directed primarily at the criminal use of firearms. Its basic approach is to limit out-of-state purchases and interstate mail order sales of firearms. This will allow State and local authorities to exercise such controls as the people of their own communities believe are warranted.
Recently, for example, the State of New Jersey enacted its own gun control legislation. During the first six months of its operation more than 7% of the prospective gun purchasers had prior criminal records. Over 540 individuals were denied licenses to buy guns because they were hardened criminals, or alcoholics, or drug addicts or mentally unstable--540 people to whom guns were not the tools of a sportsman but the potential instruments of terror and violence. Think of the tragedy and the waste this has avoided.
The measure now before Congress is aimed solely at keeping deadly weapons out of the wrong hands. It interferes neither with sportsmen nor law-abiding citizens with a legitimate need. This legislation will impose no real inconvenience on gun buyers. But under any circumstances, who would measure inconvenience against the personal safety and security of thousands of American citizens?
The passage of an effective gun control statute can be an important step in providing a climate of security for all our citizens. It can help them enjoy the right to travel unmolested, to walk without fear on the streets of our cities, and to be secure in their homes.
Its passage will avoid senseless tragedy, and promote the safety of the American people.
As I said today to the International Association of Chiefs of Police--talking about morality, speaking about crime, deploring the conditions that exist cannot get the job done. The time is here and now to stand up and vote against crime.
I call upon the Congress to serve the public interest by promptly enacting this vital gun control legislation.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON
Note: This is the text of identical letters addressed m the Honorable Hubert H. Humphrey, President of the Senate, and to the Honorable John W. McCormack, Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Firearms control legislation was not enacted during the first session of the 90th Congress.
Lyndon B. Johnson, Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House of Representatives Urging Enactment of Gun Control Legislation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/237716