Encyclopedia of Gun Control and Gun Rights

By Glenn H. Utter | Go to book overview

R

Reagan, Ronald (1911- )

Ronald Reagan, who served as U.S. president from 1981 to 1989, gained a reputation as an uncritical supporter of gun rights. In 1980, Reagan, a Republican, became the first presidential candidate to receive the official endorsement of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Although Reagan had narrowly escaped a 1981 assassination attempt in which his press secretary James Brady was critically wounded, in 1983 he became the first president to attend the NRA annual convention, where he pledged to support the goals of the organization. Reagan declared that the U.S. Constitution does not ordain the right to keep and bear arms, but states that the pre-existing right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The president, a life member of the NRA, promised that, "We will never disarm any American who seeks to protect his or her family from fear or harm."

The Republican platform on which Reagan campaigned in 1980 stated that the party supported the right of citizens to keep and bear arms, announced opposition to federal registration of firearms, and supported longer sentences for using firearms in the commission of a crime. The platform went on to advocate the repeal of provisions of the Gun Control Act of 1968 that "do not significantly impact on crime but serve rather to restrain the law-abiding citizen in his legitimate use of firearms." The 1984 platform on which Reagan ran for re-election stated that citizens should not be criticized for "exercising their constitutional rights." The 1980 platform foreshadowed the Firearms Owners Protection that was passed by Congress and signed by Reagan in 1986. However, the Reagan administration played a minimal role in passage of the legislation.

In his first year as president, Reagan moved against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF), the agency responsible for administering federal firearms legislation and one of the NRA's major targets. The president stated his intention to abolish the agency, shifting responsibilities to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Customs Service. Agents involved in explosives and arson regulation and enforcement would be transferred to the Secret Service. Although the NRA ultimately withdrew its support for the proposal to eliminate the BATF, the agency underwent budget cuts during the Reagan presidency.

Despite his staunch support for gun rights organizations, Reagan signed two gun control measures. In 1986, Reagan signed a bill banning so-called armor piercing bullets (bullets composed of certain hard metals such as tungsten alloys, steel, or bronze). The NRA had raised no objections to this measure. In November 1988, he signed a bill that prohibited the production, importation, and sale of weapons composed primarily of plastic that could not be sensed by metal detectors. How

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