Who knew I am a little surprised. Out of all the presidents in recent time interested in gun control, Richard Nixon is not the first that comes to mind for me but according to Oval Office Recordings he proposed getting rid of Saturday night specials, contemplated a handgun ban, and refused to to pander to gun owners the Associated Press reports. The several unreported recording and White House memos from the Nixon years paint a much different picture of the conservative president who was willing at one time to take on the National Rifle Association even though he was warned against it. According to one recording, Nixon explains, “I don’t know why any individual should have a right to have a revolver in his house…The kids usually kill themselves with it and so forth…can’t we go after handguns, period?” Nixon continues: “I know the rifle association will be against it, the gun makers will be against it.” But “people should not have handguns.” The remarks came just a day after a would be assassin shot and paralyzed segregationist presidential candidate George Wallace on May 16, 1972 reports the Associated Press. Even though Nixon called to Congress for more modest legislation banning Saturday night specials, not all of his aides shared his passion according to the recordings and memos seeing gun control as a political loser. However, Nixon a Republican said he would sign a ban on Saturday night specials if Congress would pass it, but that never happened which is a potent sign of the NRA even 40 years ago. As the president tries to ban assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines because no one needs these to kill intruders or hunt, in Nixon’s times he tried to get rid of Saturday night specials because the guns were too poorly made to be relied on. As the Associated Press reports, one conversation Nixon had with Attorney General John Mitchell in June 1971 talks about this subject specifically with Mitchell simply replying that it would be difficult because of the gun lobby to get ride of the Saturday night special. The term Saturday night special comes from Detroit where cops observed the frequency of guns used to commit crimes on the weekend and was cemented by Lynard Skynard’s 1975 song, “Saturday Night Special.”
While many of the conversations were supportive of gun control, Nixon did not support measures that went beyond handguns. In another cosernvation just a few days after saying people shouldn’t have handguns, the president asked, “What do they want to do, just disarm the populace? Disarm the good folks and leave the arms in the hands of criminals?” However, most of his comments were in favor of stronger gun laws in his taped conversations available at the National Archives website and the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. After the shooting of Wallace, on June 29,1972 at a news conference Nixon vowed to sign a law banning Saturday night specials which a year later was passed in the Senate but the House never acted on it. Of course, the power of the NRA was too strong to overcome as the bills sponsor Indiana Democrat Birch Bayh explained. Another politician a year later put gun control on the radar on Jan. 30, 1973 when two robbers shot Sen, John Stennis, D-Miss, and survived to live until 1995. A day after the shooting, Nixon told his staff “We better damn well be for it now, huh?” At a news conference the next day, Nixon repeated his call for a Saturday night special ban and in a move few policiticals would make explained, “Let me say, personally, I have never hunted in my life. I have no interest in guns and so forth.” His staff continued to warn him that gun control was a loser issue for his administration because of the powerful lobby supporting guns. The effort to ban Saturday night special has blurred into the background as gun control supporters have refocused their attention on more powerful weapons. Nixon as well shifted his focus and by June 1972 a moth after hos banning handgun comments Nixon recorded a conversation trying to get the FBI to stop invewstigati9on the break in at the Watergate office building where the Democratic offices are located that was tied to his re-election committee. Although many have forgotten about the handgun tapes, history has never forgotten the Watergate tapes that would bring down a president.