What was FDR's Gun-Control Strategy?
In an op-ed published on March 8, Bloomberg's Stephen Mihm outlined FDR's gun-control strategy, and the administration's attempt to prevent more killing sprees like the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre on February 14, 1929. While Nikolas Cruz isn't even remotely comparable to figures like Al Capone, the dates on which these shootings occurred highlight the fact that our country has been grappling with some of the same issues related to gun-control for close to a century. With that said, in the early 1930's the United States was facing increasingly powerful organized crime syndicates who found it easier to obtain more powerful weapons, such as sawed-off shotguns and machine guns. Below are takeaways from Mihm's observations as to how the FDR administration choose to tackle the problem. To read the full article, click here.
"During Prohibition in the 1920's, organized crime took control of much of the market in illegal booze. Many of these criminals, as well as run-of-the-mill bank robbers and other miscreants, began arming themselves. While handguns proved useful, many opted for more dangerous weaponry: sawed-off shotguns, sub-machine guns like the “Tommy” gun, and full-fledged machine guns."
"In 1926, the New York Times, chronicling the carnage, observed...in a rather eerie parallel to our own debate, that acquiring a machine gun was far too easy. Anyone who has the price can buy a machine gun or a hundred machine guns without hindrance. He is not required to show a certificate of good character to explain what he wants with such a weapon. The newspaper also took issue with the ability of the mentally ill to easily acquire machine guns."
"...as the Great Depression worsened, machine-gun toting criminals like John Dillinger became increasingly infamous. Newly elected President Franklin Roosevelt directed his new attorney general, Homer Cummings, to do something."
"Cummings looked to...the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, which imposed taxes on the production, distribution, and sale of opiates. Understanding full well that the power to tax was the power to destroy, Cummings proposed that Congress impose a $200 transfer tax each time someone bought or sold a machine gun -- or approximately $3,700 in today’s money."
"Thanks to this tax, the National Firearms Act of 1934 effectively doubled the cost of purchasing a machine gun" and "it also required that anyone who already had a machine gun to register it and pay the tax, too. Not surprisingly, most gangsters didn’t want to detail their arsenals to the IRS."
When police inevitably caught them with unregistered weapons, they would get charged with tax evasion and earn a prison bid -- even if it was impossible to prove they had committed any crimes with the weapon."
"...the feds [used this] to take down Capone [on] tax evasion charges. And like that strategy, the gun tax worked. The popularity of these weapons effectively collapsed."
While the National Firearms Act of 1934 effectively doubled the cost of purchasing a machine gun as noted above, the tax was not adjusted for inflation, and in fact remains at $200.