The 1968 Exhibit: The Gun in America, 1968

 

Remember, instead, the Gun.

 

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As the "gun argument" rages -- again-- in the United States, it might be useful to remember that we have been here before, particularly in 1968, a year in which gun violence seemed to be hurtling out of control (as if it had ever been "in control" before), with the very public and gruesome assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. in April and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy just a few weeks later, in June. 

The RFK killing seemed to be-- for many-- the last straw, and suddenly we were ready to talk about guns and gun control.  

So, in the immediate wake of these two killings (only the two most prominent murders in a year when gun violence, especially in inner cities, was spiking), Congress passed "The Gun Control Act of 1968," introduced before both assassinations but passed in both Houses only after RFK's death on June 6, 1968.  It was primarily focused on regulating interstate commerce in firearms, but served a much larger symbolic purpose of showing united purpose on both sides of the aisle.   It was also supported by major gun manufacturers.  It should be remembered, too, that this was some years before the NRA managed to gain a stranglehold on members of Congress.  

The act became law when it was signed by Pres. Johnson on October 22, 1968.

Here are the opening paragraphs of TIME's great cover story from June 22, 1968:  

FORGET the democratic processes, the judicial system and the talent for organization that have long been the distinctive marks of the U.S.

Forget, too, the affluence (vast, if still not general enough) and the fundamental respect for law by most Americans. Remember, instead, the Gun.

That is how much of the world beyond its borders feels about the U.S. today. All too widely, the country is regarded as a blood-drenched, continent-wide shooting range where toddlers blast off with real rifles, housewives pack pearl-handled revolvers, and political assassins stalk their victims at will.

The image, of course, is wildly overblown, but America's own mythmakers are largely to blame. In U.S. folklore, nothing has been more romanticized than guns and the larger-than-life men who wielded them.