On Nov. 19, 2015, Brady Center president Dan Gross (left) and New York Governor (and New York SAFE Act author) Andrew Cuomo (right) present Hillary Clinton with the Mario M. Cuomo Visionary Award for her leadership on gun control.
Last month, we outlined the Bill Clinton administration’s plans for gun control, including a plan to use lawsuits against gun manufacturers to force a settlement that would have imposed gun registration, bans on magazines holding more than 10 cartridges and many other forms of gun control, all without going through Congress.
Those were not the only gun control secrets stashed in the archives of the Clinton Presidential Library—not by any means. The archives also held evidence of the Brady Campaign’s real agenda, as revealed by its lobbying of the Clinton White House.
The Brady Campaign has long claimed that its agenda is limited. Just some “reasonable, common-sense” gun restrictions—no need for anyone to worry about confiscation or onerous regulations. Brady officials would prefer that no gun owner read the words of its former chairman Nelson “Pete” Shields—the man who put the organization on the political map. In the July 26, 1976, issue of The New Yorker, Shields gave an interview and summed up the group’s program. Saying that for now his organization would have to accept that half a loaf is better than none, and that for now he’d “be happy to take just a slice,” he explained: Neither Brady nor the mayors got all of their wishes, but they certainly got some. The Brady Act, the “assault weapons” ban, and the driving of small FFLs out of business represented their major successes.
“Our ultimate goal—total control of handguns in the United States—is going to take time. My estimate is from seven to 10 years. The first problem is to slow down the increasing number of handguns sold in this country. The second problem is to get handguns registered. And the final problem is to make the possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition—except for the military, policemen, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs, and licensed gun collectors—totally illegal.”
Around that same time, the Brady Campaign (then known as Handgun Control Inc.) sent out a fundraising letter that listed gun control measures that it was pushing, but assured contributors it would not stop there: “Ultimately, we want strict federal laws that will effectively restrict the possession of handguns to only the police, the military, licensed security guards, licensed pistol clubs and registered collectors.
(This, we know, will take time. But we hope and believe it will come.)”
For years, the Brady Campaign had to sit on these hopes. The Carter administration was willing to use the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to harass gun owners, but had sense enough not to publicly endorse Brady’s agenda. After Carter came the Reagan administration, during which there was no sense even trying, and the first Bush administration, which for Brady Campaign purposes wasn’t much better.
Then came the 1992 elections, when a new world opened up for gun control advocates. Bill Clinton, with campaign promises of more gun control, occupied the White House, and his party controlled both houses of Congress. At last, the opportunity Brady had waited decades for had arrived!
The Clinton archives show that the Brady Campaign moved quickly to take advantage. A September 1993 letter sent by Richard Aborn of the Brady Campaign to Howard Paster, head of Clinton’s White House Office of Legislative Affairs, showed the opening of the White House door. It begins, “Dear Howard: In preparation for the possibility of Sarah, Jim and I meeting with the president, we thought the White House might want to consider signing some additional presidential directives. ... I’d be happy to discuss these with you and would like to discuss with you the actual meeting with the president.”
Paster forwarded the letter, and its attached list of ideas, to the White House Domestic Policy Council with a handwritten note asking to be notified “ASAP” if any were usable ideas. He added, “The president’s focus on violent crime makes anti-gun directives logical.” The Domestic Policy Council’s reply was essentially that some of the ideas were not legally doable, and they were already working on the rest.
From that point on, the archives show, anti-gunners had exceptional access to the White House, and used it to the fullest. In fact, the files of President Clinton’s Domestic Policy Council read like the archives of the Brady Campaign.
The White House files were filled with Brady Campaign/Handgun Control Inc.’s legislative plans. A memo stamped “confidential—do not circulate” (with the label set out by images of skulls and crossbones) outlined Brady’s real agenda.
It began with a list of what Brady wanted from the Clinton administration. The list was long, but mostly quite predictable: licensing requirements and registration for handgun ownership, a ban on “assault rifles,” “one-gun-a-month,” a seven-day waiting period, and stiff increases in fees (to $1,000 per year) for FFLs.
Even that would not be enough to please the Brady Campaign, though. Its memo added some proposals that (until now) have never seen the light of day.
Brady also asked for a federal requirement of a special “arsenal license” for any gun owner who possessed 20 guns or 1,000 rounds of ammunition. (The White House copy has a handwritten note: “all guns.”) The memo described the arsenal license’s requirements as “similar to the requirements for a machine gun license,” including the requirement for police approval, since “anyone who has an arsenal is a danger to society.” In this scenario, two bricks of .22s would be enough for a gun owner to be treated as a public menace.
Brady also asked that each component of a handgun, including the “barrel, stock, receiver, any part of the action, or ammunition magazines” be treated as if they were the receiver. “Buyers would need a license, sellers would need an FFL, and interstate sales would be illegal,” Brady explained. Replacing the grips or a firing pin spring, or purchasing an extra magazine, would actually require a 4473. Apparently they consider handguns to be that dangerous! From that point on, the archives show, anti-gunners had exceptional access to the White House, and used it to the fullest.
Incredibly, Brady also wanted a ban on manufacturing magazines that held more than six rounds, and a requirement that transfers of used seven-round and larger magazines have law enforcement approval. Essentially, nearly every magazine in the United States, apart from those for some pocket guns and deer rifles, would be banned if new, or tightly restricted if already in existence.
So much for Brady’s claim that they only want “reasonable, common-sense gun control”! The moment there seemed to be an opening for more, they seized the opportunity with both hands. They were obviously seeking to implement anything that made gun ownership more difficult, burdensome or legally risky. Want a different action spring for that pistol? See your dealer and fill out the 4473. Want to a buy magazine for that 1911? See your chief of police. Want to own two bricks of .22 Long Rifle? After you see your police chief, send your application, fingerprints and photo to Washington, and wait for them to license you as a “danger to society.”
Yet even that wasn’t the limit. In a later letter to the Clinton White House, Brady expanded on its idea to heavily tax handguns and ammunition, and in the process showed its disdain for hunters and shooting ranges. The October 1993 memo, sent by Brady’s president Richard Aborn, was aimed at Pittman-Robertson funds. P-R funds come from an excise tax long imposed on new firearms and ammunition, and earmarked for state game and fish agencies, which use them for game conservation and shooting ranges. The memo recommended raising the tax on handguns and handgun ammunition to 30 percent, and diverting all of these funds away from conservation and into paying the medical costs of treating handgun shooting victims.
What about game conservation and ranges? To Brady, these were not a concern. “The Pittman-Robertson program is a product of another era,” the letter stated. “If it was ever important to subsidize hunting and sport shooting, that time has past [sic].”
To the Brady Campaign, damaging Pittman-Robertson and hunting was a benefit, not a bug. The memo ended:
“It would probably be politically impossible to eliminate the Pittman-Robertson program. It has developed an entrenched constituency in every state. Still, that program could probably be trimmed by eliminating all funding from handgun taxation. That would cut the program by about one-third.”
To be fair, Brady was not the only group charging ahead with plans for gun control, nor did the Clinton White House need much prodding. A December 1993 letter from the U.S. Conference of Mayors related that group’s desires. As might be expected, first and foremost was dealing with the “root causes of crime” by … wait for it … giving city governments more taxpayer money. After that came a litany taken directly from Brady’s list. Possession of “assault weapons” and their “component parts” should be outlawed. So should all possession of firearms (not just handguns) by minors. Small FFLs should be put out of business, and the licensing fee for surviving FFLs raised to $1,000 per year. The excise tax on firearms should be “increased significantly,” and taken out of Pittman-Robertson.
The mayors’ demands in some areas even went beyond what the Brady Campaign had proposed. The mayors proposed that gun shows be banned, period, and likewise the sale of hollow-point ammunition. FFLs with paperwork violations should be subject to a minimum penalty of $20,000 for a first violation, “with increasing amounts for subsequent violations.” The mayors apparently felt that was an appropriate response to failing to write down a county name or ZIP code on a form.
Neither Brady nor the mayors got all of their wishes, but they certainly got some. The Brady Act, the “assault weapons” ban, and the driving of small FFLs out of business represented their major successes. Then came the midterm elections. In his autobiography, Bill Clinton described the effects: The goal is to make handgun ownership illegal: Along the way, remember that half a loaf is better than none, and if you have to, settle for just a slice. Take whatever you can get, and keep on asking for more.
“On November 8, we got the living daylights beat out of us, losing eight Senate seats and 44 House seats, the largest defeat for our party since 1946. … The NRA had a great night. They beat both Speaker Tom Foley and Jack Brooks, two of the ablest members of Congress, who had warned me this would happen. … The gun lobby claimed to have defeated 19 of the 24 members on its hit list. They did at least that much damage, and could rightly claim to have made [Newt] Gingrich the House Speaker.”
It’s said that one form of insanity consists of taking action, experiencing disaster and then repeating the action in hopes of getting a better result. After an electoral thrashing like that, we might have expected the Brady Campaign to take stock of the situation and lie low for a time. After all, they would be lobbying the very man whom they just led into political disaster.
But the Brady Campaign didn’t seem to know when to quit. In November 1996, Brady’s legislative director wrote the White House to propose several new and old ideas for gun restrictions. First, he proposed “one handgun a month,” a by-then old idea (but which 20 years later is still being floated from time to time). The Clinton people may have been getting tired of Brady’s ideas: When the letter argued that one-gun-a-month would reduce gun-running, someone in the Domestic Policy Council wrote “How?” in the margin. Brady also proposed requiring private sales to go through FFLs (again, an idea that is still at the top of the anti-gun wish list), “smart guns” that could only be fired by their owner (ditto) and some other measures, before coming down to their single new idea.
That idea: Make it illegal for anyone but an FFL to sell more than one gun a month. That way, the administration could claim it wasn’t closing down gun shows or requiring background checks for private sales. In effect, of course, it would greatly curtail participation at gun shows, but that wouldn’t be the administration’s problem.
I could find no reply to that Brady letter in the Clinton archives. The group had apparently worn out its welcome.
The Brady Campaign’s correspondence with the Clinton White House, revealed here for the first time, illustrates how well and persistently it has stuck with the agenda laid out by its first real leader. The goal is to make handgun ownership illegal: Along the way, remember that half a loaf is better than none, and if you have to, settle for just a slice. Take whatever you can get, and keep on asking for more. Anything that makes gun ownership more burdensome or risky is a step toward that goal. Federal licenses to own ammunition or a gun collection, higher fees and more penalties for FFLs, treating springs and grips as if they were receivers, one-gun-a-month—get them if you can. Stripping away funds for wildlife conservation—go for it, less game means fewer hunters. What matters to them is not the impact on crime, but the impact on gun ownership.
That is exactly what should be on gun owners’ minds as another election approaches. The Brady Campaign’s new highest hope is that a White House door—and especially a new Clinton White House door—will open for them next year.
See the full text of Handgun Control Inc.’s (now The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence) gun control recommendation from the Clinton Presidential Library, by clicking here.
The New Clinton-Brady Connection
It’s little surprise that Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton is a darling of the Brady Campaign.
On Nov. 19, the Brady Center presented Hillary Clinton with the inaugural Mario M. Cuomo Visionary Award at the Brady Bear Awards Gala in New York. The Brady Campaign is “honored to recognize Mrs. Clinton for her leadership on this issue [gun control].”
Of course, Clinton’s “leadership” has included an increasingly vocal desire to dismantle the Constitution of the United States. Cocooned by Secret Service protection, she doesn’t believe ordinary Americans like you and me should have the right to a firearm for self-defense. She thinks Australian-style gun confiscation is “worth considering.” And she’s declared the highest court of the land to be in error, stating, “The Supreme Court is wrong on the Second Amendment.”
Kudos to Hillary on her win last November. We say enjoy it … because as long as America’s gun owners have anything to say about it, she won’t be enjoying any wins this November.