Ronald Reagan on Gun Control | NRA

May 15, 2018

      As a long-time member of the National Rifle Association, President Ronald Reagan was considered a champion for those who sought to exercise their constitutional right to bear arms. However, as he often illustrated throughout his time in public office, Ronald Reagan was able to establish common ground with those on both sides of the gun-rights debate. When Ronald Reagan embraced gun control, he did so in a way that promoted bipartisanship—an idea that is especially salient in today’s increasingly politicized conversation about the Second Amendment.

      President Donald Trump last week became the first sitting president to address the NRA’s annual meeting since the Great Communicator did so 35 years ago. What President Ronald Reagan told the NRA in 1983 went on to shape his record and legacy for years to come, as well as to galvanize a new era of supporters around the mission of the NRA. The president told the crowd that he would “never disarm any American who seeks to protect his or her family from fear and harm.” It was an especially poignant moment as it came after the president himself was the victim of an assassination attempt involving a gun. Reagan espoused his belief that the ideals the NRA stood for—personal liberty and the right to protect oneself and family—are linked to the values of the nation’s founding fathers as well as to the overarching principles that support the nation’s domestic and international security. The statements by Ronald Reagan on gun control that evening, including that it stifles law-abiding citizens, stirred up momentum for the NRA like the organization had never before seen.

      However, as the debate over gun control became more nuanced in the years to come, so too did Ronald Reagan’s positions. In the early 1990s, he announced support for the Brady Bill, named for his staffer who was paralyzed by the 1981 attempt on Reagan’s life. That legislation, which called for background checks for gun purchases, was adopted in 1993. The topics of Ronald Reagan, the NRA and the 1994 assault weapons ban were among those fueling public debate about gun control that year. The former president joined Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter in publicly calling on Congress to ban the manufacture of military-grade assault weapons.

      While that position was a departure from his previous opposition to gun control, Ronald Reagan made clear that his view was shaped in part by an ongoing scourge at the time of violence against law enforcement. Reagan was able to appeal to his supporters, while re-casting the debate in a new light. This shift showed the evolution of a president who was willing to change alongside developing issues and public opinion. The statements of Ronald Reagan on gun control over the years illustrate a president who remained a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment but who secured progress by putting safety and sensibility above politics.


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