Gun Debate Spurred by Kennedy Assassination Rages on Today

PHOTO: National Rifle Association president Charlton Heston addresses gun owners during a "get-out-the-vote" rally in Manchester, N.H., in this Oct. 21, 2002 photo.
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The fevered debate about gun control that has flared over recent mass shootings across the U.S. echoes the debate heard after John F. Kennedy's assassination 50 years ago, and the language and arguments are jarringly similar.

Nearly every major change to U.S. gun laws has come on the heels of a mass shooting, and the debate on guns in the U.S. raged in 1963 as a dozen firearm bills were introduced in the wake of Kennedy's Nov. 22, 1963 assassination by Lee Harvey Oswald.

Kennedy Assassination and America's Gun Culture. Watch a 1963 report here.

The echo of the post-assassination debate came after the spate of mass shootings in the past 15 years, beginning with the massacre at Columbine and through last winter's tragedy in Sandy Hook, Conn. The latter led to proposed gun control legislation that was ultimately defeated.

The call for new gun control laws in 1963 stirred gun rights advocates of the era, including the National Rifle Association (NRA), to respond. According to an ABC News report in the days after Kennedy's murder, the NRA stated "that gun restriction laws penalize the honest man and protect the criminal element. Even if you did ban all guns, criminals will find a way to get them."

Similarly, after the Sandy Hook shooting, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said that laws for gun-free school zones "tell every insane killer in America that schools are their safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk."

Oswald had purchased his rifle, a Mannlicher-Carcano, for $12.78 through an ad placed in the NRA's American Rifleman magazine by a Chicago mail order house. A ban was introduced by Thomas Dodd, D-Conn., following Kennedy's assassination on mail order sales of rifles and shotguns. It wasn't until just after Robert Kennedy was killed in 1968 that President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Gun Control Act into law, banning mail order sales of rifles and shotguns and prohibiting most felons, drug users and people found mentally incompetent from buying guns.

At the time of Kennedy's assassination, 14 states required citizens to have a permit to carry a pistol or keep it in their homes. Gun laws have tightened since 1963, and today open carry laws still vary from state to state, with six states fully prohibiting the open carry of guns. A total of 12 states currently allow open carry without a permit, and 13 require some sort of permit from the gun owner. The remaining 17 states rely on local laws or have other restrictions in practice.

Though it continuously hits obstacles, the ongoing battle for gun control in America was summed by President Obama the day after the legislation that grew out of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre failed: "this effort is not over."

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