A GUN TIMELINE
A SELECTED HISTORY OF GUNS IN AMERICA
March 5, 1770
A group of young men begin to throw snowballs and rocks at British soldiers. Tensions escalate. A chaotic scene breaks out, resulting in clashing fists, clubs, and knives. Five American lose their lives and history remembers it as a massacre. Feeding off the frenzy of high-strung emotions, a silversmith named Paul Revere creates an oversimplified and misleading engraving of this night. It depicts uniformed British soldiers in a straight line, firing at an unarmed crowd of bystanders with bright red blood of colonists on one side and the Redcoats on the other. Crispus Attucks, a black sailor dubbed a martyr, does not appear to have dark skin. The clash occurred after nine o’ clock at night and the engraving has a crescent moon, but also a light sky. The Customs House is labeled “Butcher’s Hall.”
December 15, 1791
Government ratifies the Second Amendment providing, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
A federal law mandates that every eligible man purchase a military-style gun and ammunition for service in the citizen militia: “every citizen, so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch, with a box therein, to contain not less than twenty four cartridges, suited to the bore of his musket or firelock, each cartridge to contain a proper quantity of powder and ball or with a good rifle, knapsack, shot-pouch, and powder-horn, twenty balls suited to the bore of his rifle, and a quarter of a pound of powder.”
. . .
Harper Lee publishes To Kill a Mockingbird, which soon becomes an American classic and mandatory reading for high school students across the country. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and with 30 million copies in print, the novel imparts moral messages including the belief that it’s a sin to kill mockingbirds because of their innocence and beauty, translating into a larger metaphor for humanity.
Lee Harvey Oswald assassinates President John F. Kennedy with a bolt-action rifle purchased by mail from American Rifleman, igniting a debate about how guns are bought and sold.
August 1, 1966
Having choked and stabbed both his mother and wife to death, ex-marine Charles Whitman carries weapons up a 307-foot tower at the University of Texas in Austin. They include: a .35 caliber Remington rifle, a 6 mm Remington rifle with a scope, a .357 Magnum Smith & Wesson revolver, a 9 mm Luger pistol, a Galesi-Brescia pistol, a .30 caliber M-1 carbine, and a 12-gauge shotgun. Whitman kills 13 and injures 32 people.
May 2, 1967
Don Mulford, a conservative Republican state assemblyman from Alameda County, proposes a law to prohibit the carrying of a loaded weapon in any
California city. Governor Ronald Reagan says there’s “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.” Bobby Seale leads a group of Black Panthers (30 young black men and women) carrying .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45-caliber pistols into the California statehouse, launching the modern gun-rights movement. Inspired by Malcom X, they push the mentality of “fight back” to gain respect and freedom for oppressed groups.
James Earl Ray assassinates Martin Luther King Jr. using a single Remington-Peters, soft-point, metal-jacketed bullet. Robert F. Kennedy is killed by a .22-caliber Iver Johnson Cadet revolver. In response, Congress passes the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, the first federal gun control law in 30 years. The Gun Control Act of 1968 amends and enlarges it.
. . .
April 20, 1999
Following failed bomb attempts, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris open fire at Columbine High School, killing 13 and wounding 24 people in Littleton, Colorado. Their weapons include sawed-off shotguns, a 9 mm TEC-DC9 pistol, and a 9 mm Hi-Point 995 carbine. Both teenagers commit suicide. National discussions about gun access, psychology, and mental illness dominate the news.
A 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report shows substantial increases in suicide rates from 1999-2010. Among men aged 50–54 years a
nd 55–59 years, there is a 49.4% increase in suicides. The largest increase for women is seen in the age group of 60–64 years (59.7%). The report goes on to state, “Traditionally, suicide prevention efforts have been focused mostly on youths and older adults, but recent evidence suggests that suicide rates among middle-aged adults in the United States have increased substantially. Firearms, suffocation (predominantly hanging), and poisoning (predominantly drug overdose) are the three leading mechanisms of suicide in the United States.” During this same time frame, suicide rates increase for adults aged 35–64 years by 28.4%. Suicide by means of firearms sees a 14.4% increase.
April 16, 2007
Seung-Hui Cho kills 32 students and teachers and wounds 17 more at Virginia Tech. Six additional victims receive injuries from jumping out of windows.
In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court clearly upholds for the first time that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to possess a gun.
January 30, 2013
Gabrielle Giffords speaks in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee to address gun violence. The former U.S. Representative’s words are slow and measured because in 2011 a bullet went through her brain’s left hemisphere. “This is an important conversation for our children, for our communities, for Democrats, and for Republicans. Speaking is difficult but I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children,” she says. Wearing a rose pin on her buttoned-up red blazer, she stands with the aid of her husband, former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly. “We must do something. It will be hard but the time is now. You must act. Be bold. Be courageous. Americans are counting on you.”
April 17, 2013
The Senate defeats a bill for mandatory background checks and expanded gun control measures despite months of advocacy following the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting (when James Holmes killed 12 people and injured 70 others during a midnight screening of the filmThe Dark Knight Rises in Colorado) and the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut (during which Adam Lanza killed 20 students and six adults).
– Emma Deans