Ever since Spanish Conquistadors appeared and essentially subdued a continent with a handful of men and a few terrifying new weapons, personal firearms has been a controversial part of American history. Revolutionary War Minutemen helped shape the Second Amendment, and roughly a hundred and fifty years later, a rogue’s gallery of men helped shape modern firearms law.
In all this change, NFA firearms trusts have been a constant. An attorney can set up one of these ownership trusts in as little as one office visit. Gun trusts can cover a number of individuals, avoid some legal obstacles that individual gun owners must negotiate, expedite firearms transfer upon the death of the settlor (person who sets up the trust), and save gun owners money at such transfer points.
Many people believe that the attempted assassination of President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt in February 1933 prompted Congress to pass the original National Firearms Act just a year later. This episode is also noteworthy because Zangara spent only ten days on death row before he died in the electric chair.
Like many Presidential assassinations and attempted assassinations, this one is steeped in controversy. “Joe” Zangara was an Italian immigrant who suffered from severe abdominal pain from a very early age. That physical condition might have affected his mental condition, but no one knows for sure.
Less than a week before the assassination attempt, Zangara bought a handgun for $8 at a local pawn shop. The night of a speech in Miami, Zangara fired five shots at the President-Elect. Since he was only five feet tall, Zangara had to stand on a metal folding chair to get a clear shot. Even still, he missed Roosevelt but struck several bystanders, including Chicago mayor Anton Cermak. The mayor died a few days later.
Legend has it that as Mayor Cermak lapsed into unconsciousness in FDR’s arms, he whispered “I’m glad it was me and not you.” The quote is on Cermak’s grave, but there’s no solid evidence that he ever uttered those words.
At any rate, Zangara confessed to the crime in the Dade County Jail. He told investigators “I have the gun in my hand. I kill kings and presidents first and next all capitalists.” He was originally charged with four counts of attempted murder, but when Mayor Cermak died, prosecutors upgraded the charged to capital murder. Zangara was not moved. “You give me electric chair. I no afraid of that chair! You one of capitalists,” he shouted at the judge during the sentencing hearing. “You is crook man too. Put me in electric chair. I no care!”
As mentioned, Zangara went to the chair ten days later. He was reportedly very upset that there would be no newsreel cameras in the death house to record his final moments. His last words were “Viva l’Italia! Goodbye to all poor people’s everywhere!… Push the button! Go ahead, push the button!”
Recently, historians have speculated that Zangara’s post-assassination antics might have been a cover, and that his real target was probably the Chicago mayor. Some documents have surfaced connecting Zangara to Frank Nitty, who was Chicago crime lord Al Capone’s right-hand man. Additionally, Zangara was a World War I veteran. So, he was presumably at least an average shot, especially from close range.
The 1934 National Firearms Act was basically the first federal gun control law. It requires all firearms to be registered. Additionally, it imposes a $200 tax on most sales and transfers. $200 is not very much money today, but it was a small fortune in 1934.
Lee Harvey Oswald
Most people have probably never heard of Little Joe Zangara, but Oswald is still well-known over fifty years after he assassinated President John Kennedy in Dallas. Conspiracy theorists may take issue with some of this discussion, but for the most part, the JFK assassination storyline is well-established fact.
As a child, Oswald lived at twenty-two different addresses and dropped out of school multiple times. The 17-year-old Oswald finally quit school for good and joined the Marines. He was already showing Marxist tendencies while in the USMC. His buddies called him “Oswaldskovich.” Oswald received a hardship discharge in 1959 and almost immediately moved to the Soviet Union.
In October 1963, the lifelong drifter drifted into Dallas and got a job at the Texas Schoolbook Depository building, a warehouse in downtown Dallas. Just before the assassination, Oswald used a fake name to buy a sniper’s rifle from a mail order catalogue. On November 21 (the day before the shooting), Oswald came to work with a large paper bag which said contained curtain rods. Somehow, we really don’t believe that.
After Oswald killed President Kennedy and wounded Texas Governor John Connally, a witness told Dallas police that he saw a man matching Oswald’s description at the TSD door and again in a sixth story window. Most people probably know the rest of the story.
Regardless of their position on gun control, most people would agree that it should probably be illegal, or at least difficult, to use a fake name to buy a mail-order rifle. Indeed, Congress seemed poised to pass sweeping gun control legislation, which the National Rifle Association grudgingly endorsed. Less than three years later, another famous name hit the headlines.
The circumstances surrounding the Texas Tower Sniper killings caused some Washington lawmakers to re-think their stances on gun control. Congress still passed a new Firearms Control Act in 1968, but the legislation was much weaker than it may have been otherwise.
Whitman was another Marine veteran with a troubled past. On the surface, Whitman was a smart, industrious, and talented kid. His IQ was near genius level, he saved enough money from a paper route to buy a Harley, and he was an accomplished pianist at 12. But Charles Whitman Sr. was an abusive alcoholic. Supposedly, the younger Whitman enlisted in the Marines because his father beat him and threw him into a swimming pool for coming home late.
There is more to this story. Whitman behaved erratically in the Marines and was court-martialed in 1963. In a diary, he blamed his father. But there was also a tumor growing on Whitman’s brain which was almost grapefruit-sized at the time of his death.
Eventually, it was all too much. In the early morning hours of August 1, Whitman killed his mother and his wife. A few hours later, he ascended the steps of the University of Texas Tower and killed fourteen people in the next hour and a half. Supposedly, Whitman had about 700 rounds of ammunition, so he obviously could have killed many more people than that.
At the time, Austin Police Department officers carried small .38 revolvers. They had neither the weapons nor the training to deal with a situation like that one. So, while police officers devised a plan of action, many Austinites grabbed their hunting rifles and drove to the downtown campus. They kept Whitman pinned down until APD Officer Houston McCoy shot and killed him.
One Texan with documented mental problems partially derailed gun control in 1966, and another Texan with documented mental problems jump-started it in 1981.
Hinckley was from a wealthy Dallas family. Beginning in the mid-1970s, Hinckley started showing signs of strain. While living in California, he wrote to his parents about a girlfriend who did not exist. Doctors prescribed tranquilizers and painkillers. It is not clear whether these drugs made things better or worse. A few years later, Hinckley became obsessed with actress Jodie Foster. He followed her, stalked her, and left notes under her door. He soon became desperate to impress her and hatched a Presidential assassination plot to get her attention.
In October 1980, Hinckley used an expired drivers’ license to buy a handgun at a Texas pawn shop. The store owner did not know that, four days earlier, Hinckley was arrested in Nashville after he tried to board an American Airlines flight to New York with several guns and ammunition. Probably not coincidentally, then-President Jimmy Carter gave a speech in New York that day.
In March 1981, Hinckley waited outside Washington’s Hilton Hotel for Reagan to finish a speech to the AFL-CIO. He shot at the president six times, wounding Reagan and several others, including White House Press Secretary James Brady. Brady was partially paralyzed until he died in 2014. Doctors ruled his death a homicide.
President Reagan was quite beloved, having been swept into office on a populist wave just a few months earlier. Many people were upset when Hinckley successfully used the irresistible impulse defense, which also worked for notorious desperate housewife Lorena Bobbitt in 1993.
That public anger eventually culminated in the Brady Bill, which mandated background checks prior to gun purchases.
There were other school shootings before the 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But those prior incidents were in Arkansas and Colorado. This one happened in Connecticut, which is the heart of the Washington-to-Boston corridor.
Lanza had a history of mental problems, mostly Asperger’s syndrome, which is a form of autism. He was first diagnosed with mental health issue at age three, and his condition steadily deteriorated over the years. Doctors prescribed antidepressants, but they had such severe side-effects that, with his parents’ blessing, Lanza stopped taking them. The lanky child (6-0, 112 pounds) may have also been anorexic “to the point of malnutrition and resultant brain damage.” Lanza may have also exhibited signs of violence, but that’s not entirely clear.
Despite his documented issues, which may have included schizophrenia as well, Lanza had ready access to powerful firearms. His mother was a gun collector who sometimes took her son to firing ranges.
In December 2012, Lanza’s mother announced that she planned to sell her Newtown house and move her and her son to another city. Investigators speculate that the possibility of being uprooted sent Lanza over the edge. One morning, he killed his mother, collected various firearms, and drove to nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School. He fatally shot twenty children, all of whom were between six and seven years old. Lanza also killed six teachers and staff members. A few minutes later, as emergency responders closed in on his hiding place, he shot himself.
The Sandy Hook shooting prompted a number of jurisdictions to adopt extensive background check legislation and ban “assault rifles.” Many of these laws are still undergoing court challenges. Background checks are highly subjective. Not everyone with mental health issues becomes a mass murderer. And, the “assault rifle” category is very broad. To survive Second Amendment scrutiny, both background checks and categorical weapons bans must be narrowly tailored.
Dishonorable mention goes to Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Harris and Klebold were all-American boys from an affluent Denver suburb who were responsible for the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School. The incident sparked no gun control legislation, but it did shock the consciousness of pre-9/11 Americans. The Columbine shooting continues to cast a shadow over all such incidents and all such legislation.
Dishonorable mention also goes to Stephen Paddock. He killed a shocking fifty-eight people at a Las Vegas outdoor concert in 2017. Lawmakers banned bump stocks as a direct result of that incident. There may be more fallout later, but it is too soon to tell for sure.
Gun control and gun violence are easily two of the most controversial issues of our time. For a confidential gun trust consultation with an experienced firearms’ rights attorney in Marietta, contact NFA Lawyers, LLC. Convenient payment plans are available.