H. L. Mencken in 1925 on gun control

Several readers sent me the link to this reprint of an article by H. L. Mencken in 1925, dealing with a contemporary gun control proposal.  Here’s an excerpt.

The new law that [The Nation advocates] … is one of the most absurd specimens of jackass legislation ever heard of, even in this paradise of legislative donkeyism. Its single and sole effect would be to exaggerate enormously all of the evils it proposes to put down. It would not take pistols out of the hands of rogues and fools; it would simply take them out of the hands of honest men. The gunman today has great advantages everywhere. He has artillery in his pocket, and he may assume that, in the large cities, at least two-thirds of his prospective victims are unarmed. But if the Nation’s proposed law (or amendment) were passed and enforced, he could assume safely that all of them were unarmed.

Here I do not indulge in theory. The hard facts are publicly on display in New York State, where a law of exactly the same tenor is already on the books—the so-called Sullivan Law. In order to get it there, of course, the Second Amendment had to be severely strained, but the uplifters advocated the straining unanimously, and to the tune of loud hosannas, and the courts, as usual, were willing to sign on the dotted line. It is now a dreadful felony in New York to “have or possess” a pistol. Even if one keeps it locked in a bureau drawer at home, one may be sent to the hoosegow for ten years. More, men who have done no more are frequently bumped off. The cops, suspecting a man, say, of political heresy, raid his house and look for copies of the Nation. They find none, and are thus baffled—but at the bottom of a trunk they do find a rusted and battered revolver. So he goes on trial for violating the Sullivan Law, and is presently being psychoanalyzed by the uplifters at Sing Sing.

With what result? With the general result that New York, even more than Chicago, is the heaven of footpads, hijackers, gunmen and all other such armed thugs. Their hands upon their pistols, they know that they are safe. Not one citizen out of a hundred that they tackle is armed for getting a license to keep a revolver is a difficult business, and carrying one without it is more dangerous than submitting to robbery. So the gunmen flourish and give humble thanks to God. Like the bootleggers, they are hot and unanimous for Law Enforcement.

. . .

The first effect of the enactment of such a law, obviously, would be to make the market price of all small arms rise sharply. A pistol which is now worth, second-hand, perhaps $2, would quickly reach a value of $10 or even $20. This is not theorizing; we have had plenty of experience with gin.

. . .

Certainly, the history of the attempt to enforce Prohibition should give even uplifters pause. A case of whisky is a bulky object. It must be transported on a truck. It can not be disguised. Yet in every American city today a case of whisky may be bought almost as readily as a pair of shoes despite all the armed guards along the Canadian border, and all the guard ships off the ports, and all the raiding, snooping and murdering everywhere else. Thus the camel gets in and yet the proponents of the new anti-pistol law tell us that they will catch the gnat! Go whisper it to the Marines!

There’s more at the link.  Highly recommended reading, particularly in the light of all the shrill cries for more gun control from social justice warriors and their ilk after the Orlando terror attack.



  1. All of this has happened before, all of this will happen again.

    LawDog hit it on the head when he described a century of slow descent when it comes to gun rights, and I'm afraid that it's going to take at least a century to get us back to where we started.

  2. They never learn. Sometimes I think "Clarkhat" (a former columnist at Popehat, now runs Status451…describes himself as a "neoreactionary") is right about the woodchippers…after all, there are only so many lampposts and a limited supply of rope and/or stakes for impaling… just kidding. Well, mostly just kidding. Wrath is a vice I sometimes struggle with. *shamefaced*
    Anyway, my bloody-minded anger issues aside, that is a *great* link. Thanks for posting it!

  3. Whenever I read Mencken I recall a quote about him I saw long ago whose author I can't remember. To read Mencken is to know the truth of it:

    "He had no patience with his intellectual inferiors, and they were many."

  4. Mencken is always worth reading, even on those few occasions when I disagree with him. Like most of the old Newspaper men whose work one can still read, he underlines that the real reason the New York Times is in such financial trouble (last time I looked the Company's stock value roughly equaled the value of the real estate it owned) is not that the paper is biased, but that it is dull and badly written.

    My favorite bit of all-purpose Mencken is Mencken's Law;

    "Whenever A annoyed or injures B on the pretext of saving or improving X, A is a scoundrel."

  5. Don't forget that the Sullivan Law was named after one of its chief sponsors, the head of one of the large gangs operating in New York. Sullivan owned many of the New York politicos and was concerned that his gang members were being taken out by armed citizens. His solution was to have his politicians write up and pass a law banning the ownership of firearms. Of course his gang members wouldn't be bothered by such a law; only law-abiding citizens would be affected. And that's exactly what happened.

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