Collection of Neal Knox writing offers valuable history lessons
October 1, 2009
by Joseph P. Tartaro
History can be an exciting and valuable subject to some, and a terrible drag to others. I was lucky in always liking history classes in high school. One of my favorite teachers then was a charming and scholarly older Scot named Mr. McTaggart. He and I frequently got into long discussions during history class, and when I graduated the Yearbook listed as my greatest ambition “to teach Mr. McTaggart history.”
Sometimes I was amazed at his tolerance of my interruptions, questions and opposing views, but now I realize that by allowing me so much room, he was engaging and teaching the whole class by using me as a foil.
I was reminded of this recently while reading a new book that should be essential reading for anyone who is a serious firearms civil rights activist. Unfortunately, not every gun enthusiast shared my fascination with history in their school years and some still don’t relish rehashing the past. Many, including some gunowners who have recently become active in the long-running debate over guns laws and gun rights, often believe that legislative and regulatory assaults on handguns, gun shows, certain types of ammunition, waiting periods and even so-called assault weapons are relatively new phenomenon.
Nothing could be further from the truth, as you will learn in reading and owning Neal Knox: The Gun Rights War, a collection of some of the most valuable and important writing related to the right to keep and bear over a 40-year period. No single book could contain everything that Neal Knox wrote over his lifelong career of jousting with high ranking public officials or bureaucrats, and in justified policy debates with friends and colleagues.
You’ll learn more about Neal in the Dedication and Introduction to this volume of important gun rights history compiled and annotated by his son Chris, and in the Foreword by Tanya K. Metaksa, once his deputy and later his colleague and lifelong friend when she was executive director of NRA-ILA, and in the years that followed.
Neal was a gunownercompetitive shooter, hunter and collectorwho was also a working newspaper reporter when he took the job as the first full-time editor of Gun Week back in late 1966, at the height of the frantic 1960s battle over guns on Capitol Hill and many state legislatures. He not only reported on what was happening, he offered sage policy commentary, and even traveled to Washington, DC, to testify before congressional hearings.
That’s when I first started reading what Knox was writing. A few years later, I met and joined him and others in an ad hoc group which transformed the NRA from a mild-mannered hobby group into a social and political powerhouse. We were fast friends through the rest of his life.
To many gunowners, Neal Knox was a heroic leader. To others, he was a troublesome and prickly thorn who voiced his concerns openly, much of it contained in this book.
Neal had many fights with powerful politicians as well as some on the NRA board, which managed to excise him from their ranks. His side of those struggles, from the “Revolt at Cincinnati” onward, form one segment of “The Great Gun War,” which Chris has divided into seven main subject areas, in which selected columns by Neal from a number of national magazines and newspapers are presented with incisive additional notes.
The seven sections are: 1.) Credentials; 2.) Principles; 3.) The Culture War; 4.) Politics; 5.) The Gun Lobby; 6.) Dark Passages, and 7. An Uncertain Trumpet, the section that involves Neal’s conflicts with various generations of NRA leadership. They deal with Neal’s enthusiastic love of guns and their uses to the nature and scope of grassroots activism, and even the lessons learned from the CIA connection to the anti-gun movement and the dark portents of the Waco and Ruby Ridge affairs.
Chris Knox has chosen Neal’s heart-rending and frequently published story of “The Belgian Corporal” on gun registration as the Prologue for this collection of his father’s writings. The reason is simple: Neal claimed that the lessons to be learned from that sad European’s experience while in his National Guard company back in 1955 was pivotal in motivating him to devote his life in defense of the Second Amendment.
Some accused Neal of being abrasive and difficult, but neither his friends nor his detractors can deny that he was devoted to the defeat of the dark forces of gun control.
Those who may still believe that the attacks on gun shows, including the latest “study” from UC-Davis mentioned in the Page 1 skyline story in this issue, are something new, will find that Neal was exposing this strategy of the anti-gunners as far back as July 1966. This 43-year-old article from Guns magazine is just one of hundreds in the new book, and is a clear example of Neal Knox getting the information and alerting a nationwide audience of gunowners about the dangers posed.
“A federal agency, acting under provisions of ‘an anti-crime law’ has launched a move that may be the death knell of organized gun shows, the lifeblood of antique arms collecting,” Neal began. This article clearly details the risks of giving broad authority to the Treasury or Justice Departments to write regulations that have the force of law rather than Congress. The rest of the article traces the directive from President Johnson to a specific show in Baton Rouge, LA.
In July 1988, Neal discussed attempts by some gunowners to appease the anti-gunners by compromising on some so-called moderate measures. This was shortly after forming The Firearms Coalition to continue the fight for gun rights after being ousted by the NRA. It was entitled “The insatiable thirst to ban guns” and concluded:
“Whatever those gun-owning friends’ motivation, if they think that the waiting period/police notification bill now before Congress is a ‘modest compromise,’ one that will slake the thirst of the anti-gunners, they’re mistaken.”
As was often the case, the wisdom of Neal Knox was proven correct by history. It didn’t matter if someone was trying to haggle over the number of rounds in a magazine, or whether it was the number of days a prospective gun buyer had to wait for permission to buy a gun.
Neal Knox studied history as well as making it and you’ll find this book of his writings your single most important history lesson on gun rights.
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