As support for laws restricting Second Amendment rights drops, gun-control activists are trying to use the Gipper to drum up enthusiasm to create a gun-free society.
A video by a group called United Network of Rational Americans uses footage of the assassination attempt against Reagan on March 30, 1981, as well as a snippet from an op-ed piece he wrote for the New York Times in 1991.
"This nightmare might never have happened if legislation that is before Congress now – the Brady bill – had been law back in 1981," the video quotes Reagan, referring to the attempt on his life that seriously injured him, Press Secretary James Brady, Washington police officer Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy.
Reagan also wrote, "since many handguns are acquired in the heat of passion (to settle a quarrel, for example) or at times of depression brought on by potential suicide, the Brady bill would provide a cooling-off period that would certainly have the effect of reducing the number of handgun deaths."
On this, at least, Reagan may have been wrong. A 2003 study by a professor who favors gun-control and was "regarded as the nation's foremost authority on gun control" showed no drop in guns deaths after the Brady Bill became law.
The study by Philip J. Cook, Duke University professor of public policy, economics and sociology showed a gradual decline in gun homicides from 1993 to 2003, but he noted that was a trend that had begun before Brady became law.
"Control and treatment states had the same gun homicide rates before and after the Brady law passed," Cook said. "It made no discernable difference. There is no statistically significant effect."
The Brady Bill was signed by President Clinton in 1993 and went into effect on February 28, 1994. It required background checks on anyone buying a handgun from a federally licensed dealer. The law was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1997 as an infringement on states' rights. A new version covering all guns passed in 1998.
The Senate will consider legislation next month to expand background checks to private and gun show sales. Senators will also consider measures to increase penalties for gun trafficking and provide more money for school safety. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., decided to drop a bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to ban so-called assault weapons, when he decided it would not have sufficient support. Feinstein has vowed to offer her ban as an amendment.
Reagan's writings on gun control before the op-ed piece may cast doubt on whether he would support sweeping gun-control measures.
He penned a comprehensive article in 1967 for Guns and Ammo that evidenced a passionate support for Second Amendment rights.
"In my opinion, proposals to outlaw or confiscate guns are simply unrealistic panacea. We are never going to prevent murder; we are never going to eliminate crime; we are never going to end violent action by the criminals and the crazies--with or without guns.
"The Second Amendment is clear, or ought to be. It appears to leave little, if any, leeway for the gun control advocate.
"We may not have a well-regulated militia, but it does not necessarily follow that we should not be prepared to have one. The day could easily come when we need one.
"The Second Amendment gives the individual citizen a means of protection against the despotism of the state.
"Now I believe our nation's leaders are good and well-meaning people. I do not believe that they have any desire to impose a dictatorship upon us. But this does not mean that such will always be the case. A nation rent internally, as ours has been in recent years, is always ripe for a 'man on a white horse.' A deterrent to that man, or to any man seeking unlawful power, is the knowledge that those who oppose him are not helpless."
At the White House yesterday, Obama asked supporters to pressure Congress to pass stricter background checks.
"If they're not part of that 90 percent that agree that we should make it harder for a criminal or someone with a severe mental illness to get a gun, you should ask them why not," Obama said.
The figure he stated of 90 percent would seem to conflict dramatically with the results of a CBS News poll released three days ago that found support for stricter gun-control measures has dropped 10 percent since the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December.
It found, "support for stricter gun control laws stands at 47 percent today, down from a high of 57 percent just after the shootings. Thirty-nine percent want those laws kept as they are, and another 11 percent want them made less strict."