This Tuesday, November 22, 2022, will pass as an uneventful day for most Americans. In past years some media outlets have marked the significance of the date. But as the years go by and memories dim, fewer and fewer people remember the significance of the day. But for those who were alive on November 22, 1963, it is a day that changed our lives and the future of America.
On that — fifty-nine years ago — President John F. Kennedy died in Dallas, Texas, a victim of gun violence. The gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, used a mail order rifle to kill the president. Later that day Oswald killed Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit with a handgun that he also purchased by mail.
Two days later, Oswald too was dead, the victim of gun violence when he was shot in the Dallas police station by night club owner Jack Ruby. It is unlikely that anyone can calculate the number of Americans who have died as a result of gun violence over the last 59 years.
In March of 1963, using an alias, Oswald purchased a Smith and Weston .38 special revolver from Seaport Traders of Los Angeles. The cost was $29.95 (about $275 in today’s money). The weapon was shipped to him C.O.D. by rail, due to policies on shipping of pistols to prevent them from being sent to minors. As a result, he was required to pick it up directly at the offices of the Railway Express Agency in Dallas. This was the weapon used to kill Officer Tippit.
Also in March of 1963, after seeing an ad in a magazine for weapons that could be purchased by mail and using the same alias and post office box, Oswald purchased a 6.5x52mm Carcano Model 38 infantry carbine with a telescopic sight (described by the Warren Commission as “Mannlicher-Carcano”) from a mail order house in Chicago. He paid $19.95 (about $180 in today’s money). In April of 1963, Oswald attempted to murder a controversial political activist, retired General Edwin Walker, while he sat in his home in Dallas.
JFK conspiracy nuts collect the same model rifle, probably to have some sick connection to Oswald and the assassination — like the guy that bought the cemetery plot next to Oswald so that he could be buried next to him. The closer the serial numbers on your Mannlicher-Carcano to that of the actual murder weapon, the more valuable the rifle. Go figure!
The actual murder weapon is stored at the National Archives in Washington, where it has been since 1963, except for a time that it was on loan to the Warren Commission during their investigation. Oswald’s wife Marina sold her rights to the gun to a collector who tried to obtain it from the government. However, after several legal battles, his requests were denied and the rifle remains in government custody, with a replica in the Sixth Floor Museum in Dallas.
Ruby, a Dallas strip club owner and semi-underworld character, was known to carry a gun all the time. The day he killed Oswald, he carried a 38 special Colt Cobra — which he called “sparkie.” He carried the same gun on his person when he attended a press conference at the Dallas police station on the night of the assassination, where he posed as a representative of the Israeli press. Ruby had purchased the gun at a Dallas gun shop for $62.50 (about $567 in today’s money). After the trial in which Ruby was convicted of killing Oswald, the gun was turned over to Ruby’s brother, who sold it in 1991 for $220,000 (roughly $457,000 in today’s money).
While individuals can no longer buy a gun by mail as easily and anonymously as Oswald, a quick Google search provided me with information about the availability of mail order weapons. The only difference is that now the weapon must be shipped to a federally licensed gun dealer and must be picked up from the dealer, where I assume proper identification must be provided. But guns are also readily available at many big box and sporting goods stores, gun shows, private dealers, and of course, on a street corner near you.
Presidents Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield and William McKinley were all killed with handguns. As far back as 1835, a handgun-toting Richard Lawrence tried to assassinate President Andrew Jackson. Attempts were made on the lives of President-Elect Franklin Roosevelt and Presidents Harry Truman, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, along with an attack on former President Theodore Roosevelt as he sought another term in 1912 — all with handguns. And let us not forget the murders of presidential hopeful Robert F. Kennedy, civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King and legendary musician John Lennon.
Children die in classrooms as a result of gun violence. Men, women and children are killed in mass murders. The nation offers prayers. Temporary and permanent memorials are built. Politicians vow to make changes. And the national gun lobby and all those who assert their Second Amendment rights continue to have voices that are louder than the cries of grief-stricken parents and families of victims and the nation when we lose presidents and prominent people to gun violence. The only thing that changes is that school shootings and mass murders are becoming more and more common place.
The chances of our federal and state government making any substantial changes to the gun laws in America are somewhere between slim and none. While statics show that most Americans, even gun owners, support background checks, limitations of sales to persons with mental health issues and waiting periods for gun purchases, Congress has never been able to pass meaningful legislation. The voices of the pro-gun segments of our society are stronger than the backbones of the people we send to Congress and our state legislatures. And every time any form of gun control legislation is enacted, the NRA rushes over to a federal court which rules in favor of the gun owner, decisions guaranteed to be sustained by the right-wing bloc that dominates the U.S. Supreme Court.
As we move forward to November of 2023 when the nation will mark the 60th anniversary of the death of President John F. Kennedy, we should insist on common sense legislation to curb gun violence and the proliferation of guns in our society.
C. Ellen Connally is a retired judge of the Cleveland Municipal Court. From 2010 to 2014 she served as the President of the Cuyahoga County Council. An avid reader and student of American history, she serves on the Board of the Ohio History Connection, is currently vice president of the Cuyahoga County Soldiers and Sailors Monument Commission and president of the Cleveland Civil War Round Table. She holds degrees from BGSU, CSU and is all but dissertation for a PhD from the University of Akron.