Stephen Hunter: The Assault Weapon Massacres of 1964

You may have heard of Stephen Hunter. He won a Pulitzer Prize as the chief film critic for The Washington Post. He also wrote the Bob Lee Swagger novels on which the movie Shooter is based. There’s also a Netflix TV series of the same name.

Stephen Hunter holding an M-1 Carbine
Stephen Hunter with America’s first “assault rifle.” (AP Photo/ The Bellingham Herald, Philip A. Dwyer via Bearing Arms)

Hunter didn’t know much about guns until he began researching Point of Impact, the first in the Swagger series. But he hung out at shooting ranges, gun clubs, and frequented online forums to learn what he needed. If you’re looking for a good adventure story with lots of guns, Hunter’s books might be your next good read.

Hunter recently made an astute observation in the wake of the anti-gun uproar of the last month or so, writing in a column:  “Possibly you’re old enough to remember the great massacre spree of 1964? Classrooms shot up, strip malls decimated, Scout troops blown away, fast food restaurants turned into mortuaries. And all because, in its infinite stupidity, the U.S. Government dumped 240,000 high-capacity .30-caliber assault rifles into an otherwise innocent America.”

Remember when that happened? No? Me neither, despite being a historian. That’s because it didn’t happen, despite hundreds of thousands of M-1 Carbines being dumped on an unsuspecting public in 1963 for less than a hundred bucks apiece. NRA members could buy them for a 20-dollar bill. No background check either.

You could even have them shipped right to your door, complete with a “high capacity” 15-round magazine. Ultra-high catastrophic murder capacity 30-round mags were also available for little or nothing. .30 Carbine ammo was cheap and widely available. I’ll bet some of those bullet casings even had a shark’s mouth painted on it to make it extra scary and more able to blow lungs out of the body.

And that’s not all, as Hunter recalls:

Stephen Hunter column on gun control
(powerlineblog.com)

Hunter correctly notes that the M-1 Carbine was essentially America’s first “assault rifle.” It didn’t have all the features of the M-16, but it filled that role when the US military was still trying to field a battle rifle, resulting in the less than successful M-14. The walnut stock doesn’t make gun controllers lose bladder control like Eugene Stoner’s rifle, but since that has no effect on the gun’s performance, the Carbine did just fine, thanks.

Hunter’s point is that capable, concealable, inexpensive rifles were widely available in 1964 had anyone decided to shoot up schools, grocery stores, parks, or whatever. They came with 15 or 30-round detachable mags that could be changed quickly. Some had a dreaded folding stock and pistol grip. The ammo was light but effective. A shooter could easily carry hundreds of rounds on his person. But no one did that.

M-1 Carbine, M-1A1 Paratrooper Carbine, and M-2 Carbine
The M-1, M-1A1, and M-2 Carbines had everything a mass murderer could want. But no one took advantage of them. It’s almost like something different drives murderers these days. (gunsmagazine.com)

Why not? After all, we’re told that it’s easier to buy a gun than to vote. And that if guns weren’t so easy to get, bad people wouldn’t do bad things. Yet, guns were far easier to buy in 1964 than they are today. There were no background checks of any kind. The mailman would drop it at your door if you wanted. No questions asked. You could literally buy guns at gas stations. I know because I bought my first gun at a gas station in the 1970s.

Firearm background check form
There were no background checks of any kind in 1964. (Shutterstock)

Does that mean there were no bad people around in 1964? Doubtful. But maybe, just maybe, people are bad in a different way now. Could it possibly be true that something other than access to firearms could be driving these twisted individuals to kill innocent people? Even children? Gun owners are often pilloried in the media for not offering solutions to these horrific trends. But what have the gun controllers offered? Ban “assault weapons.” Ban “high capacity” magazines. Tax ammunition. Ban all the guns. Run a microscope up your ass and wait 30 days before allowing the sale. That’s literally all they have.

But 1964 exposes the lie. This is a relatively recent trend. There are multiple causative factors at work here. For instance, those of us who pay attention are aware of what some medications do to people susceptible to their side effects. I witnessed firsthand the complete loss of inhibition in a close friend. The consequences were ugly. Does that mean that medications are solely responsible? No, but I’d bet everything I own that some of them are part of the puzzle. Not to mention how quickly they’re pumped into kids at the first sign of the latest trendy diagnosis.

Medicine bottle with pills spilled out
One thing that didn’t exist in 1964: psychotropic medications for teenagers. (Shutterstock)

There are many possibilities and I’m not qualified to address most of them in detail. But we have a pretty good idea what they might be. How about the crippling lack of a strong father figure in the lives of many young men? Think that just might have something to do with it?

I could go on, but you get the point. I don’t hear a peep about that stuff from the gun controllers. Just watch their heads explode when a pro-gun advocate dares to bring up mental health or the destruction of the nuclear family. But it’s just more proof that the operative word in gun control is “control.”

I can’t close any better than Hunter, so I’ll leave you with his final thought. Regarding the M-1 Carbine, Hunter writes:

“Either Peyton Gendron [Buffalo] or Salvador Ramos [Uvalde] could have employed it to the same results. So, in 1964, the guns were there— lots of them, everywhere, dirt cheap. But Gendron and Ramos were not. We must look elsewhere for the reason why.”

Indeed we should.

Stephen Hunter novels
Just a few of Stephen Hunter’s outstanding Bob Lee Swagger series. (amazon.com)

Read Hunter’s column here (copy/paste): powerlineblog.com/archives/2022/06/stephen-hunter-the-massacre-spree-that-never-was.php

William "Bucky" Lawson is a self-described "typical Appalachian-American gun enthusiast". He is a military historian specializing in World War II and has written a few things, as he says, "here and there". A featured contributor for Strategy & Tactics, he likes dogs, range time, and a good cigar - preferably with an Old Fashioned that has an extra orange slice.

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