The primary spokesperson for a guns advocacy group suggested to MSNBC host Andrea Mitchell on Wednesday that Republican icon Ronald Reagan was going senile when he began supporting stricter firearms regulation.
President Barack Obama referenced Reagan while announcing a series of 23 executive orders he said would tackle the problem of gun violence in the country, including an increased emphasis on background checks for prospective weapons owners.
“What’s the problem with registering a gun?” Mitchell asked Erich Pratt, communications director for the Gun Owners of America. “If you have a bushmaster, first of all, why would you have one?”
Pratt replied that Reagan owned that type of assault rifle, which was used in the mass shooting last month at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. When Mitchell countered that Reagan was in favor of gun control, Pratt said, “In his later years. We have to keep that in account.” Pratt also argued that Reagan opposed gun control throughout his presidency.
But as Think Progress reported, Reagan did in fact support gun safety legislation, and was at times backed by firearms advocates, as in the case of the Firearms Owner Protection Act of 1986, which was enacted during Reagan’s second term in office.
Five years later, Reagan, an avowed member of the National Rifle Association wrote a column for The New York Times explaining his support for the Brady Bill, named after the press secretary who was shot during an assassination attempt.
“Critics claim that ‘waiting period’ legislation in the states that have it doesn’t work, that criminals just go to nearby states that lack such laws to buy their weapons,” Reagan wrote. “True enough, and all the more reason to have a Federal law that fills the gaps.”
On Wednesday, Obama said that Reagan wrote a letter to the House of Representatives in 1994 supporting a federal ban on assault weapons.
Reporting from The Los Angeles Times that year confirms Obama’s statement, showing that Reagan joined fellow ex-presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford in writing the document.
“While we recognize that assault weapon legislation will not stop all assault weapon crime, statistics prove that we can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals,” the three presidents said in the letter.
Watch a clip from Mitchell’s interview with Pratt, posted on Wednesday by Think Progress, below.