Kopel notes that gun control primarily originated after the Civil War as a means to keep freed slaves from having access to firearms, as well as to prevent dueling. Throughout the 1800s, he writes, gun control laws were almost “exclusively a Southern phenomenon.” Outside of that region, the only type of gun control that really caught on was prohibition of concealed-carry, although open carry was still permitted.
What finally brought gun control into the national spotlight was apprehension over revolutionary movements after the communists overthrew of the Russian provisional government in 1917. The gun control movement gained further support for restricting handguns when Prohibition led to a major crime wave in the 1920s.
“Nationally, the leading voices for handgun prohibition were conservative, Northeastern, urban, upper-class businessmen and attorneys” Kopel writes. “Pacifists who wanted to end war by getting rid of all weapons, including firearms, also played a role, but they were much less powerful than the business élite, which was used to getting its way.”
However, the movement mainly worked at the state-level, where the National Rifle Association (NRA) fought against it by promoting an alternative model law called the Uniform Pistol and Revolver Act, which required a license for concealed carry.
With the election of Franklin Roosevelt to the presidency, Homer Cummings became Attorney General and made a major push for national gun control, specifically “a national registration for all firearms and the de facto prohibition of handguns,” according to Kopel.
The first move in the effort was the National Firearms Act (NFA). Rather than outright ban on handguns, the law utilized a hefty tax to get around the Second Amendment in order to create a de facto ban. This is not some conspiracy theory, either. According to Kopel, Cummings openly declared the intent to a House Committee. After the NRA protested, the application of the NFA to handguns was removed from the bill, at which point the NRA ceased its opposition.
The NFA became law in 1934.
But Cummings wasn’t done. After FRD’s re-election, he went for the next step: a national gun registry.