“God Guns & Guts Made America Free”

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Harlon B. Carter is a ruddy, blue-eyed, bald-headed sharpshooter, and his personal biography as issued by the NRA is almost as broad and bold as the American Southwest, where he was born sixty-three years ago. Among the many milestones listed are thirty-four years with the U.S. Border Patrol, and eight of those as chief; a tour of duty as Southwest regional commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service; officer in charge of “alien enemy detention and prisoner programs” during World War II; “several million illegal aliens and hundreds of thousands of criminals” arrested by officers under his supervision; forty-four national shooting records with rifle and pistol; president of the NRA in 1965-67; election to the NRA executive council for life in 1967; member of board of directors of U.S. Olympic Committee, 1965-67; member of the Secretary of the Army’s National Board for the Promotion of Rifle Practice, 1964-70; “Outstanding American Handgunner of 1977,” and executive vice president of the NRA, in which post, in the early hours of May 22, 1977, at Cincinnati, Ohio, Harlon Carter found himself installed by the vote of fewer than twelve hundred NRA life members.

The emergence of Harlon Carter as king of the gunnery—and if not of that, then at least of its “cutting edge”—is a measure not only of what the man has done with his life over the years but of what he has written and said as well. For a time in the early 1970’s he was a prolific contributor to Guns & Ammo magazine, wherein his forceful prose flailed liberal society, gun controllers, and the softies who would bargain away the people’s right to keep and bear arms.

In an article titled “Anti-Gun Hysteria Prelude to a Police State,” Carter established his credentials as a noncompromiser: “As long as we concur that any measure of gun control equates with some measure of crime control we are in agreement with those who would eliminate our rights. We would then again be backed into our defensive position, held for forty years, always losing a little here and a little there until finally nothing would be left us.”

As for legislation to ban the Saturday Night Special, Carter had this to say in Guns & Ammo: ”… there will never be a time when strident voices among our opponents [described elsewhere in the piece as ‘dedicated gents with cold eyes and bleeding hearts’] will not be after our last six-shooter-then our rifle—then our shotgun. Don’t ever doubt it.”

And as for Richard Nixon, he was Guns & Ammo ’s “The Shooters’ Man for ’72.” Wrote Carter that October: “I like Nixon. When a man supports the law abiding citizens’ right to keep and bear arms it is likely other virtues naturally accrue to him.”

Carter likewise projects an image of one who always knows absolutely where he stands, as in the following exchange with Conyers subcommittee member George Danielson of California:

DANIELSON : … Does [the] National Rifle Association still assert the position that [amendment] 2 of the Constitution prohibits government to, by legislation, infringe the right of the people to keep and bear arms?

CARTER : We feel like that. The last word by the Supreme Court has not been said with respect to the second amendment.…

DANIELSON : Believe me, I am pleased to hear you say that because you do recognize that the Supreme Court has the burden of interpreting the Constitution.

CARTER : Oh, yes. I have always felt that way, right.

Yet within a year Carter was citing an NRA-sponsored poll which found that 78 per cent of the respondents believed the right to bear arms was a constitutional right; and in the New York Daily News , writer Hillary Johnson was quoting Carter as having said: “If 78% of the people believe that this is their right, then it doesn’t matter what the Supreme Court has held.”