Monday, January 16, 2017

Gun Registration in Montana during WWI

        One day George Byrd summoned me into his antique shop in downtown Philipsburg and showed me an early 1900s era Sheriff's log recording such items as investigations and arrests. Also in the log was a detailed but undated list of gun owners in Granite County along with the model and serial number of every gun in each person's possession.

        The gun registration list was created pursuant to SB 4, a law passed in a special session of Montana legislature in February of 1918. The law provided that each gun owner would provide an affidavit concerning the firearms in possession, as well as the place that person was born. Several original forms were found in the records of Missoula County, one of which is the image below.
It seems apparent that the purpose was to create a list of all German immigrants and their firearms. Perhaps it would also have had the purpose of keeping track of the firearms of Irish immigrants since many Irish were unhappy with the United States taking the side of Britain  in the war. Indeed the Irish used the occasion of WWI to stage a major revolt against British rule in Ireland. Germany attempted to aid in that effort. Gun control was part of a package of legislation passed  in Montana during World  War 1 that has been criticized as part of a campaign of pro-war hysteria.  For example it  became dangerous in this time frame to criticize Woodrow Wilson as a crook (as did Montana rancher Ves Hall) as such sentiments might earn a person a stretch in a federal prison. The War hysteria as it pertains to Granite County is covered in The Mettle of Granite County, Book One, Patriots Chapter Seven,(pp.271-272), including the provisions of the Firearms registration.

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