The Ithaca Auto and Burglar

Attribute to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

Reprinted from Issue Number 24, March 15, 1997

The faded magazine ad haunts us across six long decades of stupidity and corruption:

“Here’s the Ithaca Auto and Burglar gun, the so-called ‘Sawed Off Shot Gun’ which holdup men fear because its load of sixteen buckshot spread over such a wide circle that a poor gun pointer, who would miss with a revolver or pistol … is very sure to hit … handy to carry in the pocket of an auto or in a holster … Detective Harry Loose … first induced the banks in and around Chicago to use it, then its use spread to sheriffs, police departments, paymasters, watchmen, express messengers, and it’s a wonderful home protector. The U.S. Army demonstrated what American shotguns … would do during the late war. This Ithaca Auto and Burglar Gun weighs about 1 1/4 pounds, it has 20 gauge 12 1/4-inch barrels, cylinder bore … Price, including excise tax, $40.55.”

The Ithaca Auto and Burglar was a veritable marvel in its time, a near-perfect blue steel and walnut “magic wand” of self-defense, against strong-arm artists and protection racketeers in the age in which it was introduced, ideal—because of its light weight, moderate caliber, limited range, and short length—for women, the elderly, and children who might require it, not only against house burglars, muggers, and the like, but against an abusive or incestuous parent.

If John Lennon had been carrying an Ithaca Auto and Burglar under his coat, the Fab Four would be selling live albums of their fifth reunion concert by now.

It is illegal—or, more accurately and revealingly, placed beyond the reach of all but an economic and political elite— and has been since 1934, because its 12 1/4-inch barrels are 5 3/4-inch shorter than federal law mandates, and its overall length—roughly 20-inches— is shy, by about the same amount, of the minimum length specified by a statute that should never have been passed or judicially upheld in a nation with something like a Second Amendment in its Constitution.

When I was a kid, my first lesson in politics arose from the fact that my home town, Fort Collins, Colorado, was “dry ”—which is to say that it was illegal to sell “adult beverages” within the city limits, and had been since Prohibition. What made it educational was that this imbecilic situation was maintained at the polls every year by a tacit coalition of self-righteously muttering church ladies like my own grandmother, and—to begin with—by bootleggers who plied their trade inside the town, and later on, by proprietors of bars and liquor stores that came to surround the “ Choice City” in a tight ring.

If you understand that, you understand the politics of victim disarmament—commonly and improperly known as “gun control ”. National politics of the 1930s were dominated by an unprecedented violence and corruption that sprang directly from trying to outlaw production, distribution, and consumption of ethanol. Every bit of the criminal activity —gang-wars, drive-by shootings, summary search and seizure, asset forfeiture—that we have come to associate in our times with drug prohibition arose, to begin with, in the “Roaring Twenties ”.

In those days, Al Capone was the most politically powerful individual in Chicago, in the Midwest, and possibly in the United States. He purchased city councilmen, state legislators, congressmen and senators the same way that I (the daddy of an electronic-age seven-year-old) purchase AA batteries. Others of his kind did as much of the same thing as they could. I leave it to you to figure out whose interests were really being represented in Congress in 1934.

The “weapon of choice” for creatures like Al Capone was hardly the Ithaca and Auto Burglar, or even the infamous Thompson Submachinegun, it was the lives of countless revolver-carrying cannon-fodder thugs, and the influence of crooked politicians.

Who was really protected by the Ithaca and Auto Burglar and the Tommy Gun? Shopkeepers, householders, and especially truck drivers whose vehicles were often stopped and stolen (just as Florida pleasure boats are today) to serve as disposable conveyances for illicit alcohol. One store proprietor with a “sawed off” scattergun could discourage three or four goons who’d come to collect. One truck driver with a “Chicago Piano” could run off a dozen highwaymen.

As surely as the Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed to disarm the militant non-nonviolent blacks who were threatening to overturn the political apple cart …

As surely as the Brady Bill was passed because a certain variety of men—well-represented in politics—are mortally afraid to see women begin to arm themselves …

As surely as Bill Bennett and Bill Clinton’s rifle and magazine law was passed because—in this dangerous age of multiple assailants, when a single individual’s only chance against a gang is often firepower, and the ideal weapons of self-defense are semiautomatic rifles and pistols—both right wing and left wing socialists couldn ’t bear the humiliation of Korean store owners successfully defending themselves against their clients during the LA riots …

The Ithaca Auto and Burglar was stamped out because it threatened gangsters and hijackers who were the real constituency of the congressmen who outlawed it.

Now Daniel Patrick Moynihan crawls dripping out of his butt of Malmsey to attack expanding handgun bullets with a proposed 10,000 percent tax, exactly as he earlier attacked small caliber cartridges. Why? Could it be because they’re effective for use by ordinary productive class people against the freelance thieves and muggers who, as a statist, Moynihan naturally identifies with?

Write Moynihan. Ask him. And while you’re at it, ask the sonofabitch why he shouldn’t spend his long-overdue retirement behind bars, for having tried to deprive every man, woman, and responsible child in this country of their unalienable individual, civil, Constitutional, and human right to obtain, own, and carry, openly or concealed, any weapon—rifle, shotgun, handgun, machinegun, anything —any time, any place, without asking anyone’s permission.

Ask him.