We’re going to have to take one step at a time, and the first step is necessarily — given the political realities — going to be very modest. Right now, though, we’d be satisfied not with half a loaf but with a slice. Our ultimate goal — total control of handguns in the United States — is going to take time. My estimate is from seven to ten years. The problem is to slow down the increasing number of handguns sold in this country. The second problem is to get them all registered. And the final problem is to make the possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition — except for the military, policemen, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs, and licensed gun collectors — totally illegal.
Pete Shields, 1976 – Chairman of the National Council to Control Handguns [precursor to the Brady Campaign]
Reason goes on to write:
As the years passed, it became apparent that this was going nowhere; a different first “slice” would have to be found. In 1990, Violence Policy Center (VPC) announced that it had found it. The debate must be switched from small handguns to large “assault rifles.”
Handguns, VPC explained, had become a media and political nonissue, while calls to outlaw “assault rifles” would benefit from mistaken impressions, i.e., “the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun.” That rifles of all types were involved in about 300 homicides a year was beside the point. The search was for a target of opportunity, not a solution to crime.