By Paul Hicks
In the seventy-five years since Rye became a city there have been sixteen mayors. Some of the earlier mayors are still remembered, such as Livingston Platt (for gaining the city charter) and Edmund Grainger (for defeating the bridge). Others have long been forgotten by most of the community, including Karl T. Frederick, who served as mayor from 1948 to 1950. A multifaceted man, he was an Olympic gold medalist, a prominent conservationist, and a respected head of the NRA who favored gun controls.
The Frederick family finally settled in the Finger Lakes area, where Karl Karl Telford Frederick was born in 1881 in Chateaugay, a town in upstate New York on the Canadian border. His father, a Presbyterian minister, moved the family frequently to various communities in the region, and, in the process, Karl developed a lasting love of the Adirondacks.
After completing high school at the age of 16, he enrolled at Princeton University, his father’s alma mater, but family financial problems required him to cover the tuition costs by tutoring. He won the premier senior prize at graduation and was also awarded a fellowship for graduate study in Economics and Politics. Graduating from Princeton in 1903, Frederick spent a year at its graduate school, financing his studies by teaching at Lawrenceville School.
He also excelled at Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Law Review and earned a degree (<cum laude>) in 1908. His law practice spanned more than fifty years, primarily as a litigator and appellate lawyer, in firms whose partners included Harland Fisk Stone, who later became Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
While he was at Princeton, Frederick fell in love with the sport of competitive shooting, which remained a lasting passion. Despite his busy legal practice, he developed into an excellent marksman, and in 1920, at the age of 39, he qualified for the U.S. Olympic Shooting Team. In the games at Antwerp, Belgium, the Americans dominated both the pistol and rifle competitions, led by Frederick, who won three gold medals — two in the team pistol events at 30 and 50 meters, and one in the 50-meter free pistol category. Besides the medals, he was awarded a trophy as the World’s Individual Pistol Shooting Champion.
In addition to his continuing involvement in the sport of shooting as well as U.S Olympic committees, Frederick became deeply involved in conservation issues. Foremost among them was the battle to protect and expand his beloved Adirondack Park. In the early 1930s, he became a senior officer of the National Rifle Association (NRA), as well as a member of the National Crime Commission.
The 1930s crime spree of the Prohibition era prompted President Franklin Roosevelt to make gun control a feature of the New Deal. Led by Frederick, the NRA assisted Roosevelt in drafting the 1934 National Firearms Act and the 1938 Gun Control Act, the first federal gun control laws. These laws placed heavy taxes and regulation requirements on firearms that were associated with crime, such as machine guns, sawed-off shotguns, and silencers.
Not only was the legislation unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court in 1939, but Frederick, then the president of the NRA, testified before Congress stating, “I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.”
In the view of one admiring columnist, “Frederick supported the average citizen’s right to own a pistol, and urged harsh penalties for anyone using guns in the commission of crimes. But the NRA was not the creature it has become today. As a world champion competitive marksman, he was more than familiar with the skill required for safely handling and accurately using a firearm. Because of that, he fought to defend the public’s right to own handguns or long guns for home protection, but discouraged the right to ‘open carry,’ which he felt endangered other law-abiding citizens."
After moving to Rye, where he lived for the last 20 years of his life, Frederick became a community leader and was a popular non-partisan mayor. At the request of Rye’s police department, he developed a shooting qualification program as well as providing instruction and training. That led to creation of the Rye Gun Club, which for years won nearly every competition held in Westchester County.
Karl T. Frederick died in 1963 at the age of 82. He was a successful attorney, noted conservationist, Olympic champion, visionary leader of the NRA, and a Rye mayor well worth remembering.