What a lot of people don’t realize is that, in the 1950s and early 1960s, handguns (not rifles or shotguns, handguns) were not very popular. They were often seen as criminal weapons. Don’t believe me? Well…
By way of the NY Times‘ Nicholas Kristof, we come across this Gallup Poll about gun ownership and regulation. What’s interesting are the attitudes towards banning handguns, except for use by law enforcement, as Kristof notes:
Since 1959, Gallup has asked Americans if they favor banning handguns. When the polling started, 60 percent said yes; the latest poll showed support from a new low of 26 percent.
After 1959, the next time the question was asked was in 1965, by which time support had dropped to 49%. By 1975, support was at 41% (and there’s been a slow decline in support since then). I can’t help but think that the social turbulence starting in the mid-1960s, including the riots when cities would burn in the summer, played a role in this. The breakdown of the more equal 1950s-1960s economy probably didn’t help either.
As an aside, it’s worth noting that handgun ownership per household has declined over the same time period. Weird.
The reason I bring this up is that after two mass shootings, one which involved an AR-15 (essentially a semi-automatic M-16) and a semi-automatic handgun in Aurora, CO, and the recent Wisconsin murders that involved a semi-automatic handgun, is that the arguments are always about banning ‘military-style’ rifles. Of course, those should be banned, just as we don’t let people own 84mm recoilless rifles either (although you never know when someone is going to break into your house with an armored personnel carrier). But handguns seem to be off the table even though most gun murders involve handguns.
This isn’t to say that people won’t kill each other with hunting rifles or shotguns, but it’s difficult to make a society prone to violence ‘better’, but we can make it more difficult to be violent and lethal.