Banning Handguns, Then and Now

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 TimesNicholas 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.

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5 Responses to Banning Handguns, Then and Now

  1. Will says:

    Just to ‘be that guy’, there is functionally no difference between a ‘military-style’ semi-automatic rifle (such as an AR-15), and a semi-automatic hunting rifle. In fact, hunting rifles typically use higher-power ammunition compared to the relatively puny .223 the AR uses. The synthetic black stocks and ability to mount flashlights has no effect on the flight of the bullet. If you want to ban ‘military’ semi-autos, then you should logically extend that to hunting semi-autos. I am not in favor of banning either.

  2. onkelbob says:

    Just to be the other guy, the AR-15 has a couple of exceptional functional distinctions, magazine capacity and ballistic characteristics. The 20 round magazine capacity isn’t common among hunting rifles. The .223 was intentionally designed to seriously wound and incapacitate the target by “tumbling,” i.e., it doesn’t enter and remain on a straight trajectory, rather enters and bounces around inside the target’s corpus. That feature makes it a great varmint rifle, as you would generally don’t eat ground hog.
    While I also believe a ban would be hard to pass and enforce (given the already substantial number out there) a few mitigating rules should be in place. The first would be safety and security issues – namely the demand one demonstrate the ability to safely use any weapon they own (or propose to buy) and the ability to secure it. I would also require liability insurance for each and every handgun or rifle sold or owned. You can’t drive a car in any state without such insurance, why not extend that to firearm ownership.
    BTW – I wore a sidearm in the military and had to qualify on it every year. Would that requirement (annual competency exam) be too onerous? It sure would change the dynamic among gun ownership. It won’t happen, our society is big on talk about personal responsibility and short on actually enforcing it. However, if your insurance policy depended upon it, (or gave a significant discount for those who did)

  3. Will says:

    No, the 20-round magazine isn’t common with hunting rifles. But there is nothing saying you can’t: I have seen as high as 30-round magazines available for the Remington 742: A hunting rifle “through and through”. And the tumbling aspect of the .223 makes it HARDER to kill human-sized targets, when compared to heavier calibers such as .308 and .30-06, which are designed to kill, and are commonly used by hunters. And what of the Ruger Mini-14, which uses the same ammunition and magazines as the AR, but is absolutely not a military-style rifle?
    I would not be opposed to licensing/proficiency requirements. This would help reduce violence, but, as I’ve heard/said many times: outlaws are outlaws, and they wouldn’t care that they are ‘supposed’ to have a license for that revolver they nicked, and shot someone with. It would give a handy extra charge at sentencing though.

    • onkelbob says:

      Regarding the ballistics, the reasoning to wound and incapacitate was simple, It takes more personnel to attend to the wounded than to bury the dead. Which then speaks to Mike’s intention, that firearm is not useful for anything other than assaulting other humans (except as I said, a varmint rifle, which the mini-14 is through and through). Mind you, a .308 passing through your thigh and missing the femur and femoral artery would be an easy wound to treat. A .223 in the thigh is likely going to result in amputation or death. (Femoral artery wounds often result in uncontrolled hemorrhaging.) Maybe Chris Rock’s joke about bullets costing 1MM is applicable.
      The outlaw not caring isn’t not the target for liability insurance. More people are hurt killed by accidental discharges than assault. I would prefer that a pool of insurance money be available to those victims, as well as to those affected by criminal actions. Again, I just want to change the dynamics, not the overall structure.

  4. Will says:

    A .22LR has many of the same ‘bounce’ characteristics that you are describing.
    My point is, discriminating based on looks (which is essentially what you do distinguishing between ‘military’ and ‘hunting’ semi-auto’s) is not logical. If you want to ban all semi-auto rifles, fine. I disagree with you, but you are being logically consistent.
    And what of military semi-auto’s in hunting calibers? Like the FAL or M1A (.308)? Or the M1 Garand, which doesn’t even have a DETACHABLE magazine?
    Not to mention AR-10’s, or AR-15’s with hunting-caliber uppers…

    And you even make the point, that AR-15’s are supreme varmint rifles. So that is a legitimate, sporting purpose. Cattle farmers can (and do quite often) use them to control groundhog populations. Or should they *have* to buy a Mini-14, which last I checked are more expensive, and do literally exactly the same thing?

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