A Return to Normalcy

Dave Hardy notes:

I think gun ownership and use was quite acceptable in American society from the settlement of Jamestown up to the 1960s. Then, largely under the influence of the mass media, it became less favored. After half a century of that, it is returning to the norm. Of course, that half century comprises most of our lives (or all of the life to those younger than I) so it seems as if it were a sea change.

I think he’s largely correct in this observation, though there’s long been a streak in American culture of attempting to disarm disfavored minorities. I sometimes wonder if the reason things went sour in the 1960s culturally wasn’t because we decided that kind of inequality under the law was wrong, and the progressive shibboleth became that gun ownership was just broadly wrong, rather than only wrong for disfavored groups. Once there was more even application of gun control laws, it created enough backlash that things like concealed carry reform became possible.

14 Responses to “A Return to Normalcy”

  1. Jack says:

    One thing to note is that in the high gun control areas, NYC, Boston, San Fran, gun control is still based around going after disfavored groups.

    However, in those areas the disfavored make up a broad majority of the population, while the favored (those with the connections to get may-issue permits) are the minority.

    Heck, even in DC the city’s bans on magazines only count for those not in prefered class.

  2. Andy B. says:

    Just to comment on history as I remember it:

    There were the beginnings of a push for gun control in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I don’t believe it had much momentum at the time, but I can pin that down in time because I remember writing an essay opposing gun control while I was in high school, (c. 1961) and I remember that I was reacting to a “Support YOUR Right to Keep and Bear Arms” campaign by Guns & Ammo Magazine.

    The anti-gun campaign really gained its legs with the Kennedy Assassination in November 1963, but nonetheless made only slow progress until the boosts by the RFK and MLK assassinations in 1968. I believe it was helped along by the burnings of the cities following the MLK assassination; our own rural house was shot at by a passing car that night, as Trenton, NJ was burning.

    If you want to count anti-hunting sentiment as anti-gun, (as I do), that was indicated in the very late 1950s when the influx of new, formerly urban (white) residents was increasing, and virtually every suburban municipality thought it was stylish to write its own hunting ordinances, that were in practical effect hunting prohibitions. I well remember cop cars driving wildly across our farm fields, chasing hunters they had spotted in the distance. Unfortunately my childish nail-traps were too few and too amateurish to score any minor victories.

    But anyway — gun control was well in the works by the early 1960s, though it took a few years, some assassinations, and urban riots for it really to get underway.

  3. Merle says:

    Eventually, the pendulum will swing back.


  4. Gary says:

    While the assinations of prominent leaders and the ensuing civil rights unrest no doubt contributed, so did the anti-war feelings that started to emerge in the late 1960s and into the 1970s. As a result of this, kids playing with toy soldiers and cap guns quickly fell into disfavor as the anti-war movement and the media tried to paint anything involving a gun–even toy ones–as evil and just contributing to the dominance of the “military-industrial complex”.

    • Andy B. says:

      I’m not going to argue, because it pretty much comes down to perceptions, and is probably unknowable, but being well into adulthood by that time, I just did not personally see the “anti-war = anti-weapon” sentiment having all that much traction. I think our (Philly region) suburban neighborhood was pretty typical, and no one minded when we took their kids to the range with the Boy Scouts, etc. Kids still played Army, loved the Rambo movies, and enlisted in reasonable numbers after high school.

    • Jeremiah says:

      I am not sure it was so much anti-war but a general pacifism/non-violence. I recall reading lately (Volokh article) that pacifism against any foe started to peak around then, especially in churches. The social aspect of that can’t be ignored, although it was probably a series of politically convenient moves.

  5. Never underestimate the power of mass media to mold public opinion.

    I was reading a John Grisham novel published in 1998. Grisham is a flaming liberal, and has been for many years. His readership is largely quite liberal. And yet, even as late as 1998, the hero of his novel refers to homosexuals in the Dupont Circle area of D.C. as “queers.” Nor it is supposed to be seen as some sort of sign of his bigotry.

    You don’t have to go back much before 1980 to see even pretty liberal sorts take positions on gay marriage and even plain old homosexuality that would today be considered outside the realm of polite company. I sometimes wonder how long it would take for a similar mass media campaign the opposite direction to bring back sodomy laws. My guess is that it would take three decades of unrelenting but subtle efforts.

    The masses are jackasses led by jackals.

    • The Jack says:

      That’s another factor as the mass media’s power to control public knowledge was much greater in previous decades.

      Was it harder to find out what the Statehouses were up to back in earlier decades?

      Wast it harder to mobilize people to call in and write and make themselves known?

      Heck, the mid 90’s assault weapons ban centered on the idea that it was banning machine guns. How much easier was it to peddle that lie 20 years ago?

    • Andy B. says:

      ‘ even as late as 1998, the hero of his novel refers to homosexuals in the Dupont Circle area of D.C. as “queers.”’

      But I consider that analogous to, go back to pre-civil-rights-era, and I remember very clearly even very refined ladies in my area using the word “nigger” conversationally. And, that was here in the north. In high school I remember “queers” being the accepted noun for describing homosexuals. I remember breaking off friendships with some older guys who thought “rolling queers” was an acceptable means for supplementing their incomes, at the time.

      Certainly language evolves, and there isn’t much we can do to stop it. But the particular example of the media promoting increased (or any!) empathy for minorities does not sound like the analogy we should be searching for, if we are talking about the masses being “led by jackals.”

  6. Jeff Dege says:

    The greatest weapon that the anti’s have had was their false idea that gun ownership was somehow unusual and perverse. That’s why I thought shall-issue was such an important issue. The anti’s can scream as loud as they like, but they can’t maintain the pretense that gun ownership isn’t ordinary, given the hundreds of thousands of permit holders in every state.

    Even the no-guns signs don’t faze me. Every “no guns” sign is a constant advertisement that millions of our fellow citizens consider gun ownership normal, and carrying a gun to be an ordinary thing.

    • Matt says:

      I actually consider “No Guns” sign to be what they are: bigotry on parade. No different than “Coloreds Only” sign in the South in Jim Crow days.