I posted about a Gallup Poll last week that showed that support for rights to own handguns is the highest it’s ever been since the question was asked. In 1959, only 36% of people polled supported handgun ownership and 60% would ban handguns for “ordinary” citizens.
This has puzzled me since I wrote it. We view anytime before 1968 as being a Golden Age for gun rights. In terms of formal laws I guess it was. You could buy a gun in a hardware store with no questions asked. You could order a 20mm Solothurn rifle from a magazine advertisement and the U.S. Mail would deliver it to your door. There seemed to be less crime then even though guns were more available.
Now we have organized groups who want to ban guns and legislators who try to make this happen. We must undergo an FBI check to buy any firearm. We have gun crime at a higher rate than in the 1950s. One would think that the poll numbers would be reversed, but they’re not. I think there're a few reasons for this.
First, some (not all) World War II veterans came home with little use for handguns. Most of them had been trained as riflemen first and foremost. The rifle was your best friend—if you were infantry. In fact, some military planners hoped the M1Carbine would replace handguns.
I can give one example of veterans having little use for handguns. My father flew bombers during the war and was issued a Colt 1911A1, which he carried in a shoulder holster. He told me that he could have kept his pistol, but he was tired of carrying it. To this day, he’s never had any interest in handguns although he owns rifles and shotguns.
If veterans with this attitude had been polled, they might be part of the 60%.
Second, you didn’t have the very real threat that your handgun and maybe gun rights could be taken away. Such a thought was “pie in the sky” at best. A person who didn’t like handguns might agree to ban them in a poll believing such a thing was impossible. That same person might give a different response if they felt it could actually happen. It’s part of mankind’s paradoxical nature.
Third, gun control may have been in the air. Most of our gun laws were passed in 1968, only nine years after the 1959 poll. That’s not a lot of time. During the 1960s we had terrible political assassinations using guns. These events may have consolidated a feeling that already listed.
I’ve done little research into public opinion in 1959. I’m flying by the seat of my pants here and could be all wet, but maybe not.