Beltway Confidential

Why opposition to gun control has increased over the last half-century

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Beltway Confidential,Michael Barone,Gun Control,History

Economist Bryan Caplan notes that support for gun control — specifically, banning handguns or pistols — has decreased dramatically since the 1950s and 1960s. Back in 1959 Gallup reported that 60% of Americans favored banning possession of "pistols and revolvers," while now 74% oppose banning "the possession of handguns," except by police.

Caplan seems puzzled by this substantial change in opinion. I think it's explainable by two developments.

(1) Violent crime roughly tripled between 1965 and 1975. As Caplan's graph of Gallup's results shows, majorities came to oppose handgun bans during this period. Americans saw more need to protect themselves.

(2) The success of laws permitting citizens to carry concealed weapons, starting with the Florida law in 1987 (thanks, Gov. Bob Martinez). Many, including me, predicted that this would lead to gunfights on the street and over traffic altercations. Those predictions have proved wrong. It turns out that ordinary citizens who can demonstrate that they know how to handle guns do so responsibly — just as they handle cars (potential weapons, after all) responsibly as well. The very few exceptions make news.

Now more than 40 states have such laws, and there is no significant move to repeal them. As a result, Americans no longer see gun possession as a threat and oppose disarming the law-abiding population. Pretty sensible, I think.

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