Handgun attitudes in the 50s


December 7, 2012, 05:09 PM
I read that back in the 50s, support for banning handguns was much higher than it is today. Why was this? What changed?

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December 7, 2012, 05:12 PM
Crime and more awareness that it is more common that many think.

Added: In the 50's it was very common to live in a "Leave it to Beaver" neighborhood. Kids wandered safely down the street with their friends and did not carry guns or knives to hurt people. Parents were comfortable with this. Today, many parents don't want their kids wandering out of their sight.

Now that same neighborhood has cars broken into, home invasions, occasional gunfire at night perhaps... basically you had to move further away from the city to continue with the "Leave it to Beaver" neighborhood. Ward, did you hear that Mr. Wilson's house got broken into and somebody stole his coin collection? :D Turns out to be Dennis the Menace.

Also: IF banning handguns attitude was so "common" in the 50's, don't you think something would have been added to the 1968 Gun Control Act??

December 7, 2012, 05:13 PM
I read that back in the 50s, support for banning handguns was much higher than it is today. Why was this? What changed?
And your source, please?

December 7, 2012, 05:21 PM
And your source, please?

According to Gallup (http://www.gallup.com/poll/123596/in-u.s.-record-low-support-stricter-gun-laws.aspx):

"The poll also shows a new low in the percentage of Americans favoring a ban on handgun possession except by the police and other authorized persons, a question that dates back to 1959. Only 28% now favor such a ban. The high point in support for a handgun-possession ban was 60% in the initial measurement in 1959."

December 7, 2012, 05:21 PM
That and the Internet makes information of news-worthy events (read: bad events) much easier to find, so it seems like it happens more often.

December 7, 2012, 05:22 PM
I certainly don't recall any feeling like that in the 50's.

The big big push to ban or restrict guns came in the 60's after the JFK, MLK, RFK assassinations.

All that lead to the Gun Control Act of 1968.


December 7, 2012, 08:25 PM
"In the 50's it was very common to live in a "Leave it to Beaver" neighborhood. Kids wandered safely down the street with their friends"

Heck, that was my neighborhood in downtown Baltimore from '55 to '62 when we moved to D.C. Of course, the Beaver didn't live in a rowhouse.

I don't recall any anti-gun push until JFK was murdered and it was another 5 years until the law was signed.


Shadow 7D
December 8, 2012, 04:36 AM
it was also much more difficult to purchase a handgun
as bad as 86 was for NFA's, it was actually an improvement over the previous state.

General Geoff
December 8, 2012, 11:16 AM
it was also much more difficult to purchase a handgun
If by 'difficult' you mean "no paperwork, no background checks, no registration, no permit required, mail order directly to your door," then yes.

Any restrictions on purchasing handguns pre-'68 were local or state law.

December 8, 2012, 01:08 PM
People tend to tolerate banning something if they themselves have no interest in it. Back in the 50s, I knew very few civilian folks that had handguns. Those that did, shot them relatively little. One reason many of those handguns from that era are in such good shape. Many had them because they were War bringbacks/souvenirs and were kept in the sock drawer. Nowadays, most everybody I know has at least one handgun and many of those are like me and shoot them regularly. The average rifles used for hunting in the 50s were not nearly as accurate or efficient as today's rifles. Success with a rifle for most hunters was not always a gimme. Thus using a handgun as a primary hunting weapon was something reserved for the rich or gun rag writers. Nowadays many states have special handgun seasons or handgun calibers can be used in areas where bottleneck rifle cartridges are illegal. Many of us have delegated ourselves to handgun calibers only, just for the sport. Handgun shooting sports and the new CCW laws have also made a big impact on the subjective feelings towards handgun ownership. How many states had CCW laws on the books back in the 50s? Any?

December 8, 2012, 06:42 PM
I never handled a handgun until I was in college. Never knew much about them or had any desire to learn. For that reason and I suspect my experience isn't unique, "banning" handguns during the 60's had some potential. But what actually happened is that the US restricted imports of cheap handguns (aka Saturday Night Specials). Alot of good that did... since Reagen was shot with an RG. Colt discontinued their small 25 acp and 22 short semi auto pistol that was imported from Spain as a result of this. Never considered that to be much of a Saturday Night Special. But Colt did seem to over react to threatened regulatory changes.

December 8, 2012, 07:02 PM
I recall all the men in my family all had concealed handguns; then again, most were NYPD and the rare and only college grad/CPA turned FBI.

Personally, I only became aware of gun control when the Brady Act was passed, and it somehow made folks think we were a wild west country gone rogue, rife with gun violence, and too easy for one to legally own a handgun, especially in NYC.

December 8, 2012, 07:27 PM

December 8, 2012, 07:38 PM
Back in the50's, I can remember cops teaching a kid how to shoot and reload!To them, a hangun was absolutely no problem.Come to think of it, my first 45 was sold to me by one....I think I was 14-15.

December 8, 2012, 10:03 PM
Polls can be skewed by how the question is asked. The poll also may not reflect how strongly someone feels about a particular subject. So while 60% of those polled in 1959 may have indicated being in favor of a handgun ban, apparently it was not important enough for many people to try to do anything about it.

Another problem with polls is that they do not take into account the persons knowledge of the subject being asked about. "Do you support stronger, or less restrictive laws on ______" assumes that the person being polled knows what the current law is.

If handgun ownership was less prevalent in the 50s, people generally would have less personal experience/exposure to them and may not have given them much thought until questioned by the poller, resulting in a knee jerk response.

December 8, 2012, 10:55 PM
As I recall in the 50's as a 10 year old kid, handgun owners I knew about were WWII vets that had a Luger, P-38, or 1911 they brought home from the war.

Then there were the fishermen and hunters who had a .22 RF revolver or Colt Woodsman pistol.

One of my dads war vet friends had a .45 Colt SAA, and he was a crack shot with it.
I saw him kill a crow on top of a windmill about 75 yards away with it once.

That right there was one of the moments in my life I knew I wanted to learn everything I could about handguns and how to shoot them like that.

Of course that was in Kansas, and if a Gallop Pole was ever run there, I sure never heard of anyone included in it!

Probably if they had a poll in NYC, or Chicago, or San Fran Sicko, maybe the results would have turned out like you thought they did.

But they wouldn't have turned out like that in the heartland I betcha!


December 8, 2012, 11:12 PM
I still lived in Detroit in the 50's----most of the time we did not lock the doors. Most people did not have a gun.
WOW---did that change in the 60's & white flight began.
Detroit was somewhere about 1.700,000---today about 750,000

December 9, 2012, 11:27 AM
Coincidence?.....perhaps "film noir"?....add to it the high number of westerns at that time with handgun violence. Not a whole lot of positive images coming from Hollywood.


December 9, 2012, 02:52 PM
I don't know that I agree with this idea that there was support for banning handguns, or any guns, in the fifties. I'm not a pollster, but I was there, though just a kid.

I remember that almost every father on our street was a WWII vet. And almost everyone of them had bring backs from the war, including my dad. The guy across the street was a former marine with a virtual arsenal. My scoutmaster used to let us use his .22s. No "gun ban" support from anyone I can remember knowing.

I recall taking my dad's little muzzle loader to show and tell one day, and my teacher thought it was so neat, she asked if we could put it on display in the class during open house. We did, and everyone got a kick out of it.

As a kid, we all had toy arsenals. I had toy pumps, rifles, six guns, even a burp gun. Miss that toy burp gun. We played "war" all summer, every summer. None of the moms minded, or even thought twice about it.

I didn't live out in the country. I grew up in a Southern California suburb that was carved out of an orange grove after the war.

Trust me, guns were not seen as evil back then. This "poll" seems to me like a weak attempt to impose current "sensibilities" on a time when gun ownership was just an accepted part of life. But like I said, I was just a kid back then.

December 9, 2012, 04:37 PM
I place zero stock in polls.

They have a scientific cover which is usually NEVER scientific at all, but skewed.

December 9, 2012, 04:42 PM

I'm 68 years old and no pollster has ever ask me for my opinion on anything yet.

I don't know who they do ask, but it must be a very select group somewhere else.


December 9, 2012, 06:15 PM
I have a theory. I think it may have been strictly urban dwellers that were inclined to support gun control. Folks in the country were favorably inclined toward guns because they meant meat on the table and pest control. Urbanites mainly saw them as tools of crime. I remember telling my father, West New York born and bred, that I was going to purchase my first rifle at age 18. He wasn't opposed, but the Korean era Navy vet was rather surprised and said "whatcha need a gun for kid?" Another element to consider is that folks had a lot less money and time for what was considered strictly recreational activity back then.
Now my late father-in-law was a different matter. He was also Korean War Navy but he was an Arkansas hay farmer from way back. He loved talking and shooting guns. We would talk about them for hours and I would frequently hear earnest sermons on his great love for the .22 Magnum.

December 9, 2012, 07:01 PM
The 50s was a time when the idea of the government restricting something seemed A-OK and the idea of the government allowing many things (sex, drugs, rock and roll, protests, desegregation, homosexuality, you name it) was utterly terrifying for most people. Hell, McCarthy went around imprisoning people who were seen as a threat to the government and most people didn't mind at all. Today, decades and decades of people using things like gun control (or fear mongering against gun control) as springboards for political careers has completely changed attitudes. If a person proposed controlling guns somehow, it would have just sounded to most like an idea nobody had tried yet and there'd be nobody around to stand up and sound the alarm about attacks on our freedoms. If even a gun writer in the 50s said nobody needs a handgun, few would probably bat an eye. Today he'd be lynched in every way but literally.

Handgun fetishism wasn't as big in America in the fifties either. There were maybe two major handgun manufacturers--Colt and S&W, and their best sellers were still plain old .38 revolvers for police officers. Ruger was still just an upstart company making single-actions to cash in on people's love of TV Westerns. Even the Browning Hi-Power had only just begun to be imported. Handgun shooting was a niche market at best even for people who bought guns. Today, you couldn't even name all the handgun makers in America alone, or even just the ones making the same 1911. In hindsight, it's glaringly obvious that attitudes have changed today.

People like to think of the 50s as the good old days of gun ownership before all the gun control ruined it, but the truth is we are living in the best possible age to be a gun enthusiast if your desire really is to own the most deadly possible weapon, and to be sure you'll get to keep it, and to be able to carry it in public for that matter (unheard of in the 50s unless you had a badge, as I understand it.)

December 9, 2012, 07:15 PM
I don't remember gun control even being an issue in the 50s. Nobody even THOUGHT of carrying, of course. It was illegal to even have a handgun in your car within easy reach in Texas until the 90s. Since I often drove a 4x4 standard cab truck on hunting trips with my contender pistol, I broke the law a lot. But, then, from the 70s on, I often carried a small .25 ACP illegally. Better judged by 12 than carried by 6 was the mantra. But, handgun ownership was low in the 50s. It just wasn't anyone's issue.

December 9, 2012, 11:20 PM
There wasn't much in the way of handgun control in the 50's. There wasn't much in the way of handguns either. Colt 1911's and revos and S&W revos were around $65; a week's wages if you had a heckuva good job. H&Rs and IJs were 30ish. Gun control didn't rear its lovely head 'till after the Kennedy killings. They were beginners an new at it but they got the job done. Much to our dismay.

December 9, 2012, 11:51 PM
Here's a somewhat related question. Were there any negative attitudes, or at least ambivalence towards semi-autos? It seems to me like most of the examples I see from that time are revolvers. I get the impression that semis didn't really catch on until the mid 80s.

December 10, 2012, 12:11 AM
Handgun bans in the 1950s? Where did that come from? The next thing you are going to say Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Lassie were not popular?? I lived in a state where it was legal to order handguns thru the U.S. Mail. That was post war America the country was awash in Lugers, Walthers, Nambus and the NRA sold1911 Colts for $18 dollars. The Anti-gun movement started in force after the JFK murders in the 1960s.:( The Liberal Democrats in the Senate led by Estes Kefaufer Of Tenn, and Thomas Dodds of Conn. in the late 1950s investigated the use of handguns by street gangs and did pass a federal law regarding automatic pocket knives.:(

December 10, 2012, 12:44 PM
With Hillary Clinton coming in 2016, there is not much hope for Glock owners. I had better start practicing carrying my S&W M629 revolver.

December 10, 2012, 01:17 PM
Folks tend to view the past, esp. the 50's, through the lens of pop culture. The references to Beaver are a good example. The fact is concealed handguns were viewed by many, probably most, Americans as something for detectives and criminals. There really has been a major change for the better since then.

Handgun bans in the 1950s? Where did that come from?

Well CONCEALED handguns were banned almost everywhere at that time. And open carry was for the open range.

December 10, 2012, 01:44 PM
Here's a somewhat related question. Were there any negative attitudes, or at least ambivalence towards semi-autos? It seems to me like most of the examples I see from that time are revolvers. I get the impression that semis didn't really catch on until the mid 80s.
I found this in my 1956 Gun Digest:
Handguns in America 1955-56
By Major J.S Hatcher

He (Hatcher) lists cartridges still being manufactured in the US even though the guns aren’t .25 .32 .380acp
“Because the American market is constantly being flooded with small European Murder guns
of these calibers. The reader may well ask why, if there is a demand for these little horrors, they aren’t still being manufactured in America.”

Hatcher went on to say he talked to the President of Colt in 1946 about restarting the small automatic gun lines

“but because of the war all tooling and fixtures were scrapped. The question was at that time up for consideration as whether or not to tool up for them again. He said that they realized a lot of them could be sold, but they frankly wondered if they served any useful purpose, and whether their production wouldn’t do the arms maker more moral harm than material good.”

“Police weapons, the target weapons, and the plinking type .22’s that are so much fun on camping trips, they felt added to the safety and security to society and the nation, and the pleasure of target shooting and outdoor sport; But the little Murder guns they felt they would prefer to have nothing to do with.”

And gun guys got pissed a boycotted old Bill because of his 10 round limit on mags and here was Colt deliberately withholding SD guns from the citizens of this country.

December 10, 2012, 02:05 PM
Were there any negative attitudes, or at least ambivalence towards semi-autos?
I get the impression that semis didn't really catch on until the mid 80s.The ammo they shot.
Prior to 1970 semi-auto ammo came in only two types.

Very light SWC target loads & 230 grain FMJ-RN in .45 ACP.
And only one or two weights of FMJ-RN in everything else.

The JHP pistol bullet as we know it today wasn't invented until the late 1960's, and it was many years later until you could buy a pistol from all manufactures that would reliably feed them.

Revolvers like the .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum had long had jacketed soft-point and Semi-Wadcutter hollow point bullets available for them.


December 10, 2012, 02:09 PM
How many states had CCW laws on the books back in the 50s? Any?

Conceal Carry (for anyone) I believe that there were two states in the 1950's...

I believe shall issue conceal carry was Washington State, and Vermont which didn't require a permit for conceal carry.

There were states that had may issue CCW permits, and a number of states had (and still today) allow for open carry without a permit.

There was even a post that I read that in some rural areas of New Jersey, people used to open carry. But I think that ended with their 1966 ID card law....


December 10, 2012, 02:10 PM
Hell, McCarthy went around imprisoning people who were seen as a threat to the government and most people didn't mind at all.

No. The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) could not imprison people. They could identify perceived threats to the United States for later prosecution. McCarthy was the Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in the early 1950's.

The Committee actually goes back to the 1930's as the Fish Committee and the McCormack-Dickstein Committee used to investigate subversive threats to US security. HUAC existed until 1975 when its functions were transferred to the House Judiciary Committee.

Prosecutions of people identified through HUAC investigations were carried out by the Justice Department in the 1950's using a variety of laws, most notably using the Smith Act passed in 1940. Many of the people convicted under the Smith Act had their sentences reversed in 1957 when the Supreme Court ruled the Smith Act as unconstitutional.

But - back to the 1950's - You could order a gun and have it delivered via the US Postal Service to your house....the neighbor in back of us used to do that all the time.

Billy Shears
December 10, 2012, 02:20 PM
There wasn't much in the way of handgun control in the 50's.
Depends where you lived. New York had the Sullivan Act going all the way back to 1911, requiring licenses for New Yorkers to possess firearms small enough to be concealed. And of course, there were various laws in the Reconstruction-era south, which were designed to keep guns out of the hands of blacks (the Civil Rights Act of 1866 overrode many of those). The 1934 NFA, of course, enacted restrictions on weapons that were previously freely available for purchase.

Jim K
December 10, 2012, 02:55 PM
The fact that McCarthy was an idiot should not obscure the fact that there was a deep penetration of the U.S. government by Soviet agents in the wartime and post-war era. Of course, that was Joe McCarthy, the right-wing idiot, not to be confused with Gene McCarthy, the left-wing idiot.

As for gun control, the peak of gun ban insanity was probably in 1963-1968, after the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr. The NRA was openly accused of killing JFK and there were calls for a total ban on private guns. Teddy Kennedy, when someone mentioned the Second Amendment, reportedly replied, "To hell with the Constitution, nobody gives a damn about that piece of eighteenth century toilet paper."

There were serious calls for the summary executions of NRA members and of anyone who owned a gun or who had ever owned a gun!

The Army was ordered to stop the sale of M1903A4 rifles with scopes and mounts and also to scrap plans for sale of semi-auto M14 rifles through the DCM.

The Washington Post ran 220 continuous days of anti-gun editorials, full of the worst invective and wild accusations against the NRA, gun companies, gun dealers, gun owners, etc.

Even with all that, the Gun Control Act of 1968 would probably not have passed if it had not been for the riots that followed the King assassination. The white Congress looked out from Capitol Hill at a burning city and thought about guns in black hands - then they passed a law, blatantly racist, to make sure "those people" didn't get guns. That was the same reason for the late D.C. law and similar laws in Chicago and elsewhere. (An assistant Treasury secretary admitted that much depended on gun dealers for the law to be effective, but assured key Senators and Representatives that there was zero chance the then-ATTD would ever allow a black man to get a dealer's license!)

It was a bad, bad time. And the anti's will never give up. I believe the extremists will do anything, anything, to further their goal of a total ban on private firearms ownership. Needless to say, they believe that they will control the government's guns and will be able to use them against anyone who does not adhere to their way of thinking.


December 10, 2012, 04:08 PM
The anti gun folks lost and any of them of any relevance knows it. We have about as much to worry about from them as from soviet infiltrators today.

December 10, 2012, 04:26 PM
They also had comic book bans http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/6543/ and if you wanted to discredit someone you called them a Communist.

It is an interesting concept that the ruling class stays in power by scapegoating. By focusing society’s attention on scapegoats they divert attention from the problems they create .

However, the best thing for Gun Owners was voting out of Clinton’s Democratic Congress back in the 90’s. The gun banner's butts still hurt from that.

Does not mean they won’t be back….

December 10, 2012, 05:00 PM
The fact is that in the current cultural climate a politician loses more than he gains by coming out against gun owners, and the one thing our congress has proven itself good at of late is obstructing change. When a gun tragedy occurs, gun sales go UP and people will blame anything they can except guns. It will take a dramatic shift in cultural thinking before any of this changes. As this thread shows, that tends to take about fifty years, give or take.

December 10, 2012, 05:36 PM
This one has wandered around long enough, and throw in politics and we are done.

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