Gun Grabbing: A Reversal of Fortune
By Bryan Caplan
While reflecting on the Briggs-Tabarrok Effect, I stumbled across a shocking Gallup survey. Back in 1959, Gallup started asking a random sample of Americans the following question:
What about the possession of pistols and revolvers — do you think there should be a law which would forbid possession of this type of gun except by the police or other authorized person?
The question was slightly changed over the years. Since 1980 it’s been:
Do you think there should or should not be a law that would ban the possession of handguns, except by the police or other authorized persons?
The current breakdown is just what Europeans would expect of Cowboy Nation. Only 25% of Americans say “Yes, should be” – versus 74% who say, “No, should not be.” But if you think this reflects a long-standing American tradition, you’re dead wrong. Back in 1959, the breakdown was 60% yes, 36% no. Support for gun-grabbing fell almost non-stop during the ensuing decades, with just one odd reversal in 1979. The full survey history, 1959-2013:
Gun rights activists might be tempted to invoke the Whig theory of history: Evidence and argument have slowly but surely won the day. But as a general rule, I don’t see the slightest reason to believe such stories. More and better outreach? Also hard to believe. During my 18 non-libertarian years, I heard occasional anti-gun propaganda but no pro-gun propaganda.
What’s a better story?