Guns Haven’t Changed in America. People Have.

What’s the difference between yesteryear and today?

By Walter Williams Published on June 6, 2018

Having enjoyed my 82nd birthday, I am part of a group of about 50 million Americans who are 65 years of age or older.

Those who are 90 or older were in school during the 1930s. My age cohort was in school during the 1940s. Baby boomers approaching their 70s were in school during the 1950s and early ’60s.

Try this question to any one of those 50 million Americans who are 65 or older: Do you recall any discussions about the need to hire armed guards to protect students and teachers against school shootings? Do you remember school policemen patrolling the hallways? How many students were shot to death during the time you were in school?

For me and those other Americans 65 or older, when we were in school, a conversation about hiring armed guards and having police patrol hallways would have been seen as lunacy. There was no reason.

What’s the difference between yesteryear and today?

What Changed?

The logic of the argument for those calling for stricter gun control laws, in the wake of recent school shootings, is that something has happened to guns. Guns have behaved more poorly and become evil. Guns themselves are the problem.

The job for those of us who are 65 or older is to relay the fact that guns were more available and less controlled in years past, when there was far less mayhem. Something else is the problem.

Guns haven’t changed. People have changed. Behavior that is accepted from today’s young people was not accepted yesteryear.

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For those of us who are 65 or older, assaults on teachers were not routine as they are in some cities. For example, in Baltimore, an average of four teachers and staff members were assaulted each school day in 2010, and more than 300 school staff members filed workers’ compensation claims in a year because of injuries received through assaults or altercations on the job.

In Philadelphia, 690 teachers were assaulted in 2010, and in a five-year period, 4,000 were. In that city’s schools, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer, “on an average day 25 students, teachers, or other staff members were beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted, or victims of other violent crimes. That doesn’t even include thousands more who are extorted, threatened, or bullied in a school year.”

Shooting Clubs and Target Practice

Yale University legal scholar John Lott argues that gun accessibility in our country has never been as restricted as it is now. Lott reports that until the 1960s, New York City public high schools had shooting clubs. Students carried their rifles to school on the subway in the morning and then turned them over to their homeroom teacher or a gym teacher — and that was mainly to keep them centrally stored and out of the way. Rifles were retrieved after school for target practice.

Virginia’s rural areas had a long tradition of high school students going hunting in the morning before school, and they sometimes stored their guns in the trunks of their cars during the school day, parked on the school grounds.

During earlier periods, people could simply walk into a hardware store and buy a rifle. Buying a rifle or pistol through a mail-order catalog — such as Sears, Roebuck & Co.’s — was easy. Often, a 12th or 14th birthday present was a shiny new .22-caliber rifle, given to a boy by his father.

These facts of our history should confront us with a question: With greater accessibility to guns in the past, why wasn’t there the kind of violence we see today, when there is much more restricted access to guns?

Don’t Blame the Instrument

There’s another aspect of our response to mayhem. When a murderer uses a bomb, truck, or car to kill people, we don’t blame the bomb, truck, or car. We don’t call for control over the instrument of death. We seem to fully recognize that such objects are inanimate and incapable of acting on their own. We blame the perpetrator.

However, when the murder is done using a gun, we do call for control over the inanimate instrument of death — the gun. I smell a hidden anti-gun agenda.


Walter E. Williams is a columnist for The Daily Signal and a professor of economics at George Mason University.

Copyright 2018 The Daily Signal

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  • Ken Abbott

    All of which raises the question (if one accepts the premise): Why has behavior changed? Or, what is different about people now compared to people of a half-century ago?

    • sc_cannon

      Abortion and the devaluing of human life.

    • Mark Santucci

      Yes… I hoped Mr Williams would give his thoughts on this. Disappointingly, he doesn’t.

      • Ken Abbott

        With much respect to Mr. Williams, this is lamentably true of many professional writers. Long on description and (sometimes) diagnosis, short on solutions. Likely because the right medicine is often hard to take.

        • Mark Santucci

          Yes, that, and because the problem is often much more clear than the solution. Certainly it is in this case.

  • jgmusgrove

    Well….even the mayor of London has banned knives with blades greater than 3 inches in length, targeting the instrument not the perpetrator. I would not want to be a butcher in London trying to get new knives to my kitchen.

    I was in London the day Muslim terrorists used a Renault van and knives to assault and kill people; when will he ban Renault vans? Or New York major Bill de Blasio ban Home Depot pickup trucks?

    Your olfactory senses are keen!

    • Ken Abbott

      All of which tells me the various civil authorities are going after the manifestations of the problem and not the problem itself. Perhaps when we descend to the ludicrousness of attempting to ban rock throwing and attacks with pointed sticks someone will finally get a clue. But I doubt it.

  • sc_cannon

    I recently saw a news piece about having shooter drills in schools and young kids were subjected to people with cap guns pretending to be shooters. Makes me wonder if maybe they are planting seeds in these kids to be shooters. Another thing what about abortion, maybe that is related to school shootings. Giving kids the message that there is nothing sacred about human life will make them rationalize if unborn babies can be killed and it is no big deal then it is no big deal to kill kids a little older.

  • LaMan

    Guns don’t kill people, people do.

  • catattack999

    “I smell a hidden anti-gun agenda.” No truer words were spoken, Mr. Williams!

  • Kevin Quillen

    the agenda is not hidden. indoctrination is almost complete. they are just waiting for us oldsters to die off. the banning of guns will come to America and will be welcomed.

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