In the past, Americans have confronted gun violence by acting

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We are not the first generation of Americans to face a disturbing and heartbreaking epidemic of gun violence. What is new today, however, is the rise of desperation and inaction that weakens 21st century Americans in ways that previous generations would neither recognize nor tolerate.

The national post-mass-coup ritual of discussing gun control measures is underway after the massacres in Buffalo, Uvalde, Texas, and Tulsa. As usual, many Republicans point out that policies supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans, such as universal background checks, would be either ineffective or a gross violation of Americans’ Second Amendment rights. When prompted to go further, they blame mental health issues or something else rather than gun politics.

This negative attitude is a far cry from what politicians of earlier eras said about reducing gun violence. At no time was this clearer than during the half century following the Civil War – a time of enormous change in American social, cultural, economic and political life.

The new lethal firearms of this era were six-shot pistols. By the 1880s, dozens of gunsmiths were offering revolvers of varying sizes, calibers, and quality. Some cut corners to produce guns that were inexpensive and easily distributed across the country. The results spoke for themselves as Americans watched small disagreements turn into tragic loss and ruin of lives.

But the response from policy makers has not been cynical and negative. Instead, they experimented with new ways to stop the bloodshed and restore peace to American streets.

Invented by Samuel Colt in the 1830s, revolvers did not become widely available until the Civil War era. Colt’s patent expired in 1857, opening the market to competing companies such as Smith & Wesson, eager to capitalize on the popularity of these new weapons. Government contracts put pistols in the hands of thousands of soldiers, encouraging arms manufacturers to create the infrastructure for mass production of weapons.

Companies proliferated, flooding the market, driving down prices and putting guns in the hands of millions of Americans. The result was the country’s first experience with rampant gun violence.

Alarmed lawmakers decided to curb this violence. Their first instinct was to ban the carrying of weapons as small and concealable as pistols and daggers. These public transportation laws predated the Civil War, but they multiplied exponentially between 1870 and 1900. Yet many Americans were not satisfied with limiting their gun control efforts to this type of regulations. Policymakers thought long and hard about new strategies that would do even more to protect the public.

Some states, such as Arkansas and Tennessee, prohibit the sale of certain types of guns within their borders. Other states, including Georgia, imposed occupancy taxes on concessionaires in pistols and pistol cartridges. Punitive taxes like these were aimed less at raising revenue than at discouraging gun sales – an indirect form of regulation akin to taxes on tobacco products today. Texas experimented with a 50% sales tax on all gun purchases to make guns more expensive and reduce sales.

When some of these laws proved less effective than their supporters had hoped, lawmakers did not give up. Instead, they tried something new. For example, when dealers found a workaround to avoid the Texas tax, lawmakers decided to transform the existing crime of publicly carrying a gun in a criminal offense which put offenders in the state penitentiary for a year or more. The governor vetoed the bill, but appeased the restrictive majority by supporting the creation of a new category of crime called “assault with a prohibited weapon” – a crime carrying heavy penalties.

One of the most successful and popular strategies described in the late 1800s came from California and involved issuing pistol licenses only to those who might show a pressing need carry such a weapon in public. City governments from the capital, Sacramento, to the small coastal town of Eureka have given police the power “to grant written permission to any peaceful person, whose profession or occupation may require him to go outside late hours of the night, to carry concealed deadly weapons. weapons for his own protection. Without such a need and the permit that comes with it, one could not carry a gun in public.

The strategy quickly gained groundreaching New Jersey, Virginia and Georgia in 1910, New York in 1911 and became a statewide policy in California in 1917. Over the next century, many cities and states adopted the discretionary licensing of handguns, making it one of the most common approaches to gun control. .

Many of these new regulatory strategies have faced constitutional challenges. On several occasions, however, the courts have upheld them. When Arkansas and Tennessee attempted to ban the sale and possession of all guns within their borders, judges objected. But lawmakers responded by rewriting the policies with the changes needed to pass the constitutional rally. A trade association of arms dealers has sued the heavy sales tax in Texas. But an appeals court upheld it as a reasonable exercise of state police power because the “companies so taxed can be said to be detrimental to the well-being of society.”

The “good cause” laws authorizing the programs launched in late 19th century California have withstood numerous constitutional challenges for more than a century – although their future is uncertain now that a more conservative US Supreme Court is reviewing the law. question, with a decision expected. in June.

The national mood to seek creative solutions to the growing gun problem enabled states to quickly ban fully automatic weapons when they began to hit consumer markets in the early 20th century. Broad support for automatic weapon bans and other reasonable gun regulations eventually encouraged Congress to begin setting some national standards for the manufacture, sale, and distribution of firearms in the years 1930.

Critics who viewed these efforts as a waste of time failed to dominate the public square because a much more vocal majority created an atmosphere in which doing nothing was simply not an option – and politicians knew it.

This story about America’s first encounter with unbridled gun violence reveals that attitude matters. Not all solutions worked. But lawmakers from all political walks of life have not given up when something goes wrong. Instead, they adopted new strategies and policies – all aimed at reducing bloodshed and saving precious lives. Their open-mindedness allowed experimentation with policies that they could modify or refine to be more effective as technology and public opinion changed over time.

This attitude gives lessons for today. Giving in to circumstance or blaming something other than gun politics for the mass shootings or broader violence is a guaranteed way to not solve the problem. Republican claims that gun control is new or offensive to our heritage are also false. In the past, Americans were deeply committed to regulating guns in the name of public safety. The history of these efforts shows that experimentation — adopting sensible regulations, adapting as we see how they work, and not despairing when new obstacles emerge — is a proven strategy for tackling violence. army, a strategy that once worked and can work again.

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