The whole internet, this site included, have been talking a lot about guns lately. Readers of these virtual pages know my stance on gun control; I think most of the proposals are useless, would have no effect on crime or the occasional (and yes, RHEEEing from the usual suspects aside, these are occasional) mass shootings. I also think that regulating firearms based on their appearance or purely irrelevant features (bayonet lugs?) is well to the left of stupid. I think the Second Amendment means what it says, and while I would prefer a Constitutional carry law in every state, I’ll settle for the trend towards liberalized concealed-carry permitting that has pretty much become the rule nationwide.
Politics is, after all, the art of the possible. We aren’t going to get Constitutional carry in California, no matter how much the pro-gun folks in that state may want it.
But with that said…
I’ve been involved in hunting and the shooting sports for well over forty years now. Forty years ago, when I was a teenage kid just beginning my current collecting hobby, the gun trade was different than it is now – and the anti-gun movement was different than it is now. The firearms industry forty years ago was focused on hunting and plinking guns, handguns for holster carry, and formal target arms. The anti-gunners focused their ill-informed ire on handguns.
In 1978 the AR-pattern rifles were curiosities, and not many were sold. Colt had the original SP-1 sporter version of the AR for sale, and if you looked really hard you might find a semi-auto version of the AR-180 for sale somewhere. The service match shooters mostly used M1s and M1As, with some still fielding Springfields.
In 1978 handgun manufacturers were mostly focused on target shooters, recreational shooters and outdoorsmen/women who wanted holster guns. There were some guns suitable for concealed carry, but permits in most places were difficult to get, and that portion of the handgun market was focused a lot on retired and off-duty cops.
Now, in 2018, the AR-pattern rifle is ubiquitous, with dozens if not hundreds of manufacturers offering complete rifles and upper receiver groups in a wide range of calibers, and there are endless accessories available.
Now, in 2018, concealed-carry laws are liberalized, and there are handguns designed for easy and convenient carry in hundreds of variations, from the always-popular 1911 pattern to the popular striker-fired Glocks to everything in between.
Now don’t misunderstand me here. I’m in favor of free markets and free choice, in firearms as in every other product. I’m an enthusiastic supporter of concealed-carry, I hold a permit and don’t leave the house without my Glock 36 concealed on my person. I also own an AR-15, as does Mrs. Animal, and we enjoy shooting them – they are great fun.
But what drove the change in the long-gun market? What drove the “tacticool” craze? When I first started attending big gun shows in the early 1980s, you saw lots of antiques, hunting guns, some old collectibles, target arms, and so on. In recent years a 700-table show would often be 698 tables of AR-15s and the like, and maybe two tables with other stuff. That’s moderating some now; at the last big Tanner show here in Denver the tacticool stuff was reduced to maybe half of the tables.
The RHEEEing from the left on “assault weapons” is just as silly as it ever was – but we have to understand that the explosion of AR-15 pattern guns on the market and the entire tacticool craze has fed their whining.
So what is the genesis of all this? When and why did the AR-15 replace, say, the Winchester 94 as America’s rifle? I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I’d just like to know what drove it. I suspect two factors are involved:
- Increasing urbanization of our population. When the Old Man was a boy in the 1920s and 1930s, most of the population lived in rural or mostly rural settings, and most of those folks kept guns for pest control and meat hunting. The Old Man was never really a hobby shooter, although he was known to enjoy a round or two of skeet; he viewed his old shotgun as just one more tool among many around the place. Nowadays, more gun owners are collectors and hobby shooters, with more emphasis on “cool” and less on pure utility.
- The increasingly high-tech nature of our military and police forces. Lots of shooters are veterans, and handled the AR-pattern rifle in their service. That can have a big impact; after WW1, in the American shooting scene, there was a big shift towards bolt-action hunting rifles at the expense of the lever-action, in great part because so many doughboys had experience with the Springfield and Pattern 17 Enfield rifles. That affected the market as a whole, not just with veterans, and I wonder if that’s the case here as well.