America fell for guns recently — and for reasons you will not guess

America fell for guns recently — and for reasons you will not guess

Megan Kang writes:

Of all the potential explanations we tested, we discovered that the post-Second World War economic boom and relaxed federal gun regulations most drove the surge in demand for guns. As unemployment rates decreased and incomes increased, firearms – once deemed a luxury or practical necessity – grew within reach for more and more Americans. Simultaneously, cultural attitudes surrounding gun ownership may have shifted, as multiple generations of Americans returning from the Second World War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War became accustomed to owning and using guns.

In his book Gun Country (2023), the historian Andrew McKevitt complements these findings with a rich tapestry of archival evidence. By weaving together gun advertisements, congressional hearings and journalistic sources, among others, McKevitt illustrates that US gun culture is unequivocally modern, specifically emerging post-1945, and from the aftermath of the Second World War and the start of Cold War politics.

Following the global demobilisation in 1945, McKevitt shows, surplus war firearms flooded the US market at dirt-cheap prices. This influx was facilitated by the ‘new gun capitalists’, a group of little-known entrepreneurs who imported and sold these guns to US consumers. They reshaped the US gun industry by establishing a mass market for civilian guns that had limited practical use elsewhere and faced stricter regulations in other countries. Capitalising on the surplus of inexpensive imported firearms, the new gun capitalists learned how to stimulate demand through marketing foreign guns as desirable consumer goods for the everyday American. They mass-marketed these imported guns to consumers flush with cash and eager to acquire these one-of-a-kind war arms from across the globe.

Magazine advertisements for mail-in orders of inexpensive guns targeted new buyers who couldn’t afford the high prices of name-brand US firearms. These ads leveraged the appeal of vintage guns as ‘authentic World War II souvenirs’ from Germany, Spain, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Japan and other war-torn countries. Post-Second World War ads can be found touting guns as among the ‘finest made by the Fascists. Carried by the crack Italian Alpine troops.’ The very gun used by Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate the president John F Kennedy was an Italian rifle purchased from a Chicago mail-order store.

Seeking to safeguard retail prices from this new supply of foreign guns, the US gun industry pursued federal action to curb the unregulated flow of imported firearms. However, the administration of the president Dwight Eisenhower decided that redirecting global gun stockpiles into the US was preferable to them arming communist insurgents worldwide. [Continue reading…]

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