And while there were always – and will always be – news incidents of crimes committed with guns, the societal understanding was that the majority – nay, 99+% - of gun owners – were responsible citizens, your neighbors, and the outrage was focused on the criminal.
Fast forward to today, and the climate is extremely different.
Rather than sponsoring marksmanship clubs, schools are gun-free zones.
And yet, in spite of the increase of controls on firearms over time, we live in an era where mass shootings by troubled individuals seem to dominate weekly – or daily – news cycles.
The message has been very loud, and very clear: Guns, and those who carry them, are Bad.
This message was given moral support when President Obama referred to fearful people who “cling to guns and religion.” It was in full display when Hillary Clinton employed the word “Deplorables” describing certain segments of the population. It is reinforced every time John or Jane Doe write a screed about anyone who opposes gun control being an [expletive.]
An entire generation of young people have now ‘grown up’ without casual firearm exposure, practice, or use. They hear from their friends, teachers, neighbors, entertainers, and media influencers that guns are bad, gun owners are bad, gun manufacturers are bad, and they are unnecessary to have.
The problem here is that young people – especially troubled young people – gravitate towards anything they’re not supposed to do or have.
The story is as old as time itself. Teenagers smoking cigarettes in the boy’s room. Smoking pot. Boys growing long hair. Wearing only a White T-shirt (scandalous when James Dean did it, and indicative of a bad boy, a rogue, a rebel.) Listening to Ozzy Osbourne and exulting in the superficial satanic symbols on the album cover or in the lyrics. Sporting a Confederate flag in some far-northern town.
For the vast majority of teens and young people, this is normal – a phase of rebellion that almost all go through to some degree or another.
And they embrace the moniker of “rebel.” They take pride in taking on the persona of being that outcast, of being that rebel. Heck, If I’m an outsider, I‘ll be the best damned outside I can be.
The demonization of guns and gun culture has caused a simultaneous drop in the use of firearms as a normal tool within general society (with the resulting degradation in the ability to protect oneself), and in increase in its symbolism as something bad. When you’re a desperate outcast who can no longer shake the feeling of being “on the outs,’ what better item to grab to “stick it” to those who have put you ‘on the outs?’
If we continue to demonize firearms as we have, don’t expect any law or regulation to change a thing: we have a sent a message to troubled young men that if they feel like outcasts, a gun is a perfect match for them. And just like restrictions on pot, steroids, cocaine, alcohol or any other prohibited or restricted product, guns will becomes magnets for those who troubles began long before they thought of acquiring one.