The great debate over the virtue of the Second Amendment rages today as loudly as ever. Both sides scream past each other, fearing that giving an inch of ground will inexorably lead to the tide running hard against them.
There have been firearms in the United States since before we were the United States. The first colonists to wade ashore in Jamestown brought ball and powder in equal parts to hunt on and defend the new world they intended to carve out of the American wilderness.
What you don’t hear about them doing is walking into a tavern or church and taking a pot shot at their neighbors. I’ve not done an exhaustive study on the topic, but I can’t think of a large number of historical example of what we’d commonly call random acts of “mass violence” in schools, businesses, and public places until the latter half of the last century. I have no doubt they happened, what with humans being a particularly violence prone species and all, but a quick look doesn’t point to seeing it happen with particularly great frequency.
So my question, then, is what’s changed? What makes the average American in 2015 more likely to walk into a church to unload both proverbial barrels than his counterpart in 1815 or 1915? Access to firearms isn’t a satisfactory answer. If anything, a gun was easier to get throughout most of American history than they are today. They hung on the mantle, were propped in the corner, or lived in bedside tables without benefit of trigger locks or gun safes. I’m old enough to remember a time when a rifle behind a truck’s bench seat in the school parking lot meant that hunting season was open, not that one of the students (or the teachers) was plotting mayhem and chaos.
What’s changed? Are we intrinsically worse human beings than our predecessors? Are we less able to judge the relationship between action and consequence? Or do we just tend more towards being batshit crazy than our saintly ancestors?