Saturday, January 1, 2011

Demonization of Guns

I have been tasked with writing an entry for a scholarly work about the demonization of guns in American history.  While there is a long history of regulation of guns, and there are some examples of demonization of other categories of arms in the 19th century (such as Bowie knives), the earliest example that I can find of demonization of guns is a 1960 court decision from New York that compares a handgun to the serpent in the Garden of Eden, tempting the owner to misuse it.  If you can point me to decisions, popular culture references, or political ads that have made that same comparison--loosely defined as the gun as an evil in itself--I would be appreciative.


  1. I wonder how might this be related to racism. I.e. from what I've read the etymology of Saturday Night Special is explicitly racist ... as that sort of thing became Politically Incorrect did the Usual Suspects wash their long program of racist gun control into a race neutral one? Which necessarily required demonizing the object per se?

    Another thought is how this might correlate with the de facto and eventually (I think) de jure outlawing of effective self-defense in the U.K.? I seem to recall that taking a big step in the 1950s....

  2. Not really a good example but it shows that the concept of animate guns has been around for a while:

    "Fools are now-a-days very sceptical, many of them; otherwise, but that superstition is objectionable, and should not be practised upon even for a good purpose, any who really believe in Spiritualism" might be deterred, at least from snapping guns supposed to be unloaded, by the suggestion that demons do sometimes load guns that lie in their way in order that fools may shoot people with them in fun. Guns firmly believed to have been discharged before they were put by, are, as a matter of fact, on examination now and then, found to be loaded; and this, probably, has really been the work of evil or idiotic spirits—in the body."

    Punch, "Spirits and Fools", Punch, Volumes 264-265, pp. 129 - 133.

    If you haven't already thought of it, should find examples if you have the time and can find the right keywords. Used "guns evil" to find this.


  3. December, 1993: Rolling Stone features NCIPC director Mark Rosenberg, M.D., M.P.P…. Rosenberg told Rolling Stone that he "envisions a long term campaign, similar to tobacco use and auto safety, to convince Americans that guns are, first and foremost, a public health menace."

    October 19, 1994. in the Washington Post, William Raspberry quotes Rosenberg as saying, "We need to revolutionize the way we look at guns, like what we did with cigarettes. It used to be that smoking was a glamour symbol - cool, sexy, macho. Now it is dirty, deadly - and banned."

  4. I found a few promising links via Google Books:

    Air Gun Evil 1938
    Not sure if this endorses or opposes the view:

    A 1781 article that blames gunpowder for crime:

    Complaints about auto-loading shotguns (not really demonizing, but the hysterics seem close enough):

    The following links have nothing to do with demonization, but they were found while searching for the above and are somewhat interesting.

    A 1920s claim that few criminals are killed by citizens, making that argument over 80 years old.

    An 1820s or so collection/commentary of English trials claiming that Englishmen had the right to arms for self-defense due the 1688 constitution:

    From the Journal of American Temperance Union: someone gets drunks and shoots a kid. The firearm isn't demonized, but rum is: