Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences Dedman College Research Graduate News SW Center

Clements Center fellow Brennan Rivas writes op ed on the history of gun violence.

Washington Post

We’re not the first generation of Americans to confront a troubling and heartbreaking epidemic of gun violence. What is new today, though, is the rise of hopelessness and inaction that disempowers 21st-century Americans in ways that previous generations would neither recognize nor tolerate.

The national post-mass shooting ritual of arguing about gun-control measures is underway after massacres in Buffalo, Uvalde, Tex., and Tulsa. As usual, many Republicans are emphasizing that policies supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans, like universal background checks, would be ineffective or constitute a gross violation of Americans’ Second Amendment rights. When cajoled into going further, they blame mental health problems or something else rather than gun policy.

This naysaying attitude is a far cry from what politicians in previous eras said about reducing gun violence. At no time was this clearer than during the half-century after the Civil War — a period of tremendous change in American social, cultural, economic and political life.

The new and deadly firearms of that era were six-shooter pistols. By the 1880s, dozens of gunmakers offered revolvers of varied sizes, caliber and quality. Some cut corners to produce pistols that were inexpensive and easily distributed across the country. The results spoke for themselves as Americans witnessed petty disagreements turn into the tragic loss and ruination of lives.

But policymakers’ response wasn’t cynicism and naysaying. Instead, they experimented with new ways of stopping the bloodshed and restoring peace to American streets.

Invented by Samuel Colt in the 1830s, revolvers did not become widely available until the era of the Civil War. Colt’s patent expired in 1857, opening the market to such competing companies as Smith & Wesson, which were eager to capitalize on the popularity of these new weapons. Government contracts put pistols in the hands of thousands of soldiers, encouraging arms manufacturers to create the infrastructure for the mass production of the weapons. READ MORE