It is interesting to look at American history based on the firearms owned by civilians. Americans, and of course I mean the people who built this country and not those that showed up in the last generation or two, have always had a love affair with our guns. The right of the people to keep and bear arms is paired with the right to free speech and religion in the Bill Of Rights.
In much of the first half of the 20th century, a man who was a “sportsman” wasn’t a guy in multiple fantasy football leagues. A sportsman was a guy that hunted and fished. Men hunted and fished, it was what they did. For certain, many of these hunting trips were just an excuse to get away from their wives for a week, eat like crap, drink beer and be slovenly. Guys that didn’t hunt or fish were considered to be a little soft and effeminate. Back in those days you could order a gun from the Sears catalog and have it sent to your house.
It was a different time. People had a much higher trust in the government. There were essentially no mestizos and blacks were confined to the Deep South and were not rampaging in the streets of major cities. Guns reflected this. Bolt and lever action hunting rifles and double and pump shotguns were most common. I am not sure how many men had handguns in most of the country. Guns were tools used for hunting or to shoot varmints on the farm. It was probably assumed that if you needed to you could shoot the gubmint with them but that wasn’t their main purpose, nor was self-defense as high a priority.
Growing up I didn’t know anyone that had an AR-15 at home, or a semi-automatic rifle of any sort for that matter. I also didn’t know anyone that didn’t have some sort of firearm in the home, usually in a glass front gun cabinet. In small town Ohio in the 70s and 80s, that meant most people had a shotgun, usually a pump gun, often a .22 rifle and perhaps a 30-30 or a 30-06 for deer hunting and always some sort of handgun. Most of the time the handgun was a revolver although some guys had small semi-automatics or 1911s. By the time I was leaving childhood behind crime was getting crazy and the migration of blacks out of the deep South mean widespread unrest and chaos in the cities. Young Whites went to the theater to watch Colors and Boyz n the Hood. White people were fleeing the cities into the suburbs. More men definitely were buying handguns to keep at home to protect their family.
This was also when concealed carry laws began to change. As a kid no one I knew carried a handgun in public. In 1976 Georgia passed a law to become a “shall-issue” state for a non-law enforcement individual. My state of Indiana in 1980 was one of the the first “shall-issue” states for regular people (I was living in Ohio at that time). Shall-issue means that anyone not prohibited could get a license to carry, unlike “may-issue” states where you have to have a “good reason”. More states followed in rapid succession. Back to that in a moment.
Something major shifted in 1994. That was the year of the Clinton-era “Assault Weapons Ban” that prohibited the manufacture of certain semi-automatic firearms. The effect on actual crime was negligible, something even Wikipedia acknowledges:
“Criminologists and other researchers found that the ban had little to no effect on firearm deaths or the lethality of gun crimes. Studies have found that the overwhelming majority of gun crimes are committed with weapons which are not covered by the AWB, and that assault weapons are less likely to be used in homicides than other weapons. There is tentative evidence that the frequency of mass shootings may have slightly decreased while the ban was in effect, but research is inconclusive, with independent researchers finding conflicting results.”
This holds true today, very few mass shootings are committed with “assault weapons” although those that do and are committed by the rare White shooter get the most publicity, leading to many normies thinking that most mass shootings are committed by White men when in fact most are committed by young black men.
While it didn’t do anything to reduce crime, the AWB did have the effect of making people want the weapons banned by the bill, before, during and after the bill expired 10 years later. Subsequent to the expiration of the AWB in 2004, the market for “assault weapons”, mostly AR-15s and AK variants, has exploded. The names you know began to come together after the AWB expired. Palmetto State Armory started in 2008. Daniel Defense started making their own rifles in 2009. CMMG was founded in 2002, a couple of years before the ban expired. With CNC machining becoming more advanced, the parts that make up AR-15s could be churned out in enormous numbers. In my post about Anderson Manufacturing, Manufacturing Freedom One Lower Receiver At A Time, I noted that Anderson cranks out something like 800,000 lower receivers every year. Add in everyone else, PSA, S&W, Ruger, etc and you have tens of millions of AR-15s in civilian hands since the AWB expired.
After the 2020/2021 chaos, those number have really exploded as lots of first time AR-15 buyers came out of the woodwork. A lot of my buyers in those years told me they were buying their first AR “because it is getting crazy out there”. It is safe to assume that few of those ARs have been fired much, if at all, but they also haven’t been resold on the private market as far as I can tell so they are out there still in safes and closets.
Despite all of the AR/AK variant rifles bought in the last 15 years, I classify our current era as the time of the pistol. That might seem odd.
At this stage, most of us spend most of our time with pistols. While we certainly have lots of rifles and maybe invest a lot of time shooting those rifles, we generally aren’t carrying them around with us. I have more long guns than handguns when counting shotguns and hunting rifles but most of them spend most of their time in the safe. We went out to eat with some Amish friends last night but I didn’t stow a 6.5 Grendel AR under a trench coat. I carried my Hellcat in an OWB holster under a button down shirt. While I subscribe to the school of thought that a pistol is simply a tool to keep you alive long enough to get to your rifle, right now if I get in a situation where I have to go kinetic it will be with a pistol.
Consider also that in most of the country, shall-issue is the rule. This map is from the USCCA:
This isn’t really accurate in the wake of Bruen but even before the country was mostly a shall-issue jurisdiction. Prior to Indiana becoming a Constitutional carry state there were over 1.12 million concealed carry permits issued in a state of 6.7 million people. Texas has 1.7 million and Florida 2.3 million. In Utah more than 1 out of every 5 residents has a carry permit. There are tens of millions of lawfully concealed carrying Americans and virtually all of them are carrying handguns.
Not to mention that technological and manufacturing advances mean we are carrying more concealable pistols with greater capacity than ever before. The Glock 19 is perhaps the most popular compact pistol in America with a standard capacity of 15 rounds. Even subcompact pistols have much higher magazine capacity thanks to innovative double stack magazines. My Hellcat is very concealable and carries either 11 or 13 rounds. The Sig Sauer P365 holds 10. The S&W Shield Plus has a 13 round magazine. That is just a lot of firepower in a small package.
When the rule of law is still mostly in effect, we can be pistol people. Most of us that carry don’t really expect to need to use it, even when we are in crappy inner city neighborhoods. Even in rural, gun-loving places like where I live with the sound of gunfire pretty common it is considered a little weird to wander around with a rifle slung on your back unless you are hunting.
After things go tits up? I’ll still carry a pistol, more likely a full size duty pistol rather than something concealed, but the main go-to will be the rifle. The pistol will go back to it’s role as what you grab in desperation after you run out of ammo for your rifle.
Barring a nuclear exchange, life will go on for many people post-SHTF. That is what we prep for, after all I don’t think many of us are hoping to die while wearing the coolest tactical gear in the first week. How life looks will be very different of course. Whether around the home or in the neighborhood, people who survive will be people who are armed. I envision life for those who survive will look somewhat like lives for pioneers on the frontier, working gardens and fields with a firearm always close at hand in case of Indians. In Last Of The Mohicans when Nathaniel, his brother and father approach the farm of their friends the Camerons in the dark, they call out and announce themselves knowing perhaps that to approach a farm in the dark without warning is a great way to get shot. Life will not be turning the deadbolt and shutting off the lights, it will be 24-7 on your guard with a firearm close to hand.
For most of us, that firearm will likely be an AR/AK platform. While defensive shotguns and handguns have their place, in most situations you simply can’t beat modern sporting rifles for capacity and lethality especially at the intermediate distances. Get good with your rifle and then get a lot gooder. Don’t scrimp on pistol shooting but the need to draw a handgun from concealment is going to be replaced by engagements with multiple hostiles, and the further away you pop them the better. The feral urbanites are deadly when up close but less so from a distance. At 75 yards a Glock held sideways isn’t nearly as dangerous as an AR-15 with a decent optic and a trained hand.
In the days to come, sooner rather than later I fear, our lives will look like a cross between the American frontier and modern South Africa. These will be days that call for a long gun, with range and capacity. The age of the pistol is over, the day of the rifle is upon us.