Frequent mass shootings and recurring political struggle over gun control measures are uniquely American social phenomena. The earliest proposals for US federal gun control legislation were met with an emergent organized opposition, whose effectiveness triumphed over wide approval for control measures among the public.
In a 1981 article, CAROL SKALNIK LEFF and MARK LEFF examine the origins of this opposition and the eventual passage of “ineffective” firearms legislation during the interwar period.
From the article:
"The interwar period is notable less for the pervasive impact of its legislation than for the coalescence of the interest group matrix that has resisted firearms legislation ever since. Although the Justice Department preferred to put the onus for opposition to regulation onto the gun manufacturers, whose unpopularity as 'merchants of death' peaked between the wars, the most rigorous and effectual resistance came from sportsmen's and wildlife organizations, and rifle, pistol, and revolver associations. Jointly, these groups were to play a decisive role in determining the scope of gun control efforts in the 1920s and 30s. The crux of the balance of power between regulators and antiregulators in the interwar period was that the Justice Department fought its gun control crusade with less intense and less mobilized allies, while facing a committed and organized resistance. The consequence was that the nascent gun lobby was in a strong position, not only to fight gun control, but to co-opt or redefine initiatives that seemed likely to gain a following.
It was in the 1930s that gun control opponents faced their decisive test. To trace their response to mounting interest in federal regulation, it is most useful to focus on the organization that had moved to the forefront of the antiregulation movement, the NRA. The timing of the NRA's emergence as a national force testifies to the galvanizing impact of the federal movement towards firearms regulation. From a roster of 3500 in the early 1920s, the NRA membership rolls expanded to 10 times that many by the time of the legislative debates of 1934. In one fundamental sense, the perspective on gun control as a cultural issue can be distorting if it at all implies that the individualist ethos extends to the methods utilized to wage antiregulation campaigns. Champions of individual rights were decidedly more organized than the regulators."