50 Years’ Difference In The Gun Hobby

It’s been a matter of reflection for me that the gun culture – what I like to call the gun hobby – has dramatically changed in the past two decades. Even when I was a lad, gun magazines were still mostly about hunting and target shooting arms; so-called “tactical” weapons took a definite back seat (though their growing popularity was by this point very evident). Today it seems “tactical” is everything, and while that does have its perks (the AR-15 in particular is a real friendmaker – those who consider it a dangerous weapon of mass destruction fail to realize how easy and enjoyable it is to shoot), it’s about this time in the conversation that I begin waxing poetic about the virtues of simpler weapons. Weaponsman, too, reflects on how much the hobby has changed:

Welcome to the covers of Guns magazine — from 1964. Here are the first six months:


What didn’t show up, of course, is a modern military or military-style weapon, or even a semi-auto. Most of the guns shown on the cover of Guns 50 years ago were single-shots. It wasn’t just the covers that were missing these rifles; there are very few stories inside the magazines about military weapon development. Don’t take our word for it; download the magazines and check them out yourself. Guns has made them freely available for us.

The cover-girls of 2014? We can see the covers here (and read them online for free, or download digital editions, but you have to pay for those). They are:

  1. Daniel Defense AR in .300 AAC Blackout.
  2. The Taurus CT-9 “tactical” 9mm carbine and matching PT111 G2 “Millennium” pistol.
  3. The Armalite AR-31 “tactical” bolt-action rifle in 7.62 NATO.
  4. SIG-Sauer P227 .45 ACP service pistol.
  5. Ruger AR in 7.62 NATO.
  6. Colt USMC M45 .45 ACP service pistol.
  7. Customized Mossberg 590A1 “tactical” shotgun and matching Taurus Tracker (5-shot .44 Magnum) pistol.
  8. Springfield Armory (the company) SOCOM 16 in a green polymer stock (this is a snubnosed version of the M1A rifle. It is not used by SOCOM in any capacity; that’s just marketing).
  9. The disaster intro of 2014, the Remington R51 pocket pistol (if you’ve got XXXL pockets, maybe). Before it turned disaster.
  10. S&W .460 Magnum. (You can hang up your .45 now, they do make a .46).
  11. Robar SR-21 bolt-action precision tactical rifle.
  12. Two compact Kimber pistols.

Compare: except for two revolvers and a pump shotgun, everything that made the 2014 covers is semi-auto. There are no semi-autos in 1964; the only repeaters are revolvers, lever-actions and a boxlock double-barrel. There are no celebrities in 2014, and no hunting or target-shooting photos. There are no antiques: everything is new (and not to put too fine a point on it, made by a firm that can buy advertising in Guns. So far, the 2015 issues have a knife on the cover, too: doubles their appeal to advertisers).

It’s really amazing, when it’s put that way, how much things have changed. It’s exciting to have the civilian market so taken by modern military weapons; not since the 1920s has the civilian population been so invested in the development of military small arms (as much as I may go back and forth on this, I think it’s truly wonderful that people want to improve on the current state of the art). At the same time, though, the more traditional gun-related pursuits have their merits too. If all goes well, the hobby will be enriched both ways – by those wanting to push the envelope, and by those wanting to revel in the past.

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


  • echelon

    I think it would be more interesting to look back prior to maybe even the war years and see what people bought and owned. You could get tommyguns and suppressors and all sorts of then “tactical” weapons and nobody cared.

    During the 60s while grandpa was waxing poetic about the virtues of his nice simple weapons the government was busy taking our 2nd amendment rights away while he dreamed…

  • UnrepentantLib

    I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s reading my father’s American Rifleman magazines. Lot’s of stuff about hunting guns and historical guns. A bit about “The War” or “The First War.” Everybody knew which ones they meant. I recall one article about the firearms industry and how it was changing (new manufacturing techniques, the Japanese getting into producing). The author made a comment that because of the nature of the market and the dominant position of the established manufacturers it was unlikely any new firearms manufacturers would be able to break in. That was the late ’50’s or early ’60’s. Boy, was he wrong.

    • gunsandrockets

      WWII seemed an important demarkation in American gun culture. Many firearms types stopped production in WWII. Partly due to wartime production requirements, partly due to market conditions: too much supply, too little demand. After the war the marketplace was flooded with surplus war material. Part of the reason for the GCA 68 was to choke off cheap overseas imports which hurt the domestic industry bottom line.

      So I would place WWII, 1968 (GCA 68), 1986 (FOPA 86, Florida CCW in 87), 1994 (AW ban), 2008 (DC v Heller) as important demarkations in American gun culture, where significant changes occurred afterwards.

  • Dave The Great

    Eh, some of us don’t live near hunting land or just don’t feel a need for protection but still love shooting or collecting.

    To each his own.

    • Grindstone50k

      One of the funny things antis say about gun owners is how we “obsess” over guns. Of course, they must have never met a classic car enthusiast, a stamp collector, a Magic: The Gathering player, or Steam gamer, or 12 year old One Direction fangirl in their life. They make gun owners look like amateurs.

      • Dave The Great

        Yep. I have a friend who collects cars, and several who collect Magic: The Gathering, so I can vouch for the accuracy of that statement.

        Cars are really a great comparison. Some people own cars/guns for boring employment-related reasons but don’t really care much about them (when I was a cop, I was the only actual firearms enthusiast in my department. The rest simply weren’t into guns and only owned their required sidearm. Compare to commuters who don’t care about their car as long as it gets them from point A to B), some people really enjoy the freedom of driving/shooting while others find it boring, both have their share of protestors (try driving a Hummer on the west coast in 2007-ish and see just how unpopular it is), both have lots of cool accessories, both can easily get you killed if you misuse them, both are often passed down from generation to generation … People collect both as antiques, some of them are just plain silly (I confess: I think non-work pickup trucks are silly), and both are very deeply traditional in my country (USA).

      • In addition to obsessing over guns, I also obsess over Magic: The Gathering…

        …And One Direction



  • schizuki

    Totally agree. I don’t think the effect of video games can be overstated. Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, the Tom Clancy games – all have served to “normalize” military-based arms to the younger generation.

    • john Everett Walker

      Local gunshop has noticed video gamesters coming in and asking about and buying 20th century military surplus items they have encountered playing the games. Zombie theme Rugers were selling to the local college-age people a couple of years ago.

  • As opposed to WARRIOR LYFESTYLE?

  • You know what is strange? When I first got big into guns, I thought the whole game was about AR15s, modern repeaters, and other “tactical” firearms, but over the years I have become more and more taken with bolt actions and black powder, the anti-tactical (lol).
    There are so many ways to approach this hobby it is remarkable: if you want to shoot competitively you can do this in a number of ways: pistols, skeet, 3 gun, steel, distance, etc. You can collect to study the history and development of armaments, you can hunt to create memories and put food in the freezer, and you can prepare yourself for the worst. None of these are wrong, and that is one of the many great things about this pastime is the versatility by which it can be enjoyed.

  • Don Ward

    I think our Grandparent’s generation would ask why you felt you even needed a machinegun. What are you, a Red? An anarchist? A gangster? What purpose – sporting or otherwise – do you need a fully automatic weapon?

  • Don Ward

    I’m much like Nathaniel in the fact that I read a lot of those old Shooter’s Bibles and gun magazines that my dad had acquired in his second-hand business. In addition to what some of the other comments stated about popular media in the 1950s, I’ll add that the “experts” of the day were using their experience as veterans of World War 1, World War 2, peace officers or as hunting guides, etc to form their opinions about what was “needed” in a firearm. Who are our gun “experts” today? Well, most of them are Iraq/Afghanistan vets or police officers who are pounding nails with the hammer of gun knowledge that they have. Previous gun experts were mostly familiar with full size battle rifles, Colt 1911s or bolt actions and as such, those were the solutions to gun needs because that’s what they were used to. Today’s generation has grown up on semi-automatics, being issued a Glock when they joined the force or going through basic with an M-16. As such, most gun related issues are viewed through that perspective.

    The other issue with today’s gun culture is a political one. A significant portion of gun owners honestly feel that because of the occupants in the White House and Congress, we are weeks, months, a couple years away from descending into total anarchy and that militias are needed to fight off the power of the Federal government and that the day isn’t too far off where Americans will have to be gunning down other Americans in the streets.

    This would be a shocking revelation to the hunting oriented gun owners/writers in the 1950s, the most radical of whom were only interested in fighting off an invasion of Russkies.

    • Fruitbat44

      I think that’s why TFB has “Firearms Not Politics” emblazoned across the top. Politics in the sense of making legal challenges to laws which people feel are unjust, or supporting politicians who seem favourable to given issues are one thing. The sort of “politics” which involve shooting a whole bunch of your fellows are another.

      • Don Ward

        Which is why I like this blog.

    • Bill

      Actually, if you look at incidents like the Bonus Army riots, internment without due process of American citizens during WW2 (the “greatest generation), the Red Scare and the Coalfield Wars we are nowhere near the descent into anarchy and government interference now as we were in the “good old days,” not to mention the Civil War which literally had Americans gunning down other Americans in the streets.

      • Don Ward

        Couldn’t agree more.

      • Indeed. Whenever someone pipes up about how divided we are now, I like to remind them about how a president was elected without a single vote in the South, and how his party was illegal in many States. Then, you know, we started shooting at each other.
        Things can get much worse.

        • iowaclass

          … and they probably will. (Garrison Keillor)

    • Tassiebush

      I think too in the past firearms represented independence in the sense of self reliance, man against the elements etc, whereas in keeping with the current political landscape it now represents autonomy from the state to many.

  • gunsandrockets

    I think think another important aspect of today’s gun culture is greater diversification and specialization. Think SASS to 3-Gun. Of course my personal perspective only goes back to the 1970’s.

    • Don Ward

      I disagree. Firearms and shooting sports have become more homogenized. Why? Simply look at Nathaniel’s other post about Bicycle guns. Bicycle guns man!!! Some firearm maker built an entire line of weapons to be carried while riding a bike.


      I for one propose that it would be simply smashing to recreate the sport of firing rifles while riding ridiculous penny-farthing bikes and wearing bowler hats!

      Can I get a “Harrumph”?

      • schizuki


        Now hand these out to the boys in lieu of pay, Hedy!

      • Bill

        Actually, it would make a great variation on cyclocross, bicycle polo, and that SASS Mounted shooting stuff. There could even be a tandem division, with “pilots” and “Gunners” and one for recumbents, for, I don’t know, people who can’t ride normal bikes.

      • Tassiebush

        Sounds great! Two competitions that come to mind are roadside small game pot shots and practical dog attack match!

  • I was going to guess that it might have had something to do with wages “back in the day” compared to now, but your theory is probably more relevant.

  • Guns definitely had articles about military weapons during the period, but the biggest difference is in what they thought would sell and what gun magazines now think will sell.

    I have heard from folks older than myself that once upon a time in America owning a handgun was unusual. That’s a big change.

  • Don Ward

    Cowboys and Indians. AND… Davy Crockett. Which is really the only reason to account for the resurgence of black powder.

    • Leigh Rich

      Combat TV show…we would have 10 or more kids around the neighbor hood with plastic toy guns(no orange paint) running around the back yards playing.

  • Ben

    So through extrapolation, in 2064 the cover will feature only fully automatic firearms, with an emphasis on those with electronic trigger systems (mechanical backup, of course)?

  • USMC03Vet

    Americans love their guns!

    I don’t blame them. It’s an affliction worth having.

  • I did not say it was “just” a hobby.

    • Tassiebush

      I’ll be googling each of those 😉

  • charlesrhamilton

    I browsed through the 6/58 issue and a few things stood out. Gun magazines were railing against gun laws even then. Military guns were very popular, the very first ad featured surplus guns. $29.99 for a like new M1903! Cowboy guns were very big. Colt Pythons were $125, Match Target Woodsman $84.50! And the biggest thing that stood out was the fact that trigger discipline SUCKED in 1958! Every picture had a finger on the trigger. You only see that with hot chicks with guns type pics today. Now excuse me while I hop into my Delorean and go back in time and pick up a truckload of Colts.

  • Don Ward

    I was thinking more along the lines of King of the Wild Frontier. But sure!

  • Don Ward

    I’m well familiar with Thompson/Auto-Ordinance advertising of the era including the overly optimistic advert featuring a cowboy gunning down that collection of rustlers bunched up in front of his ranch. Just goes to show that the more things change, the more gun makers stay the same in terms of duping gullible customers.

    If you care to actually read the ads, you’ll note that Auto Ordinance was attempting damage control in order to clean up the Tommy Gun’s notorious reputation as a weapon used by gangsters. Auto-Ordinance’s letterhead claims to be “On the Side of Law and Order”. The M1928 is billed as an “anti-bandit” gun and marketed not to the civilian populace but to police agencies and the owners of railway yards, industrial plants, shipping yards, plantations (yes, plantations) and suburban estates.

    The advert assures the reader that “It is sold only to responsible parties after a thorough investigation”.

    That’s a background check.

    The Thompson wasn’t meant for the average man. It was meant for the police, military and private armies of railway dicks and Pinkerton detectives hired by industrialists to keep striking workers, foreigners, unions, anarchists and other undesirables in line.

    • Tassiebush

      i’m imagining the price of a thompson would have been prohibitive for the average wage earner of the era too.

      • Don Ward

        At $200, it was about half the price of a new car.

        • john Everett Walker

          Two hundred bucks would pay 13 months rent for most people. Now,it will buy three cartons of cigarettes and a bottle of cheap whiskey- making an NFL tax stamp a real bargain now. ON the other hand, a Thompson costs about as much as a nice car.

  • gunsandrockets

    Nah, I didn’t forget. Focusing on the effort to ban so-called “assault weapons” I could have gone back as far as 1985 and the absurd cover story of Newsweek “Machine Gun USA”, or paid attention to the May 1989 passage of the California ban on “assault weapons” which prompted the Bush import ban. But I thought drawing fewer rather than more definite time breaks made more sense.

  • Dan

    Notice the earlier years. No trigger discipline, no hearing and no eye protection.

  • A lot of the vintage gunzines would cover military and police firearms, but only in context of their military and police use. For the civilian, the coverage would be in terms of the history and collectability of surplus items, and their potential suitability for sporter/target conversions. Once the semi-auto copies of the post-WW2 rifles started hitting the market in the early 1960s, you began to see pushback from the Fuddites. “Gun World” goofed on the idea of anyone wanting to “play Army” with the AR-15 Sporter. “Guns & Hunting” was downright aggressive in its condemnation. You’d occasionally see letters to the editor complaining about para-military weapons, either in the articles or the advertisements, extolling the need to keep the magazine “clean” lest it provoke anti-gun sentiment.

  • Leigh Rich

    I have been collection and concealed carrying that long…I’ve got most every gun. The internet made a difference in gun availability too. There is no way I could have collected the diverse firearms I own since 1994. We were restricted to gun shows, stores and Shot Gun News. Ammo was not available via the mail back then either. I had a hell of a time going to gun stores in a 60 mile radius to get 30 Carbine ammunition in the 1980’s. Times have never been better. More reliable guns being produced and available ammo delivered to my door.

  • john Everett Walker

    I do recall one article about Marsh (carbine) Williams.and his gas-operated system. Probably about the time James Steward was making him famous. At the time the (GUNS) article was written, he was out of prison and a deputy sheriff. This let him wear his gun and shoot groups in the wood work of a local business- kind of like J.W. Hardin used to do. They showed him some sort of military rifle- don’t recall which and he went. “Gawdalmighty Dayum, that is a gunny- lookin’ gun! That is the gunniest lookin’ gun ah evah Did See!”