Gun culture over time: How Americans have fallen in and out of love with firearms

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HARTFORD-- Gun culture in America has changed with each generation, but it took until the early 20th century for it to be a rite of passage for children to embrace guns.

A lot of that shift happened right in Hartford. Samuel Colt opened his gun factory more than a century ago in search of helping Americans create a relationship with guns.

Patrick Smith, the curator at the Museum of Connecticut History, said Colt perfected the process of mass producing guns.

"People think of Henry Ford and the assembly line, but way before Henry Ford, you had Sam Colt," Smith said.

For hundreds of years people used guns as everyday tools, much like we now see cell phones. They were used to hunt for food, and to protect one's family and community. But as the American military grew and police departments were founded, the love affair with guns began to fade.

That's when Colt realized he needed to connect gun use to a feeling, not a utility.

"Sam Colt was kind of an early marketing genius I think. He identified the different markets," Smith said, adding that the manufacturing magnate took out full page newspaper ads to make people see guns as not only a way to protect themselves, but as a piece of their individuality and patriotism.

Soon, other gunmakers copied the idea, helping guns become connected to the idea of a strong, rugged man in America.

But that reversal in the public's relationship to guns lead some to believe regulations needed to be put in place.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first to sign a federal gun bill in 1934, according to University of Hartford history professor Robert Churchill, and those laws were only strengthened over time as tragedies, such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. occurred.

However, gun violence steadily increased, at least until the early 1990s. Then, gun violence shot down significantly as crime in general decreased.

Now, as we deal with tragedies like those at Sandy Hook, the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando and others, some are hoping for more legislation, while gun owners say that we should be targeting bad people, not guns.

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