The picture above is a catalog that a wholesale company named J. L. Galef & Sons published and sent out to customers in 1939. Actually, the catalog was published when the company rented some booth space at the New York World’s Fair because some of the countries which showed up in 1939 then departed when Germany invaded Poland and World War II broke out.

              Notice the price of the .357-magnum revolver – 60 bucks. The magnum cartridge had just started appearing in 1934 and every gun company started producing at least one revolver which chambered the round. But Smith & Wesson really made the .357 their ammo and it was the shift from the .38-special round to the .357-magnum which allowed S&W to take the military and police market away from Colt by the end of World War II.

              The wholesale company, J.L. Galef, was located in downtown Manhattan in a five-story, block-through warehouse, and office facility right down the street from City Hall. This neighborhood was known as the ‘wholesale district,’ and was primarily companies that furnished dry goods to retailers in locations throughout the South and the Midwest, mostly hardware stores, five and dimes, and pawn shops.

              All of this began to change beginning in the 1950’s with the growth of chain stores which bought their inventory direct from factories and depended on the movement of goods by trucks rather than rail. What put the final kybosh on the wholesale district in New York City was the demolition of many of the smaller buildings to make way for the twin towers of the World Trade Center which first started going up in 1968.

              We liquidated J. L. Galef and sold our property in lower Manhattan in 1985. Not only had the wholesaling industry completely changed from the years of the World’s Fair, but the legal environment surrounding the gun business had also changed. The big transformation came in 1968, with the passage of a federal law which created the regulatory system controlled by the ATF which we still have today. Essentially, this system forced anyone who wanted to sell guns either wholesale or retail to set up a physical facility where all the guns would be bought and sold and keep detailed records identifying all the sellers and buyers which could be inspected by the ATF.

              If you wanted to sell guns in 1939, on the other hand, you didn’t need any physical facility or storefront at all. You could sell guns out of the trunk of your car or at a booth at the New York World’s Fair. And the only records of the transaction the dealer needed to keep was the name and address of the person to whom the gun was sold, whether the buyer was legally entitled to own a gun or not.

              Now we have all kinds of regulatory procedures concerning the sale of guns. A dealer must maintain detailed records of every sale, records which can be inspected without prior notice by the ATF at any time, and before a gun dealer can sell a gun to anyone, the customer must first pass a background check, courtesy of a phone call or internet message to the FBI. A majority of states now require that anyone who wants to sell a gun privately must first get the person receiving the gun to pass a background check.

              This regulatory system was put into place to help control the violence caused by the use of guns. Indeed, the purpose of the 1968 Federal gun law (GCA68) specifically states that the law provides “support to federal, State and local law enforcement officials in their fight against crime and violence.”

              Want to know what the per-100,000 murder rate was in 1939? Try 4.0. Want to know what the murder rate was last year? Try 7.8 – almost double what it was eighty years ago.

              Both these numbers, incidentally, come to us courtesy of the FBI-UCR. There is an important difference in these two numbers, however, which is that the 1939 number was aggregated from reports covering police agencies that were responsible for law and order over roughly half the population of the United States. The current number covers what the FBI says is at least 90% of the national population today.

              But remember, we’re talking rates, not specific numbers of murders. Which means no matter how you slice it or dice it, a lot more people are getting killed now than were killed back in 1939. The FBI does not include any data for 1939 on how people were murdered, but in 1959, the CDC said that guns were the means used in half of all homicides. Last year, guns accounted for 75% of all fatal assaults.

              So, what do we know about the connection between violence and guns since my wholesale company sold guns at a booth at the 1939 New York World’s Fair? Here’s what we know. A lot more murders are being committed each year and a lot more of those murders are committed using guns.

              That’s quite an achievement for the national system we use to regulate guns, wouldn’t you say?