In 1976, the District of Columbia City Council banned the possession of any handguns not already possessed and registered by residents, and the use of any gun for self‐defense. That same year, Massachusetts voters were asked by referendum whether to ban handguns. The left‐leaning state had been the only one to vote for George McGovern in the previous presidential election.
The “People vs. Handguns” campaign was “supported by most of the state’s press,” according to Time magazine. But 69 percent of the state’s voters rejected it.
Gun prohibitionists tried again in California in 1982, proposing a “handgun freeze,” allowing current owners to keep their handguns but banning any new acquisitions. The measure was crushed by a vote of 63 to 37 percent. The freeze’s opponents brought so many additional voters to the polls that they even carried Republican George Deukmejian to a 1 percent victory over Tom Bradley in the governor’s race.
The gun prohibition movement successfully lobbied the Chicago suburb of Morton Grove to ban handguns in 1981. Chicago itself followed suit in 1983, and the suburbs of Evanston, Oak Park and Wilmette also enacted handgun bans.
The Chicagoland bans got a lot of press, and the national backlash against them was powerful. State after state passed preemption laws, forbidding localities from banning handguns. Today, an astonishing 45 states have preemption laws, including Texas and California, whose law has stopped two efforts to impose handgun prohibition in San Francisco.
By the early 1990s, local handgun bans had been outlawed almost everywhere in the United States. One of the few states without a preemption law was Wisconsin, which bordered the one state where handgun bans existed. Yet even in left‐leaning cities in the state, handgun prohibition was rejected: by 51 percent in Madison in 1993, then by 67 percent in Milwaukee and 73 percent in Kenosha in 1994.