The last time a gun thread came up, Jacob had an interesting question. Something along the lines of why criminals had so many guns in the US, but not in Europe.
And it's a good question, I have been kicking it around a while, and I think the difference is both historical, and the cultural remnants of the different histories.
The critical time period I am thinking about would be 1865-1930's. After the civil war, there were lots of displaced vets moving West and invading native lands. These were men not likely to be intimidated by guns. They knew both the strength and weaknesses guns bring to the table. Eventually, they became fathers and grandfathers. Telling stories about when this land was "free". Which usually meant they could do as they pleased, with no signs of a civil authority. In rural areas, civil authority is still pretty thin on the ground.
This results in definite differences in attitude towards civil authority in rural areas. Here, cops are usually fine, but we understand that if a situation gets violent, the violence will be over, long before police arrive. (On my island, 911 police calls average 20 minute response times, but down at my end, it's closer to 45 minutes.) This is where I see a difference in attitudes towards guns: Some folks move here to live in a wet paradise, they usually come from Seattle or So Cal, and hate guns and hunters. And some came from less "civilized" places, where taking care of yourself and your family is an expected part of being an adult. (Though it is sad when I see folks with the aggressive part of that equation solved, but none of the rest.)
I remember a kerfluffle over a 911 call placed in South Western Oregon, where the caller wanted police response to her drunken ex boyfriend trying to break into her house. The operator was trying to talk her thru the situation, but that area is served by a sheriff's department that worked office hours. Leave a message, and we'll get back to you on Monday... This was in the 21st century. Life in the sticks is different. She should have called her neighbor.
Now I really don't think anywhere in Europe went through multiple generations without a civil authority riding herd over the populace. Certainly not within living memory. I don't think there was ever a time when firearms were common among the common folk, being reserved for the aristocrats. But that could be ignorance on my part.
But getting back to that timeline. 1865-1930's brought big changes in firearms tech. Muzzle loading to full auto Thompson submachine guns. And then we brought in prohibition. And we saw a wave of gun violence like we had never seen. Bonnie and Clyde, gang wars, it was a very different world, very quickly. Lots of folks armed up, and lots of folks called for tougher gun laws. And they weren't necessarily different folks. Gun owners have long been law and order advocates.
So what we had, was an alcohol fueled gold rush, for anyone who could control some aspect of the booze trade. But the common man is armed. So criminals are armed, and quickly that lead to an arms race.
The common man was armed, so just having numbers and a willingness to violence wasn't enough for violent criminals, they had to arm up. And organized crime, which is far more interested in the criminals than the victims, had to have enough force (numbers, firepower, information) to force compliance on a group not known for compliance.
That is where I see Europe and the US splitting. First, generations of self reliance, and community protection, with little, if any, civil authority. Then, we built the template for how to use firepower to get some of that prohibition gold rush. Then, we wholeheartedly embraced prohibition, but now we call it a war on drugs.
This also explains the cultural divide on firearms. Those in very populated areas, where police response is rapid, tend to be comfortable abdicating the responsibility for their physical safety to a professional police force (though I do find it odd that those same people are so comfortable hating those same professionals...). And for less populated areas, there is no effective way to abdicate that responsibility. And those who grew up expecting to take on this responsibility, find themselves in a culture war with those who didn't.
It's not about guns, or crime. It's about one group feeling safe without guns, and threatened by civilians with guns; and another group feeling safe with guns, and feeling threatened by those who preach tolerance but don't practice it.