America was born with a unique bond to gun culture, some would have you believe. They're peddling bad history.
Pamela Haag, Salon
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John Wayne in "True Grit"
Excerpted from "The Gunning of America: Business and the Making of American Gun Culture"
Saturday, Apr 30, 2016 | An abridged history of the American gun culture, told from legend and popular memory, might go like this: We were born a gun culture. Americans have an exceptional, unique, and timeless relationship to guns, starting with the militias of the Revolutionary War, and it developed on its own from there. Some celebrate and some condemn this relationship, but it is in either case unique. Guns have long been a commonplace part of American life, which is why guns pretty much sell themselves. The Second Amendment, ubiquitous to contemporary gun politics, was a prominent presence historically and is a source of the gun’s unique stature, while the idea of gun control is more recent. The American gun story is about civilians and individual citizens, and they are its heroes or its villains—the frontiersman, the Daniel Boone “long hunter” who trekked far into the wilderness alone, the citizen-patriot militiaman, the guiltily valorized outlaw, and the gunslinger. The gun’s mystique was forged most vividly on the violent western frontier of the 1800s, and this mystique is about individualism: guns protect citizens against overzealous government infringement of liberties; they protect freedom and self-determination.
This book tells the story of American guns from the perspective of what the gun was—in essence, an object, produced by businesses, to be sold. The story that highlights the Second Amendment, frontiersmen, militias, and the desires and character of the American gun owner is not to be found in the pages of this book. Or, more accurately, my work deliberately skews the story of the gun in another direction: it focuses on the missing element of the gun culture rather than reworking the familiar themes. As such, it has different characters, motivations, plot twists, highlights, and timelines, and all of these elements call into question the gun clichés that animate contemporary politics.
Pamela Haag holds a Ph.D. in history from Yale University. Her work on a diverse range of topics has appeared in many venues such as American Scholar, NPR, Slate, and the Times (London).
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