Guns in America! Historical Account Traces Trends and Attitudes and Offers Challenges for Both Anti-Gun and Pro-Gun Factions

Gerry Souter’s new book American Shooter: A Personal History of Gun Culture in the United States will likely raise more than a few eyebrows.  It is a well-researched, entertaining, often amusing and stirring review of the evolution of our gun culture and its modern-day controversy.

Souter provides a unique perspective in his detailed look at hunting for survival, the development of firearms in times of war, competitive shooting matches, the rising debate over gun ownership, and his own experiences as a gun hobbyist, photojournalist during eras of social unrest, and liberal member of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Creedmoor NY shooting range 1892 and Camp Perry Firing Range 2012

Souter reports that reduction of the army after the Civil War gave birth to the NRA and civilian gun clubs to improve marksmanship and safety. The Wild West era lasted about 20 years but was glorified by pulp novels about gunslingers, exhibitions of shooting stunts, and Western movie heroes.  In the 1920s, gun clubs became popular in high schools, the Boy Scouts, and American Legion Halls. The same period witnessed the veneration of gangsters, bootleggers, and bank robbers, despite their violent acts. When television arrived heavy with cowboy shows, parents didn’t hesitate to leave cap-guns under the tree for their kids.

Souter says that, after WWII, sales of firearms increased primarily for self-protection due to fear of communist infiltration, striking unions, the struggle for civil rights, Vietnam war protests, and the fear of stricter gun laws following assassinations. Souter feels that the NRA, which he praises for being a fine steward of shooting sports, blundered by fueling fears in politically motivated campaigns to protect gun ownership rights and increase membership.

Souter says it’s time to repair the image of firearms by focusing on target shooting as a competitive sport, beginning with more programs for young people who, as he did, can develop self-confidence, a sense of accomplishment, and self-discipline. He calls for the formation of a National Shooting Sports League presented on the same scale as tennis, golf and other professional solo sports. It’s one way to improve people’s respect for each other’s rights and responsibilities and return firearms marksmanship to its traditional American roots.

Many readers of American Shooter will not agree with everything point Souter makes, but will find  plenty of education and intellectual stimulation no matter which side of the issues they are on.  The book includes historical photos and many little-known fascinating facts. For example:

1.   George Washington authorized buckshot musket loads for his army because the average Continental soldier couldn’t hit the ground with his hat.

2.  Andrew Jackson didn’t know the war was already over when he defeated the British in the battle of New Orleans.

3.  The concealed weapon legislators most feared in the pre-Civil War South wasn’t the pistol, it was the Bowie Knife.

4.  Wichita and Abilene, Kansas, two notorious western cow-towns, had tougher gun control laws than today’s New York City.

5.  Billy the Kid was never a “left-handed gunfighter.”  The only photo of him was a tintype that printed its image backwards.

6.  In the 1920s, Ed McGivern fired five shots in 2/5ths of a second from an off-the-shelf Smith & Wesson revolver and covered the group with a playing card.

7.  Until the Gulf War, the longest shot to kill an enemy was made by Billy Dixon in 1874 with an 1872 Sharps rifle during the Indian battle of Adobe Walls. (4,614 feet = 1,538 yards).

8.  In Chicago during  the late 19th Century, you could rent a gun for an hour and return it to get your deposit back.

9.   In the early 1920s, gangsters had machine guns but agents in the Bureau of Investigations (FBI) were not even allowed to carry a pistol.

10.  A 1950s police officer brought his revolver to a gunsmith. He had drawn and cocked the gun and didn’t know how to uncock it without pulling the trigger.


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