The narrative here is to review history of guns in America, the role they played in its settlement by Europeans, and analyze features of American culture that to large degree were formed by constant need in self-protection, either individual or in loosely formed militias against hostile Indians and/or other Europeans. However the main idea is to reject attempts by the left to rewrite history of American adherence to guns and demonstrate that American freedom depends on people’s ability to have arms, without which it would be indefensible.
PROLOGUE: From Prey to Predator
It starts with David and his use of projectile against Goliath. From this point author discusses history of projectile weapons from sling and stone to bow and arrow and all the way to firearms of XIV and XV centuries.
PART I NEW WORLDS
1: First Contact
After prolog about firearms coming to Europe author moves to America and initial European invaders – conquistadors. These guys’ guns were useful not that much through their firepower as for psychological effects of their noise and lights, which scared the hell out of people not familiar with technology.
2: Pilgrims Progress
The next stop is for Pilgrims and their guns. Author discusses technology of “Mayflower gun”, which was wheel lock – when rotating wheel had generated spark needed to ignite charge. Here is how author describes main use of guns in colonial America: “Hunting, not war, was the main use of the gun in early America. By the turn of the century, Indian reliance on European firearms for stalking prey was also growing. As Native Americans gradually adopted the apparatuses, they became increasingly adept at fixing and maintaining the weapons—even, occasionally, making their own ammunition. However, Indians were never able to manufacture and craft iron, and this doomed their hold on the land.
. Then author discusses technological development that found very good acceptation in America – Kentucky rifle that provided longer distance and better accuracy at the expense of difficulty of reloading. Comparatively speaking it was hunting weapon, not really appropriate for military engagement, which at the time was based on marching columns and disciplined volley firing that followed by bayonet attack. This tactic was based on smoothbore musket technology that provided much faster reloading.
3: Powder Alarm
This is about powder in America. Author discusses its chemistry and production technology. The production of powder in America was very limited and was subject of British attempt on confiscation whatever inventory colonials have on one side and attempts to setup production by colonials on other side. Both attempts failed so America kept powder it possessed and could not produce much more but consequently succeeded by relying on French supplies.
Here author discusses beginnings of American revolutionary war and provides an interesting observation on why revolution would not be an easy thing to defeat: ” In 1774, Richard Price, the Welsh philosopher and intellectual who championed the American cause in Britain during the Revolution, pointed out that in the colonies “every inhabitant has in his house (as part of his furniture) a book on law and government, to enable him to understand his civil rights; a musket to enable him to defend these rights; and a Bible to enable him to understand and practice his religion. In that same year, an Englishman visiting New England wrote home that there “is not a Man born in America that does not Understand the Use of Firearms and that well . . . It is almost the First thing they Purchase and take to all the New Settlements and in the cities you scarcely find a Lad of 12 years that does not go a Gunning.””
5: The Finest Marksmen in the World
Here author discusses a special feature of American way of war at the time – massive use of snipers with rifles who were targeting officers. Initially it was quite successful and widely popular. However, as everything else, it caused changes in British tactics that explore deficiencies of rifles: their slow and difficult reloading that made coordinated action in battle very difficult. The fact that it was practically one-shot weapon that made American fighters vulnerable to bayonet attack caused its decline in popularity and eventual return to the regular method of fighting: in columns with musket volleys.
6: Liberty’s Teeth
In this chapter author refer to famous diary of Joseph Plumb Martin who went through all revolutionary war. He describes a war of muskets when both sides were armed by “Brown Bess” musket or equivalent weapon.
7: Freedoms Guarantee
In this chapter author completes his discussion of American revolution, its causes and history by noting that not a small reason for this was British attempt to disarm population. He links these events to our time by noting:“The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights lists the most vital freedoms of man. The second lists the only way to attain them and preserve them. Without the second, there is no first. It was in this context that the newly minted nation enshrined this natural right. The words written by James Madison in 1791, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed,” would not be controversial until the twentieth century when a seemingly ungrammatical comma plunked in the middle of this sentence offered a generation of gun-control advocates a justification to question whether individuals were afforded the right to self-defense.
PART Il DISCOVERY
8: Go West
This chapter about American movement West starts with Lewis and Clark and their weapons. One of the most important was a small-bore cannon and couple blunderbusses. It follows by the story of Daniel Boone. Author describes how much attention and effort Lewis applied to have the best available weapons, which were custom made at Harpers Ferry Armory. Especially interesting was air gun that could be fired without reloading a number of times using magazine with some 22 rounds and enough compressed air to shoot 40 times. It greatly amazed Indians who already were familiar with firearms and new their deficiencies, which quite possibly discourage potential attack. Author then discusses establishment of mass production of weapons with changeable parts. One of the most important inventions of the period was bridge-loaded gun. It was the first known patented gun.
9: Peacemaker; 10: Bullet; 11: Those Newfangled Gimcrackers;
These chapters retell story of technological developments of XIX century: Colt revolver, Smith and Wesson gun with cartages, and Spencer repeating rifle,
12: Fastest Gun in the West
Here author moves to people who used these technologies: Bill Hickok, Billy the Kid, and a few others.
13: The Showman
The final chapter of this part is about gun culture expressed in entertainment with Buffalo Bill’s show as exhibit number one. It also refers to extermination of Buffalos, how it was done, and special weapon: Sharps Rifle used to do it. The final part of the chapter is about Annie Oakley and her unmatched shooting skills.
PART III MODERNITY
14: Hellfire; 15: An American in London; 16: American Genius; 17: The Chicago Typewriter; 18: Great Arsenal of Democracy;
These chapters retells story of several types of guns of the late XIX and XX centuries and their inventors. Author discusses here Gatling gun, Maxim machinegun, Browning rifles, Thompson sub-machinegun, and Garand rifle.
19: Fall and Rise of the Sharpshooter
In this chapter author moves from hardware of guns to software – tactics of guns use – mainly about sniper fire. American military revived sniper training and extensive use during Vietnam War and since then only extended it.
20: Peace Dividends
This chapter is about contemporary automatic rifles and it discusses ongoing competition between Soviet AK-47 and American AR-15 / M16. Generally these two are designed with different ideas of fighting in mind. AK-47 was designed with preference of low cost and reliability over accuracy, while M16 for accuracy and ergonomics. Author also trying explain reasons for initially poor reputation of M16 by bureaucratic incompetence during its roll out to the troops.
21: The Great Argument
The final chapter is about continuously advancing efforts of gun control by bureaucrats and politicians. However so far these effort mainly failed because guns so much imbedded into American culture that it hard to imagine that any confiscation attempt would succeed.
CONCLUSION: Molon Labe
In conclusion author discusses revisionist attempt by leftist historians to separate guns from American history and by politicians to promote idea of the Second Amendment as “collective right”. So far it failed in Supreme Court and in popular support.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I agree with author’s position, but I think it is not sufficient. The current trend to justify individual ownership of guns by reasons of self-defense and hunting opens it to continuing attempts for regulation and confiscation. I think founders understood that armed individuals are not sufficient for protection of freedom. Only independent organizations of armed individuals could protect it against enemies foreign and domestic, which means military for protection against former and militia for protection against latter. As for military it should be small and professional to be used exclusively against other countries and their forces. As for militia, it should be based on mass participation of all adult so no politician or gang of politicians could believe that there is any chance to deprive people of their freedoms. This mass participation in militia long gone and so was significant parts of freedom that Americans used to have. Whether it is gone forever, however, still remains to be seen.