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The United States gun control debate has prompted contention among citizens for years, and such horrors such as the Columbine, Aurora, and Sandy Hook elementary school shootings have only added fuel to this fire. In the political arena, liberals and conservatives generally imbue guns with certain meanings. The former asserts they are instruments of intimidation and death, while the latter views them as a vestige of freedom in the face of impending government rule. Gerry Souter, author of American Shooter: A Personal History of Gun Culture in the United States and a self-proclaimed liberal in the National Rifle Association (NRA), disagrees with both perspectives. He believes the issue of gun control is actually much more complex and has been manipulated by both sides in order to fit larger political missions. Therein lays the motivation for his book, in which he embarks on [End Page 362] nine chapters of the history of American gun culture—interspersed with personal anecdotes—in order to better understand the roles guns play in the United States.
American Shooter begins with a broad history of gun culture that reaches to the fourteenth century. Souter progresses to colonial America while discussing regulation of firearms, rifle evolution, and shooting contests. The second chapter includes an exploration of the American West, which Souter argues was not characterized by gunfighters, as is popularly believed. He also discusses manufacturing improvement of rifles and pistols. Souter asserts that modern marksmanship competition began at Creedmoor, New York, in 1874, where Col. John Bodine hit a one-thousand-yard target on his last shot. This pushed the American team ahead of an Irish team in a climactic finish to one of the first international matches. Chapters three and four explore the period between World War I and World War II. Souter covers the institutionalization of gun culture, the effect of the Great Depression, the push for smaller bored guns, and the influx of firearms from Europe after World War I. He devotes chapter five to hunting. Souter explains its evolution in America from a means of survival to how it was used in the slaughter of animals as Americans moved west. He concludes the chapter with a discussion of the environmental function of population control.
World War II, Souter argues, had a profound effect on gun culture. He explains in chapter six that the war influenced the type of guns produced, familiarized thousands of American men with shooting, and helped create a climate of gun acceptance. He also pays particular attention to the NRA’s responses to U.S. military strategy throughout. In chapters seven and eight, Souter surveys gun control attempts—usually in the form of legislation—from the 1970s to the present. Souter argues these were buttressed by misleading statistics as well as overreactions to the social milieu, which included the Black Panthers and stories fraught with discrimination and irrationality. His last chapter is a cautionary discussion of the present state of gun control and culture in the United States. Souter identifies inconsistencies in attitudes toward firearms as well as gun manufacturer flaws in thinking and fabrications, provides societal commentary on gun related issues, and concludes with a push for popularizing televised shooting sports.
Souter’s discussion also includes the development and evolution of firearms throughout history. For example, the introduction of the M1 Garand in World War II decreased the emphasis on marksmanship as the infantry simply sprayed bullets where the enemy might be (pp. 107–108). As the book advances, it becomes clear that a relationship between the military, police, and hunters exists. Eventually the reader pieces together that the guns manufactured for the military are eventually utilized in some way by the police and hunters. Although the lay reader can surmise this, the individual should not need to rely on conjecture. A detailed explanation of their relationship would have enriched the text. This is an integral crux of gun culture that was not given adequate attention.
Another criticism of the...