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Publisher: Blackstone Audiobooks$39.95The Gunning of America (Audio MP3 CD - Unabridged)
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Or so we're told.
In The Gunning of America, historian Pamela Haag overturns this conventional wisdom. American gun culture, she argues, developed not because the gun was exceptional, but precisely because it was not: guns proliferated in America because throughout most of the nation's history, they were perceived as an unexceptional commodity, no different than buttons or typewriters.
Focusing on the history of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, one of the most iconic arms manufacturers in America, Haag challenges many basic assumptions of how and when America became a gun culture. Under the leadership of Oliver Winchester and his heirs, the company used aggressive, sometimes ingenious sales and marketing techniques to create new markets for their product. Guns have never sold themselves; rather, through advertising and innovative distribution campaigns, the gun industry did. Through the meticulous examination of gun industry archives, Haag challenges the myth of a primal bond between Americans and their firearms.
Over the course of its 150 year history, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company sold over 8 million guns. But Oliver Winchestera shirtmaker in his previous careerhad no apparent qualms about a life spent arming America. His daughter-in-law Sarah Winchester was a different story. Legend holds that Sarah was haunted by what she considered a vast blood fortune, and became convinced that the ghosts of rifle victims were haunting her. She channeled much of her inheritance, and her conflicted conscience, into a monstrous estate now known as the Winchester Mystery House, where she sought refuge from this ever-expanding army of phantoms.
In this provocative and deeply-researched work of narrative history, Haag fundamentally revises the history of arms in America, and in so doing explodes the cliches that have created and sustained our lethal gun culture.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-02-29
- Reviewer: Staff
In this fascinating account, Haag (Marriage Confidential) traces the history of America’s gun-making business, arguing that “the tragedy of American gun violence emerged from the banality of the American gun business.” Oliver Winchester, known as “the rifle king,” who founded one of the first private armories in America in early 19th century, is the focal point of the narrative. As Haag notes, former clothier Winchester could just as easily have been remembered as the country’s “men’s shirt king.” The gun industry began with the colonial rebels’ need for more uniform weapons whose parts could be exchanged in the midst of battle. But reliance on government contracts during wartime proved an unreliable business model, forcing manufacturers to seek out other markets for the prodigious potential output of their military-scale factories. They began aggressive ad campaigns aimed to convince ordinary citizens that guns were something they needed to own. Haag offers some practical suggestions for curbing gun violence that involve treating weapons as a consumer product that should be regulated—noting the anomaly that toy guns are subject to safety regulations, while real guns are not. Both convincingly argued and eminently readable, Haag’s book will intrigue readers on all sides of the gun control debate. (Apr.)