Straight Shot

Infantryman training in Ft Knox, Kentucky, 1942. US Office of War Information.

The US has the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world — twice as high as the second-place finisher, Yemen.  In this episode of BackStory, we’re exploring the history of guns in America — who’s had access to guns, who’s wanted access to guns, and what the desire for guns has meant for American democracy.

We’ll look at the role of the government in arming citizens in early America, and ask what the Second Amendment meant when it was written.  We’ll also discover that before “the right to bear arms” was a catchphrase for the political right, it was an animating principle of the left-wing Black Panthers.  And, we’ll dig into the surprising history of the NRA, which supported many gun control measures right up through the 1970s.

Please help us shape this episode!  Are you a gun owner?  Why or why not?  How has the political debate over guns changed in your lifetime?  What questions do you think need answering about guns in America?  Share your thoughts and stories here.


Comments (4)

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  1. Brian Parkinson

    One major argument in favor of permitting widespread gun ownership is that a well-armed citizenry prevents the government from abusing its powers. But does American history support this argument? Has a well-armed American citizenry ever checked encroaching tyranny?

    I mean, look at the Whiskey Rebellion: angry anti-tax Revolutionary War veterans drill on the village commons in Western Pennsylvania, mad as hell. But as soon as Washington and Hamilton show up with federal troops…nevermind! Same deal with Shays’s Rebellion. On the other hand, our history teems with examples of well-armed citizens engaging in the most tyrannical behavior imaginable (e.g., the Colfax Massacre in particular, and white supremacist Redemption in general).

    The one possible exception is the Revolutionary War itself. Would Americans have defeated the British without access to personal arsenals?

  2. rick kennerly

    Don’t think you can discuss the power of the NRA without discussing the 2012 election. I see that they had the worst return on investment in campaign advertisement spending.

    Giving $ to Karl Rove: A terrible return-on-investment | Texas on the Potomac | a blog

    The organizations with the worst ROI:
    2.AMERICAN CROSSROADS: 1 percent of $103,559,672. (However, Rove’s Crossroads GPS had a 13 percent ROI)
    3. US CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: 5 percent of $31,937,037 spent.
    4. AMERICAN FUTURE FUND: 5 percent of $23,613,532 spent.

  3. rick kennerly

    BTW, I spent a decade policing down in South Texas (76-86), was a Texas Highway Patrol certified Police Firearms Instructor, shot around the region on the department’s police combat pistol team, and earned an NRA Police Distinguished Expert badge.

    A Naval career finally won out. I was infatuated by guns for a long time, but just walked away and haven’t owned one since.

    Phillip Marlow in the Big Sleep said it best: “my, my my, so many guns tonight and so little sense. You’re not the first guy I’ve met tonight who thinks a gat in the hand means the world by the tail.” (you can probably clip that out of the movie for the show).

    I carry a little pepper spray with me for any nasty surprises around the ATM, but that’s all. I don’t mind people having guns, but they can’t have it both ways. They can’t claim a discharge was an accident or they misinterpreted the situation they were seeing, or they didn’t have a clean shot when they shoot into a crowd.

    When one shoulders a firearm, they also shoulder extra special responsibility and should be punished accordingly.

    BTW, have you included information from Stephen Pinker’s Angles of our Better Nature? As a society we are much safer than at any other time in history.

  4. rick kennerly

    [quote comment=”46717″]

    I mean, look at the Whiskey Rebellion: angry anti-tax Revolutionary War veterans drill on the village commons in Western Pennsylvania, mad as hell. But as soon as Washington and Hamilton show up with federal troops…nevermind! .[/quote]

    I’ve always thought that this argument has a parallel in aviation. I’m a Private Pilot, just small planes, but I’ve heard it said, and experienced the thought as well, that no pilot ever gets on a commercial airliner without thinking to himself, “better not drink, they might call on me to land this sucker.”

    Same kinds of hero fantasies with guns. Can’t tell you the number of knotheads who thought that if they’d been in the audience of that theatre in Colorado that got shot up that the situation would have turned out differently.

    At the Gabby Gifford shooting in AZ an armed citizen, late to the shooting but determined to help, almost shot the rescuer who’d just wrested the pistol away from the real shooter.

    In shade tree fantasies, people can conjure up all kinds of probable scenarios where they’ll be the hero, Washington and his men would be overawed by the farmer’s firepower. When it comes to actually putting their butts on the line, most American would chicken out.