• Comprehensive
  • Innovative


In the American imagination, Colt, Winchester, and Smith & Wesson guns are frontier legends, part of a pistol-packing ethos baked into the national psyche. The reality is messier, reports historian Pamela Haag in this study of the US armaments industry. She traces the way American gun manufacturers perfected gun production, and then cultivated a market at home and abroad. Gun control advocates will appreciate Haag’s take on the morality of commercializing lethal weapons, but the National Rifle Association posted a review on its website panning her book. Haag writes dazzling sentences, but sometimes strains to create a narrative that makes compelling reading. Even so, she uncovers fascinating material about the roots of the US gun business. While always politically neutral, getAbstract recommends her fresh look at the long-established, often misunderstood industry at the center of many contemporary policy discussions.


Not Marksmen, but Businessmen

Firearms and the Second Amendment to the US Constitution – assuring the right to bear arms – hold a vaunted place in national politics. The US media often describe citizens as having a centuries-old love affair with their weapons, depicting a strong relationship reflecting a deep-seated “gun culture.” In truth, the frontier-era gun culture didn’t exist before gun manufacturers invented it as a marketing saga. The pioneers of the American gun industry weren’t marksmen, soldiers or hunters. They felt no particular “heated passion” for guns. Nearly all were struggling businessmen who saw weaponry as an opportunity to fulfill their financial ambitions.

Eli Whitney, embittered after intellectual property pirates in the US South expropriated his cotton gin, lamented facing “bankruptcy and ruin.” The famous inventor was making hatpins and nails before he landed a government contract to make muskets. Eliphalet Remington was a poet and pacifist. Samuel Colt toured the country as a laughing-gas salesman. His exhibitions of “scientific amusement” featured dancing, singing, wrestling, and other performances by volunteers intoxicated with “the witchcraft...

About the Author

Pamela Haag holds a doctorate in history from Yale University. Her work has appeared in American Scholar, Slate and The Times of London.

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