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How U.S. Became Home To Half The World's Civilian-Owned Guns

In what the Washington Post calls a crisply written and incisive new book, “Gun Country: Gun Capitalism, Culture, and Control in Cold War America,” historian Andrew McKevitt chronicles the transformation of guns from tangible weapons to ideological ammunition. The book details how the U.S. "came to be not just a gun country but the gun country, home to nearly half of all civilian-owned firearms in the world and more than twice as many guns per person as any other nation," the newspaper says. Guns' champions present them as “magical totems to protect oneself and one’s community from various forms of evil,” McKevitt writes, while opponents regard them as symptoms of a spiritual sickness. The more than 400 million guns in the U.S. are a material fact. The guns began arriving in America in unprecedented quantities after World War II, when “global demobilization” was underway." Tens of millions of firearms around the world had little practical use and collected dust in government warehouses,” McKevitt writes. Enterprising U.S. entrepreneurs, foremost among them Samuel “Arms Dealer Sam” Cummings, contrived to import a deluge of secondhand weapons from overseas. Europe’s used guns, “the production of a half century of continental bloodletting, flooded the U.S. market at rock-bottom prices.”


As McKevitt notes, “Gun buyers tend to be serial gun buyers,” if not collectors. By the time policymakers realized that a new legal framework might be needed, it was too late: The weapons were already so ubiquitous that “gun culture” was a fait accompli. Manufacturers urged Congress to ban handguns known as Saturday Night Specials, which were almost entirely imports. Experts, legacy gunmakers and even the National Rifle Association rallied to blame the importation racket for the influx of cheap handguns and the surge in crime. Later, firearms, gun lobbyists claimed, were a bulwark against the enemies menacing the American way of life. Sen. Thomas. Dodd of Connecticut, architect of the 1968 Gun Control Act, summoned “the specter of crime to justify spending more than seven years working on gun control in the 1960s.” His bill, which restricted the importation of firearms without making them much harder to access, was doomed by a loophole that allowed the importation of gun parts. While the 1968 assassinations of Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were the immediate precipitants of Dodd’s law, it was also a product of racism and paranoia. “The emergence of the gun control movement prompted the hardline turn of the gun rights movement,” McKevitt says. The most enduring tactic of gun dogmatism was its reimagining of the Second Amendment. The doctrine enshrines a right for Americans to bear arms, not just when they join militias but when they go about daily business. “The sociological question of how societies can prevent gun violence is not any great mystery,” McKevitt writes. “Fewer guns mean fewer gun deaths.” Citing the Gun Control Act's failure to reduce violence, He says the problem was not the number of criminals but the number of guns. “There were too many,” he says.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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