Friday, December 21, 2012

An uninformed thought about guns in America

I am no expert on the history of firearms, but I thought I might share some of my thoughts.

At the time of the revolutionary war, firearms would have been very expensive in North America. I don't suppose there was much use for pistols, which would have been expensive and of little or no use at any distance -- some rich men might own them for duels, and I suppose the few people who carried money might have carried pistols for protection.

The long guns, muskets, would have been expensive since there was little ability to manufacture their parts in the colonies. They would have been inaccurate. Powder would presumably been hard to find and expensive, as would lead for bullets. Loading a musket and keeping powder dry would have taken time and effort.

Apparently rifles became important rather than smooth bore long guns as Americans moved west in the 19th century, but there were also shotguns in use at the time. Flintlock actions and percussion caps were becoming common.

The myths around Daniel Boone (18th century) and Davy Crockett (19th century "King of the Wild Frontier") were around for a long time, but probably became much more common in the days of television and movies.

The Civil War brought minie balls, repeating rifles and revolvers and cartridges into wide spread use in the military, but perhaps most important, resulted in large scale manufacturing of firearms in the United States. While the American System of Manufacturing had long before brought interchangeable parts to the manufacture of firearms here, at the beginning of the war there were few places capable of manufacturing firearms in the United States, and the maximum production of any of these was some 15,000 weapons per year. In the Civil War guns were manufactured by the million.

The 1873 Colt Peacemaker 45
During the Civil War the transcontinental railroad was approved. Prior to the war, Texas had been added to the United States, as had the Southwestern lands taken from Mexico. The Gold Rush had taken place in California, and the Comstock Load of Silver had been found in Nevada. From 1865 to 1900 there was a mass movement into the western United States, marked by the Indian Wars, the cattle drives, the destruction of the buffalo herds, and the spread of rifle and pistol cultures into the west.

It was also the time of the dime novels. Buffalo Bill and other Wild West shows. Improved printing presses, mass distribution via railroads, and a literate public resulted in a mass market. The myths of the western gun culture went into mass production.

The western movie was popular during the silent era and reached huge audiences with the talkies. During the Great Depression the movies were an affordable mass entertainment, and many of the movies were westerns. The radio brought kids the Lone Ranger and Gunsmoke.

Television in the post World War II years brought us Gunsmoke, Bonanza, the Rifleman, Have Gun Will Travel, and many other westerns, and brought them into the living room. A whole generation had the myths of American gun culture brought into their living rooms.

But we also saw war movies in the aftermath of both world wars. Police procedurals, hard boiled detective stories and other shoot-em-ups were also popular.

It seems to me that our mass media have done a great deal to create and promote a gun culture.

The large numbers of uses of firearms in crimes are not well publicized. There are so many murders and suicides using firearms per year that they are not really news. It is only the mass murders that draw extreme media attention.

The polls suggest that most people feel that gun ownership is appropriate in our culture, and that there is no reason that many people should not be allowed to own guns. They believe however that guns should be regulated and registered. Efforts should be taken to keep people with criminal records and mentally disturbed people from obtaining or having guns. Moreover, there seems to be considerable support to keep some kinds of guns off the market -- the so called Saturday night specials, assault weapons, machine guns, etc.

1 comment:

Robert Cosgrave said...

I suspect efforts at gun control are, in the long term, fruitless as 3-d printing mainstreams. 3-d printed firearms are presently fairly experimental, but that won't be the case for long, especially if it's possible to print components (illegal magazines or conversion kits) to adapt existing legal firearms. Control the ammo, and you might have a chance. At least until someone open sources something innovative that uses, say, gasoline as a propellant for a printable bullet. THe lesson of the AK47 was that the breakthrough weapon isn't the most advanced (the AK was heavy and didn't have the range and accuracy of competing weapons) it was about access and usability. You can turn a child into a dangerous combatant in a few minutes training with an AK. So too it shall be with 3d printed weapons.