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Unearthing the roots of America’s firearms fascination: a review of ‘Gun Country’

American History, Gun Culture, Cold War, Consumer Capitalism, Firearms Legislation, National Rifle Association, Gun Control, Social Politics, Racial Dynamics, Post-War America.

Andrew C. McKevitt’s “Gun Country” is a profound exploration of America’s complex and often contentious relationship with firearms. The book delves into the historical, cultural, and economic factors that have shaped the United States into what McKevitt terms “the gun country.”

It’s a journey that begins in the aftermath of World War II and traverses through the Cold War era, providing a nuanced understanding of how guns became embedded in the American psyche and society.

One of the most striking aspects of “Gun Country” is McKevitt’s ability to weave a narrative that transcends simple historical recounting. He skilfully bridges the gap between the past and the present, making it clear that the roots of today’s gun debates and policies are deeply entrenched in the historical developments of the mid-20th century. The book methodically uncovers how post-war consumer capitalism, combined with Cold War politics, created an environment ripe for the proliferation of firearms in American society.

McKevitt’s exploration starts with the remarkable expansion of gun ownership post-1945. He describes a nation where the number of guns doubled in less than a quarter-century, outpacing population growth and setting the stage for a society with more guns than people. This phenomenon, as McKevitt argues, is not simply a product of cultural fascination with firearms but is also deeply linked to consumer capitalism and the strategic manoeuvres of the Cold War.

The bookis filled with compelling characters and stories that illuminate the broader themes. For instance, McKevitt discusses the role of entrepreneurs like Samuel Cummings, who transformed war surplus firearms into consumer goods for the American market. This aspect of the book is particularly illuminating, as it showcases the opportunism that fuelled the gun market’s expansion.

Another pivotal point in “Gun Country” is the in-depth discussion of the Gun Control Act of 1968. McKevitt presents this Act as both a response to and a catalyst for the evolving landscape of gun politics in America. He articulates how the Act, while aiming to regulate firearms, inadvertently spurred the growth of a politically powerful gun rights movement. This section of the book seems crucial for any students seeking to understand the contemporary landscape of gun politics in the United States.

McKevitt doesn’t shy away from the darker aspects of America’s gun culture. He delves into the racial and social anxieties that have often driven gun ownership and the political discourse around firearms. The book offers an honest assessment of how guns have been intertwined with issues of race, identity, and power, particularly highlighting the role of guns in the civil rights era and the subsequent white backlash.

”Gun Country” also critically examines the role of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and how its evolution from a sportsman’s club to a political powerhouse has impacted American gun politics. McKevitt’s analysis of the NRA’s tactics and influence is both enlightening and concerning, shedding light on the organisation’s remarkable ability to shape national debates and policies on firearms.

His book, though, is not just about guns as physical objects but also about the symbolism and meaning attached to them. McKevitt explores how guns have become symbols of individualism, freedom, and power in American culture. He discusses how this symbolism is manipulated and marketed, contributing to the pervasive gun culture in the United States.

One of the most impactful elements of “Gun Country” is its humanisation of the gun debate. McKevitt does not merely present facts and figures; he tells stories of individuals affected by gun violence and the complex emotions and motivations behind gun ownership. This approach adds a layer of depth and empathy to the discussion, making the book not only informative but also profoundly moving.

Overall, “Gun Country” is a meticulously researched, thought-provoking, and timely work. McKevitt’s ability to contextualise the historical developments within contemporary debates makes this book a must-read for anyone seeking to understand America’s unique and often polarising relationship with guns. It is a significant contribution to the discourse on one of the most pressing issues in modern American society.