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Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture    by Michael E. Bellesiles order for
Arming America
by Michael E. Bellesiles
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

Guess what: there are, according to the author, four different safety standards that regulate the manufacture of teddy bears, but none regulating the manufacture of firearms. Americans own 250 million guns, and are buying even more, at the rate of five million each year.

This is a lively, intelligent, passionate history of America's obsession with guns and Americans' bizarre notion that it is their 'constitutional right' to own at least one firearm. Bellesiles' central premise, that 'America's gun culture is an invented tradition,' is bolstered by plenty of evidence: for example, guns were actually quite scarce in the Old West, and the idea that everyone wore a sidearm is pure fantasy, a fiction created by dime-novel writers and inept historians and perpetuated by Hollywood and an American public that, when you come right down to it, liked the idea that it was their sacred right to walk around with a gun strapped to their hip.

The author, a history professor, could have given us a fat, statistic-filled tome, full of facts and figures. Luckily, he went another way, crafting a book that entertains as it educates. That's good, too: it means we might actually pay attention.

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