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Gun Show Nation: Gun Culture and American Democracyby Joan Burbick
Synopses & Reviews
From the floor of American gun shows, a fascinating historical exposé of how guns have burrowed into the heart of American democracy.
"To understand gun talk, I had to understand what America means to millions of ordinary people and how these beliefs shaped their sense of who they are, were, and must remain in the future."—from the introduction to Gun Show Nation
In this first-of-its-kind archaeology of America's gun culture, progressive cultural historian, critic, and gun owner Joan Burbick takes us on a journey from gun shows to NRA conventions, using firsthand observations and interviews with a wide range of gun owners and gun advocates as a jumping-off point for a fascinating exploration of the rise of the gun—from Buffalo Bill and the mythology of the frontier to Ronald Reagan, the first sitting president to address the NRA.
Gun Show Nation examines the lethal politics of gun ownership, uncovering a powerful, conservative political ideology that places the individual citizen armed with a gun at the bulwark of our democracy.
Talking directly to gun lobby strategists, Burbick reveals the pro-gun movement's deliberate effort to co-opt the language of rights from the civil rights movement to appeal to a disaffected white electorate, crafting a powerful conservative response to liberal efforts to achieve social, economic, and racial justice in the 1960s.
An illuminating examination of how guns have changed and challenged our beliefs in democracy, Gun Show Nation shows us what America looks like from the floor of a gun show.
"Tenaciously exposing the role guns play for many Americans in their national and political identity, Burbick (Rodeo Queens and the American Dream) talks to gun owners, sellers, lobbyists, grassroots organizers and policy makers as she tours gun shows, gun-rights conventions and National Rifle Association gatherings across the land. Mining the history of gun manufacturing and shooting magazine editorials, she charts how the gun industry has successfully marketed its products using the image of the patriotic, law-abiding civilian shooter. She describes Civil War — era white fears of armed blacks and shows how the Second Amendment rights movement was born of the social unrest of the 1960s. She argues that conservatives responded to blacks' and women's demands for rights by talking about the right to defend oneself with a gun. Burdick also tracks the tactical courtship of the gun lobby by presidents and politicians from Ronald Reagan and Jesse Helms to George W. Bush. Burdick highlights the prevalence of white, middle-aged men, misogyny and the paradoxical belief that the gun itself is capable of stopping violence. Noting that an anxious, self-justifying white settler identity underpins the Christian patriotism of the religious right, Burdick catalogues a culture that dwells imaginatively in a mythologized frontier past." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
Burbick (English and American studies, Washington State U.) traveled around to gun shows around the United States, listening to the stories people at these events told to themselves and others about guns, concluding that gun rhetoric is highly gendered and racialized and that American gun culture is a danger to democracy. In addition to this act of reportage and analysis, she goes back in time to investigate the origins of American gun culture in pre-Civil War legislative movement, gun magazines, and popular culture, finding intimate connections between guns and white power. Annotation ©2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
On progressive websites and in newspaper columns Gun Show Nation has become part of a lively debate on guns and democracy in America. “Burbick gets it,” Buzzflash says, “she cuts through to the heart of the psychology of guns.”
Cultural historian, critic, and gun owner Joan Burbick examines the lethal politics of gun ownership, answering that perennial question about America culture: Why are Americans so obsessed with guns? Looking at the nation from the floor of a gun show, Burbick uncovers a powerful conservative ideology that attempts to place gun ownership at the center of our democracy. “Careful in her conclusions, lively in her writing” (Booklist), her analysis takes us from the history of the NRA, through the gun lobby’s engagement with domestic politics that reached its high-water mark during the Reagan era, to the movement’s contemporary hostility to the United Nations.
The most thorough account yet of the beliefs that millions of ordinary Americans hold about guns, Gun Show Nation delves into the political machinations that have shaped the gun debate in America and draws fascinating conclusions about gun culture and national identity.
About the Author
Joan Burbick is the author of Rodeo Queens and the American Dream, Healing the Republic, and Thoreau’s Alternative History. An award-winning scholar, she is a professor of English and American studies at Washington State University. She lives in eastern Washington.
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