Preview: Gunfighter Nation

Ahead of the one year anniversary of the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in which Adam Lanza took the lives of 20 school children and six educators, Bill speaks with cultural historian and scholar Richard Slotkin about the role of guns in America’s national psyche.

Slotkin has spent his life studying and writing about the violence that has swirled through American history and taken root deep in our culture. In his works of history and fiction, Slotkin tracks how everything from literature, movies and television to society and politics has been influenced by this violent past including the gun culture that continues to dominate, wound and kill.

Slotkin talks about Lanza’s apparent obsession with violent video games and mass killings — as outlined in a November report issued by Connecticut’s Division of Criminal Justice — and examines the roots of violence in America. “The lone killer is trying to validate himself or herself in terms of … what I would call the historical mythology of our society. He wants to place himself in relation to meaningful events in the past that lead up to the present.”

Learn more about the production team behind Moyers & Company. Watch the full show »

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  • Anonymous

    After reading Living With Guns by Craig Whitney I developed a new perspective on our gun mania. This country was founded on the power of the gun. The right to keep and bear was a British right granted by Parliament and was common law that was never questioned by our founders. Our own history is best illustrated by the taming of lawlessness in the Wild, Wild West. But the most important point to me was that all legal challenges must pass the “in common use” test. Assault style weapons are not in common use for self-defense or hunting which seem to be the only right to keep and bear that passes legal muster. So why in the world do not get that done?

  • NotARedneck

    “Our own history is best illustrated by the taming of lawlessness in the Wild, Wild West.”

    A Hollywood myth. There were of course outlaws on the frontier but those who wanted a future for their children, banded together to eliminate this threat. Such people were for the most part law abiding and certainly not part of today’s gun culture.

    For that, you need to look at the drooling southern racist who is certain that he needs guns because he knows in his heart that he and his antecedents were guilty of the most horrific crimes against blacks and reasonable, intelligent productive people in the rest of the country. As this “southern culture” spreads out across the country, it infects many it comes into contact with and brings poverty and stupidity wherever it goes.

  • Anonymous

    2nd amendment is a bit ambiguous and “therein lies (a lot of) the rub”:

    Constitution- “Congress is granted the power to use U.S. militia for three specific missions: ** “.. to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions.”

    2nd amendment (in 20th century speak)-
    “(Because) a militia is required for the security of a free state (country), people should be allowed to own guns.”

    I’m not a Constitutional attorney, but it seems forefathers were saying to citizenry- “hey folks, the world is still dangerous- Brits are still around, France and Spain still own substantial part of our continent; so it MIGHT not be such a bad idea to remain vigilant, so as to come to aid of our infant nation should we come under attack.”

    Somehow “militia required for security of a free state” has come to be interpreted as- “people need as many high powered weapons as possible so as to fend off their own government”.

    Apparently, if hell breaks loose it will be the militia of those “suppressing insurrections” against the militia “fending off the state”.

  • joe calhoun

    I have been able to look into the native transition struggles in the PNW. At the outbreak, in Oct. 1855, weapons were pretty rare among settlers, the few around were mostly elsewhere, at a miner’s rush. We got our militia’s guns when James Douglas of the Hudson’s Bay Co graciously wrote a personal check for them on Vancouver Island and sent them immediately via his own steamer.

    The most effective militia used was imported, and self-armed: key units and overall leadership came up from Oregon. Their cannon was aimed at a sitting higher court, and a displaced judge ruled from a tavern in Olympia before it was over, while a second justice in jail for 9 days.

    The significant settler face-off with PNW native hostiles involved a confrontation in Oregon led by an Oregonian (B.F. Shaw), both dispatched physically from Olympia.

    The advanced, long-range friendly 1853 Springfield or Sharps, and drilling troops with them beforehand, is what drove a total defeat of the natives near Spokane in late 1858, without army casualty. A faction of the Yakama tribe drove and led the struggles on a regional basis.