AMERICAN SPECTATOR June 4, 2019
– When Free Soil settlers in Kansas were being bloodied by pro-slavery
forces in the years before the American Civil War, abolitionist preacher Henry
Ward Beecher decided enough was enough, endorsing the shipment of a thousand
high-powered Sharps rifles to the settlers.
The guns’ new breech-loading mechanism dramatically
increased their rate of fire over the era’s slow, awkward muzzle-loaders. In
essence, this made them the assault rifles of their time. The Rev. Beecher
(brother to Uncle Tom’s Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe) told a
reporter that there was “more moral power in one of those instruments, so far
as the slaveholders of Kansas were concerned, than in a hundred Bibles.”
Viewing guns as a positive good isn’t typical in this era of
mass shootings, but a recent book suggests that for much of America’s history,
that is exactly how they were regarded.
In First Freedom: A Ride Through America’s Enduring History with the Gun (Simon & Schuster, Oct. 2018), David Harsanyi argues that in America at least, guns were central to the national experience; without them we might still be squatting on the Atlantic seaboard subsisting on shellfish and charity from the nearby Wampanoag Indian tribes.
Harsanyi begins at the beginning, with man’s discovery that
doing violence is safer at a distance. The use of “ranged weapons,” sticks and
stones, for the most part, likely began in Africa some 71,000 years ago.
Working forward, he touches on the use of gunpowder weapons
in China, where “alchemists searching for an elixir for immortality combined
saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal and inadvertently stumbled upon a man-made
recipe that would cause more premature death than any other mixture in
The Chinese also demonstrated an entertaining creativity in the naming of their gunpowder devices: “Heaven-Shaking-Thunder-Crash Bomb,” “Match-for-Ten-Thousand-Enemies Bomb,” “Bandit-Burning Vision-Confusing Magic Fire-Ball.” [Read More]