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Book Review: ‘First Freedom: A Ride Through America's Enduring History with the Gun’

By: Joe Warta

Any book that opens with an allusion to King David’s victory over Goliath being one of superior firepower and not simply a Biblical miracle is sure to get my attention.
But it only gets more interesting from there.

From the ancient history of propulsion weapons, to the history of primitive 16th century firearms, to the modern day, author David Harsanyi provides a detailed and engaging retelling of “America’s enduring history with the gun” in his new book, “First Freedom.” (October 2018)

Harsanyi’s book is rife with historical commentary and is chock-full of exciting tales from our nation’s fundamental relationship with firearms.

It is hard to read “First Freedom” and not see stark similarities between the gun debate hundreds of years ago and today. For example, as Harsanyi points out, in 1727, English elitists asserted that those who used their firearms were “bad Christians… of little or no worth…” and would ultimately resort to using their weapons for criminal acts. And those English aristocrats were able to succeed in pushing their anti-gun agendas by banning many different kinds of hunting in an attempt to keep the population unarmed and untrained. Their anti-gun rhetoric reminded me of talking points that are still drilled into the populous by politicians and media elites today.

In delving into the complicated history of firearms, Harsanyi makes it clear that, from the United States’ founding, American citizens were not going to let anyone disarm them. The Revolutionary War was ignited, in part, by an attempt by the British to disarm New England citizens during the Gunpowder Incident.

The American people, as Harsanyi points out, have always viewed their right to self-defense as fundamental. It is clear that those who sought to disarm colonists never really provided a sound philosophical reason for doing so – meanwhile, Americans cited their natural right and duty to self-defense as their reasons for keeping and bearing arms. Americans, indeed, were unquestionably the most zealous defenders of natural rights in the world.

American gun culture traces its roots to the thousand-year-old English tradition of self-defense. The English people were implored to arm themselves by King Alfred. The semi-modern establishment of militias dates back to English villages, and the natural right to self-defense can be seen in royal proclamations in England hundreds of years ago, which demanded that each male head of household own a weapon to defend himself and his family.

Harsanyi, of course, did not simply write a book about political philosophy. The technical history of the American relationship with firearms, as well as the detailed history of American warfare, provides a fascinating contrast to the philosophy of “First Freedom.”

The technical history of the American relationship with firearms gives an extraordinary, albeit under-reported, history into the American history of marksmanship. With accounts of the self-taught Appalachian marksmen who become one of the most invaluable components of Washington’s army in the American Revolution, to the fabled cowboys of the 1800s, Harsanyi’s reporting of history is sometimes more like an exciting novel than a history book.

“First Freedom” is far-reaching, and tackles the stories of Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill, the Lewis Gun, Mikhail Kalashnikov, and reaches into the modern infamy of the firearm debate.

I was thoroughly impressed with the depth and clarity with which Harsanyi writes. I started the book as a gun owner and liked to think I knew a thing or two about firearms, but I finished the books much more informed. “First Freedom” covers just about everything a gun owner could hope for: technical explanations of firearms, the political philosophy behind the right to self-defense, and of course, a healthy helping of entertaining history.

Joe Warta is a Regional Director with the National Association for Gun Rights writing from Colorado. Contact him at jpwarta@ymail.com.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.