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To many British officers, deliberately aiming at them rather than firing generally at the mass of men on the front line was akin to a war crime. The upper class that filled the officer ranks had never heard of such behavior before and they were astounded. To them it seemed repulsive, and very un-European.

It seems that Abraham Lincoln enjoyed firearms, also. The Lincoln White House had a shooting range … well, it had an area that was available for shooting. Lincoln had served in the military during the Black Hawk War and understood that not only was accuracy important, but the speed of reloading made a big difference, too. Apparently he often did his own testing of firearms in an effort to help decide what would be the best for the troops.

In the scene to which American Gun takes us, Lincoln is testing a Henry Repeater. After seeing that he could shoot multiple shots from the gun and reload it in a relatively short time, he went to test a modified Springfield musket, called a Marsh Rifle after its designer, Samuel Marsh. His trip to the range was interrupted by a couple of soldiers who rushed over to stop the shooting because of a Presidential Order which prohibited shooting in the capital city.

Through the war, Lincoln made recommendations to his War Department about various firearms that he thought would improve the situation on the ground, just to get rebuffed by the bureaucracy. How things have changed!

Did the final adoption of repeating rifles change the outcome of the war? Many think so. Would the war have ended sooner had the repeaters been ordered and put into the inventory sooner? Perhaps. Hypotheticals are easy and fun to contemplate, but the outcome of history is a bit more difficult to change.

The ten guns that American Gun highlights in order are:

The American Long Gun (Also called the “Kentucky” Long Rifle)
Spencer Repeater
Colt Single-Action Army
Winchester 1873 Rifle
Springfield Model 1903 Rifle
Colt M1911 Pistol
Thompson Submachine Gun
M1A Garand
.38 Police Special Revolver
M16 Rifle

However, there are more than ten firearms discussed in American Gun. In his details about firearms and technology leading up to the development of one of the guns on the list, the author discusses many other guns. Rather than a book about ten guns, it is really a tour de force about firearms and the role–good and bad–they have played in American history.

American Gun has a Foreword and an Afterword by Kyle’s widow, Taya. We learn that the concept of the book and much of the research was done prior to Kyle’s murder. It was completed after his death.

If you have read Kyle’s first book, the autobiographical American Sniper, it is easy to notice the difference in tone and content. The autobiography is a fascinating and sometimes crude first-person description of his life, focusing on his time in the war zone. In contrast, American Gun has much more of a conversational tone.

Should one be looking for a historical work with facts and figures on specific guns, American Gun isn’t the best choice. However, if the goal is to appreciate one person’s understanding of the role firearms have played in our history, American Gun should be satisfying.

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