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AMERICAN GUN by Cameron McWhirter Kirkus Star


The True Story of the AR-15

by Cameron McWhirter & Zusha Elinson

Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 2023
ISBN: 9780374103859
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

How an influential gun design became central to debates over Second Amendment rights.

In this superb history of an innovative weapon, McWhirter and Elinson, who both cover the gun industry for the Wall Street Journal, track the invention of the AR-15 rifle in the 1950s, adoption by the American military in the 1960s (where it was known as the M16), and gradual rise to notoriety toward the end of the 20th century and into the 21st as it became, in the semiautomatic form in which it was sold to the public, a favored choice of mass shooters. The authors begin with an exploration of the life and career of Eugene Stoner (1922-1997), a gifted engineer who sought to create a weapon superior to those used by American soldiers in World War II. The authors then give insightful commentary on the evolution of Stoner’s signature creation, disastrous deployment in Vietnam after ill-considered modifications, slow introduction to civilian gun aficionados and gradually rising profile in pop culture, provocation of outrage after being used in notorious crimes, and eventual transformation into a symbol of freedom embraced by the National Rifle Association and hard-line gun-rights advocates. This is a meticulously researched and impressively informed book; despite careful explanations of technical details, the narrative moves along briskly and engagingly. Furthermore, McWhirter and Elinson clearly and fairly handle the sometimes-complex motivations of those seeking to promote the AR-15 along with the frequently base impulses of those looking to profit without moral concern. What emerges, too, through accounts of individuals who have fallen victim to gun violence, is a harrowing sense of the enormous suffering wrought by this invention and the seemingly insurmountable political resistance to mitigating it in any significant way. Ultimately, readers gain an unsettling and timely understanding of how “a device created to protect America [is] wounding it.”

A riveting exploration of the cost of the nation’s fascination with an iconic weapon.