The annual breeding dance is beginning at Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge. Will you be there for the party?
I would like to recommend a book to you.
If you are reading this column, you are probably more than a little interested in some facet of the shooting sports, and every month, we try to bring you illuminating information on a firearm or shooting accessory. Not this month.
With Christmas fast approaching, I am going to recommend a book that you should own and have in your personal library.
I do not make that statement lightly, and in fact I consider reading this book one of the most profound experiences of my shooting career. I cannot stress enough that you should buy it, read it and give it to friends.
These are extreme and strong statements, but if you read this book, I am positive you will agree with me. In fact, when I mention the name, many of you will have already read this book. Some of you, I am discovering, have read it several times.
But somehow, as involved as I am in the shooting sports, this book flew under my radar — until a good friend, an involved pistol shooter, recommended it to me.
The book has a bland title — “Unintended Consequences” — but its subject matter is anything but bland.
The author is a graduate of Amherst College in Massachusetts, with dual degrees in English and Economics. And along with an Ivy League education, John Ross is an unapologetic and dedicated member of what he terms the “gun culture.”
As an enthusiast for all facets of pistol shooting, long-range and bench-rest shooting with rifles, and a fascination with fully automatic weaponry, he early became dismayed at the harassment of the shooting community in ever-increasing doses of governmental intervention.
Outright abuses of the constitutional rights of shooters in such incidents as the Randy Weaver debacle at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and the Branch Davidian massacre in Waco, Texas, outraged him as they did many Americans, even citizens who were non-shooters and had no interest in firearms.
He sat down to write a novel into which he wove practically every significant event that has occurred in the shooting world since the turn of the 20th century.
Thus you will learn the true story of Al Topperwine, a professional demonstration shooter for Winchester. In 1906, Topperwine spent 12 days at the San Antonio Fairgrounds using three Winchester .22 semi-automatics to fire at 72,500 wooden blocks tossed 25 feet in the air.
He missed nine.
The book contains a photo of Topperwine sitting on a small hill of wooden blocks 8 feet high, and extending in length out of the borders of the photo.
You will learn of the exploits of John Browning, a mechanical genius and the most brilliant gun designer ever born. You will learn how he came to build a manufacturing company that exists to this day, along with shooting mechanisms that have been used since the 19th century and are still being applied in military and civilian systems today.
You will also learn that the National Firearms Act of 1934, the act that limited private ownership of fully automatic weapons, silencers and short-barreled rifles and shotguns, was designed as a tax vehicle for the federal government to gain revenue from private citizens who wished to own such devices, and also as a way to keep a glut of federal agents employed and on the payroll after the repeal of the Volstead Act and Prohibition in 1933.
And it was this act, a simple, expedient tax vehicle, that gave certain government agencies power over the shooting community — power that has been systematically abused over the years. Thus in a frighteningly wide array of incidents, gun folks have been terrorized and victimized, and in some cases, killed.
Ross documents these abuses of government powers through the years, detailing them for posterity so we will never forget such little-remembered incidents as the veterans of World War I who converged on Washington D.C. in July of 1932, in the height of the Depression, to peacefully petition the government to grant early payment of promised veteran’s benefits. Some 20,000 persons, all veterans, all unarmed by general agreement, formed what came to be known as the “Bonus Army.”
When this peaceful army of veterans began what was known as the “Death March,” a silent shuffling of beaten souls around the nation’s Capitol, President Herbert Hoover ordered Gen. Douglas MacArthur, chief of staff of the United States Armed Forces, to take troops and clear the veterans from the campground where they had set up in shacks and hovels made of cardboard.
Also involved in this military movement against peacefully demonstrating veterans were two majors to later achieve high rank — George S. Patton and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The Bonus Marchers were routed, their “Hooverville” community burned, and numbers were wounded and died. Many simply disappeared, never to be heard from again. In those days, with little in the way of personal identification, bodies with no one to claim them were simply buried. Many families never learned what happened to the veteran who went to Washington to try to get the government to speed up a promised bonus payment for military service during a time of war.
This debacle, which turned into a near slaughter, shocked the nation, and was a major factor in Hoover losing his re-election bid, according to Ross.
In this book are recreations of such actual incidents as the Civil War weaponry collector who had his door crashed down by federal agents, who gave no warning or identification as law enforcement as they tore into his home late at night. He and his wife were preparing for bed.
When he pulled a black powder cap-and-ball pistol to defend his terrified wife, the agents opened fire with a veritable barrage of pistol and automatic-weapon fire. One round out of dozens found its mark, and this innocent man, wrongly accused of owning illegal explosive devices, who did not have even one modern firearm in his home, was crippled for life.
Here too, you will find factual recreations of the Ruby Ridge and Waco incidents, and the infamous FBI shootout with murderous bank robbers in Miami in 1986. In many of these stories, you will be amazed and angered at the actions of your government in its pursuit of control over the ownership of firearms.
Ross weaves these stories and more into the fabric of his novel, mixing recreated true stories with a fictional tale of a culture in the United States — the “gun culture” — that finally has enough, and begins fighting back. The way Ross details this battle to regain rights for private citizens is his own view of what could happen, and it is violent, bloody and highly controversial.
Ross describes a guerrilla war against government powers that have finally become too entrenched, too invasive and too restrictive. These agents violate God-given rights of the citizenry, even killing law-abiding citizens for the temerity to stand up for their rights to own firearms and defy these same agencies.
In the final quarter of the book, the gun culture strikes back, and the story here speaks of armed insurrection and shocking reprisals against agents of the federal government who have violated citizens’ rights in the past.
It is because of this view of one possible outcome of the harassment of gun owners that Ross’ book could never gain national reviews. It is, after all, a book about guns, shooting and insurrection, and such things are offensive, and not worthy of note by national reviewers.
Whether you agree with Ross’ view of the outcome of the continued erosion of our personal liberties, this is an important book that every shooter needs to read — if for no other reason than to be educated about the history of your avocation and to remember the abuses that have occurred in the past, in order to keep them from happening again.
While I found the final quarter of Ross’ book disturbing and over-the-top in many ways, I was fascinated and amazed by the depth of his research into the many incidents that have shaped our culture as firearms enthusiasts.
I was astounded at his ability to weave factoids and fascinating information about so many different fields of shooting. I became much more educated in facets of shooting of which I knew very little. As a writer, his story-telling is superb. As a teacher, weaving information about how so many different shooting sports are pursued, he is unparalleled.
I’ll end with Ross’ overriding question for the entire world: Why do we have to apologize for and fear for the continuation of our avocation, a practice that has been named as a God-given right by no less personages than the Founding Fathers who wrote our Constitution? Why do they hate it so? Why do they want to take away our right to even own a firearm?
When you get right down to it, it’s only a sport. It’s only shooting, for crying out loud.
John Ross’ book can be found by calling Accurate Press at (800) 374-4049, or going to their website at www.accuratepress.net.
Gordon Hutchinson’s best-selling novel, The Quest and the Quarry, a generational tale that parallels the lives of a line of trophy bucks and the youth of a farming family, can be ordered at www.thequestandthequarry.com, or by calling (800) 538-4355.
The novel was recently chosen as a book of the year by the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association.