Last week I found out that Smith & Wesson is shutting down its factory in Springfield, MA and moving the entire operation down to Tennessee.  S&W moved some of its warehousing to Tennessee last year, and now the entire company, which started producing guns in Springfield in the 1860’s, is relocating to the South.

              The small arms industry emerged in various sites along the Connecticut River, thanks to the decision by George Washington to fund a government arsenal in Springfield to produce military rifles after the Revolutionary War. Washington justified the arsenal’s location because the Connecticut River above Hartford, CT was too shallow for British warships to come up and bomb the facility to smithereens. But the real reason the arsenal was located in Massachusetts was as a payoff to Washington’s good friend, Henry Knox, who was a Massachusetts resident and became the country’s first Secretary of War.

              Knox was the man whose remarkable effort to bring heavy cannons from Ticonderoga to Boston in 1775 broke the British siege and probably saved the Revolution. The arsenal, which opened in 1777, spawned a host of smaller gun makers up and down the Connecticut River Valley, which became known as Gun Valley, and was the location of such iconic gun companies as S&W, Colt, Ruger, Marlin, and Winchester, none of which are operating in their original locations today.

              So, the gun companies have all disappeared from where they were first located, but all these companies and lots of other gun makers are still producing and selling weapons in the United States and abroad. In 2019, American gun companies produced 7 million weapons and accounted for 35% of all small arms exported throughout the world.

              How and why does the United States have such an overwhelming devotion to small arms? After all, you don’t need to make a small, semi-automatic rifle or handgun in order to manufacture an F-35. Many countries have suitable, well-armored military forces without extending the ownership or use of weapons to the civilian side.

              And by the way, thanks to the incisive reportage by Mike Spies, for all the talk several years ago about how the National Rifle Association was on its last legs and Wayne LaPierre was on his way out the door, I just sent in an extra donation for my Golden Eagles membership and received a nice thank-you letter from Wayne.

              I had three hobbies as a kid: toy trains, toy soldiers and toy guns.  My mother got sick of tripping over the train tracks on the floor, so the trains were boxed up and given away.  I stopped collecting toy soldiers when they were no longer made out of lead because the plastic soldiers were just too crummy and cheap. But I switched from toy guns to the real thing when in 1956 I bought my first Smith & Wesson in a straw sale in Florida when I was twelve years old.

              The manufacture of small arms was one of the principal commodities which emerged in the early decades of the Industrial Revolution, both in the United States and abroad. Guns were easy to make, parts could be quickly fitted together on a primitive assembly line, and the whole technology of creating a gaseous propellant by igniting some dry chemicals had been known since 10th-Century Chinese times.

              But the reason why guns became a fixture of commonplace life in America was because we were the only country which experienced its industrial revolution at the same time that its frontier was being opened, settled, and turned into farmland to produce edible commodities for urban life.

              The first modern guns were manufactured in Europe, particularly in Italy, around the 14th Century, with the technology quickly spreading into France, Central Europe and beyond. The frontier in these zones had been entirely eradicated nearly one thousand years previously as the Roman legions came up from the South and the Germanic tribes came down from the North.

              When was Paris first settled? Try somewhere around 225 B.C.  Not A.D., okay? B.C.

               Most of the land mass which today covers the habitable regions of our Lower 48 was transformed into living and farming space less than a century ago. When the Census declared that the frontier was ‘closed’ in 1890, this mean that at least one person had a permanent habitation located within one mile of someone else.

              If you wanted to be one of those early settlers in most of the Lower 48, you needed a plow, a saw, and a gun. And thanks to the Industrial Revolution, all three objects were cheap and readily available for anyone to purchase and use.

              In other words, guns truly are as American, if not more American than apple pie. And the idea that a bunch of highly educated, urban professionals are going to convince a majority of their fellow citizens that guns represent some kind of risk is like saying that Dirty Harry was a movie character about some detective who used a 44-magnum revolver to chase the bad guys around in England and France.