Want to celebrate America’s independence like a Founding Father? Consider getting to a range. It’s what they would have wanted. The celebration of America’s independence, self-determination and revolutionary spirit is rooted in a heritage of responsible firearm ownership.
John Adams, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and later the second President of the United States wrote to his wife Abigail that July 2 would be a day generations of Americans would celebrate with “Pomp and Parade…Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other.” His prediction was off by two days. That was a day the Second Continental Congress voted for the Declaration and the day he and 55 others signed it. July 4 would become the day Congress formally adopted it.
Still, Adams was recognizing that America’s celebration of its birth was also a recognition of the role of firearms in shaping the nation’s identity. America was a nation literally hewn from a wild frontier and birthed under the sound of gunfire.
American Arms Production
The first firearms produced in America started “literally as a cottage industry” wrote Chris Kyle, former Navy SEAL and author of American Gun, the book he was writing when he was tragically killed.
American guns, he explained, were adaptations of European designs to meet the demands of the American frontier. They were shorter, lighter and rifled, giving the “American Long Rifle,” or Kentucky Long Rifle its place in history. They were the original American guns, designed, manufactured and employed to meet the unique needs of hunting America’s landscapes.
Those rifles were also employed in America’s rebellion against the British crown. British Lt. Gen Thomas Gage sent a 700-man force from Boston to Lexington and Concord, Mass., to seize a cache of guns and gunpowder. On April 19, 1775, they were met by 77 Colonists bearing whatever guns they could bring. Likely, among them were American made firearms.
More than a year before America declared its sovereignty, the heritage of America’s fierce independence backed by private gun ownership had taken root.
The notion of a nation’s citizenry was revolutionary for the time, but not for the Founders.
James Madison, America’s fourth president, wrote in Federalist 46 that private firearm ownership was an essential trait of the American character.
“Americans have the right and advantage of being armed – unlike the citizens of other countries whose governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”
General George Washington established the “Arsenal at Springfield” in 1777, later known as Springfield Armory in Massachusetts. In 1795 it went from storing guns to producing them with the 1795 Springfield Flintlock Infantry Musket, just a year after now-President Washington ordered the arsenal to become a full-fledged armory.
It would be the first of many storied American gun manufacturers, including Eliphalet Remington, Samuel Colt, Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson, Benjamin Henry, John Moses Browning, Hiram Maxim and in later years, Eugene Stoner, the designer of the modern sporting rifle.
Celebration of Arms
Even the first celebrations of the Declaration of Independence involved firearms. Five days after the Declaration’s signing, it was read aloud in New York City in front of General Washington and his troops.
The reaction was as stunning as it was fitting. Soldiers and citizens went to Bowling Green, a park in Manhattan, and promptly tore down a statue of King George III on horseback. To add insult to injury, they melted the statute for musket balls, 42,088 of them to be exact.
Guns, and often big guns, were used to mark America’s independence. July 4, 1777 saw ships’ cannons fired 13 times in honor of the colonies, along with fireworks. George Washington celebrated in 1778 with a double ration of rum for the troops and an artillery salute. In 1810, the War Department established the “national salute,” of firing one gun for each of the states, which was 17 at the time.
The character of America’s firearm heritage is true to today. Millions of Americans have chosen to purchase a firearm for the first time in the last two years. These are law-abiding citizens seizing their God-given right to keep and bear arms, for self-preservation and self-reliance. It is entirely fitting, and an honor to our national firearm heritage, to make a little noise at a local range and celebrate America’s birth.
Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.