Moyers & Company

Gunfighter Nation

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Cultural historian and scholar Richard Slotkin has spent his adult life studying the violence that has swirled through American history and taken root deep in our culture. He has written an acclaimed trilogy on the myth of the frontier that has shaped our nation's imagination. In Regeneration through Violence, The Fatal Environment, Gunfighter Nation, and other works of history and fiction, he tracks how everything from literature, movies and television to society and politics has been influenced by this violent past ̶ including the gun culture that continues to dominate, wound and kill. And he outlines how America's frantic expansion from the Atlantic to the Pacific led us to embrace a mythology of gun-slinging white settlers taming the wilderness to justify a tragic record of subjugation and bloodshed. On this one year anniversary of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Bill Moyers speaks with Professor Slotkin (check local listings), who recently retired from a distinguished teaching career at Wesleyan University, just 45 minutes from Newtown. "The myth holds," Slotkin tells Moyers. "And it is stronger than the reality. Because those guns, particularly the Colt, are associated with one of the most active phases ̶ and most interesting phases ̶ of expansion. And therefore it has the magic of a tool ̶ the gun that won the west, the guns that created the American democracy and made equality possible."

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