Book Review: American Shooter by Gerry Souter

A brief preface: When I was asked to review this book, I was offered the chance to interview the author about guns for self-defense. I think the idea was that it would make it slightly more relevant for this martial arts blog, with our focus on self-defense. I declined the offer because of my view that in Canada, guns are not, for civilians, truly self-defense tools. Our culture and our laws make the use of guns, handguns especially, difficult to use for self-defense. In Canada, guns are in a lot of ways viewed more as tools; for farmers, hunters, law enforcement, and the military. However, for understanding the differences in our views on self-defense with our brothers to the south, I thought that this would be an interesting book to review, so I give you:

American Shooter: A Personal History of Gun Culture in the United Sates by Gerry Souter

American Shooter Cover Art

American Shooter can be summed up one of two ways:

An illuminating and fascinating look into the historical development of gun culture & technology and the shift of the National Rifle Association from the guardians of marksmanship to the staunch 2nd amendment defenders of today.


The painfully meandering history of guns in America, the evolution of the culture, technology and the National Rifle Association, mixed with the delightful experiences of the author as a recreational shooter.

I both thoroughly enjoyed this book, and found it very difficult to finish. The content within the book is good, but the delivery is a little weak. It reads like desktop-drawer memoir, a term I picked up during my time at Carleton University studying journalism. One of my professors said every journalist has an unfinished book he’s been working on for 15-years in his desk that he slowly pecks away at.

This book reads like it’s a sum of notes, thoughts and insights tossed together haphazardly over the years. Souter jumps around the timeline with reckless abandon that would make Marty McFly dizzy, and more than once I wondered how I went from dot-com to civil war era in a paragraph.

In an interesting irony, the book’s author concludes that the NRA, which has moved away from pushing shooting as a sport, should be using it’s resources to help make shooting more mainstream, a respected sport, and to broaden its appeal less to educated gun enthusiasts and more to the mainstream public. I wish the author, after penning those words had gone back and taken a look at parts of his book. He gets very in-depth into calibre differences of bullets and the nitty-gritty of gun technology, differences that only enthusiasts would truly enjoy.

So that’s why I found the book difficult to get through. Having said all that, I still enjoyed the book. Getting past the technical small stuff, I truly enjoyed learning about overall advancements in both gun technology and the development of gun culture. The author also intersperses his own stories about his development and relationship with shooting that really captures the feeling of recreational shooting, and makes a strong argument for the sport of shooting. And while he defends the American right to bare arms, he believes that the desire or the need to strap on a piece when you walk out the door for self-defense is a failure of American society with no easy fix.

This book has me quite torn, which is why my review is all over the place. If you’re interested in the history of gun culture in the US, and want an insight into the NRA, and have never really understood sport shooting culture, this is a good book. Just don’t expect to sit down and read it in one afternoon, as the pacing is difficult, and the jumping around the timeline means you need to really be paying attention.

This book truly is an insightful, at times painfully meandering, yet delightful romp through gun culture, personal experience, and polarization of the gun debate in the United States. If you want a rational look at a very unique part of the American psyche, check it out.

Comments (2)

2 thoughts on “Book Review: American Shooter by Gerry Souter

  1. I haven’t read the book so I’m not going to comment on it but I must admit as a European I find the US a strange culture at times: this fixation on firearms is quite foreign to us and the supposed need for self-defense even more. The idea behind gun proliferation is that it’s supposed to make people safer but in reality the US has a much higher crime-rate than the European nations with a much stricter gun-law and thus far less firearms so it’s not unreasonable to presuppose the mentality and social system do play a significant role in crime-prevention and reduction. If you have to walk around armed in order to be safe obviously the police and the politicians screwed up big time and as I heard there are alot of neighbourhoods in the US that are aking to third world countries in terms of unemployment, poverty and violence: very strange for what is still the richest country in the world (be it that that opulence is mainly built on debt, unfortunately the same holds true for Europe). If I had to resort to carrying a firearm to ensure my safety I’d rather move to a more peaceful neighbourhood or even country. I’m not opposed to private gun-ownership per se (cars can be used as weapons too yet nobody objects to them and I do believe most gun-owners are sane, reasonable people who won’t pose a danger to their fellow-citizens) but in reality where there are guns there’ll always be people who’re going to cause trouble in terms of accidents, children finding the weapons, crimes of passion, mass-killings… Of course guns are not the only means of lethal violence but I still presume it’s much easier to point a gun at someone and pull the trigger than use a blunt object or a knife.

  2. The book is actually quite good in explaining the rise of gun culture in the US. Initially, I think gun ownership was reasonable, but the author argues that part of the problem is that outside of sportsmen & those professions that use it, it’s grown as a form of lock & load self-esteem. If you want to get a better idea of the rise of gun culture in the US, I would suggest picking up a copy of this book – assuming it’s available in your country.

    It was certainly illuminating for me, as Canada definitely has more of a European bent when it comes to our cultural outlook on guns.

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