“Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America”
by Adam Winkler (W.W. Norton and Company 2011)


A JPFO BOOK REVIEW by Kirby Ferris

© Copyright Jews For The Preservation of Firearms Ownership (JPFO) 2011



Most of you reading this review on its first “cycle” will have a nagging and fundamental disagreement with Adam Winkler’s extremely well written, and fascinating, book “Gunfight”.

However, and I mean this emphatically, this is not by any means an anti-gun diatribe. In fact, I think this book is such an important addition to Second Amendment literature, and the realities of American life, that I would advise any gun owner who cares about his or her freedom to get a copy and read it as soon as possible.

America has always had guns. And, as importantly, Winkler (who is a Professor of Law at UCLA) points out that America has always had “gun control”.

Albeit, the sort of “gun control” enforced in the pre-Revolution colonies and in the decade or two after the Revolution was more like: “You’d better have a gun and you’d better be able to prove it to your local Militia honchos.” And, as most people know by now, black slaves, and many black freemen, could not own guns.

Interwoven between the narrative of the historical roller coaster of gun rights in America is the inside story of what really happened in the recent landmark Heller vs. The District of Columbia decision at the United States Supreme Court. For this reason alone, I predict that the N.R.A. will fall completely silent regarding Winkler’s book.

Author Winkler’s descriptions of attorney Alan Gura’s struggle to keep the case under “libertarian” control, and out of the second guessing dominion of NRA “big dogs” reads with the fascination of a good mystery. In the process we are taught some very pragmatic things about winning legal cases, especially a particular legal case (what the Second Amendment really means) that the Supreme Court had evaded for seventy years.

The post civil war era is covered in great depth. One might be advised to view JPFO ’s "No Guns for Negroes" as a primer for Winkler’s expansive explanation of this dark period in our history.

Next we are taken to the “Wild” West and it simply turns out that, in the towns and cities specifically, it was just not that wild. You couldn’t legally pack a gun in Tombstone or Dodge City. And any sort of concealed carry was truly frowned upon … as “unmanly”. Many “Wild West” towns would have gotten the eager stamp of approval from Sarah Brady and Michael Bloomberg!

Winkler points out that the Second Amendment, and the Bill of Rights in their entirety, was drafted to only limit the power of the federal government. The Bill of Rights dealt only with Congress, i.e. “Congress shall make no law … ”. But the town councils of Tombstone and Dodge City, and dozens of other local jurisdictions, sure did make their share!

Back to Gura vs. the NRA. The plot thickens, and frankly, many of you will want to directly ask Wayne LaPierre and Steve Halbrook (NRA top attorney) if they really and truly did this sneaky stuff to Gura and his associates. Allegations of back stabbing and double dealing that are simply astounding.

And, as we move into more modern times, there was the NRA waltzing right down the aisle with support for virtually every major gun control law of the first three quarters of the 20th Century. Harlan Carter (and Neal Knox) are respectfully mentioned as the major reason that the NRA isn’t still just a bunch of “Elmer Fudds” and “quackers”.

Winkler, whether purposefully or not, makes a very good case that alcohol Prohibition was probably the worst thing that ever happened to the Second Amendment and American gun rights in general. Make booze illegal, organized crime moves into the black market trade, and you’ve got gang wars and cops being shot (although only on very rare occasion with the then legal “Tommy Guns” of the day). Without the idiocy of Prohibition we very likely would not have had the National Firearms Act of 1934, which effectively outlawed (via draconian taxation) the civilian ownership of full auto firearms.

All through the narrative of this era you can sense media hysteria mongering at work. The gangsters, the “G-men”, the state-to-state pursuits of the “wantonly lawless” stirred the average American into a fearful “do something about this!” froth of short sighted emotionalism. Nothing has changed. Let’s ban “the criminals’ weapons of choice”.

So, at the stroke of a pen, with NFA 1934 the government gained a monopoly on the possession of full auto weapons. How convenient, as the nation slid deeper and deeper into a depression that the very same government was using to expand its power in all areas of life by leaps and bounds. Sound familiar?

Do I have to say it again? DOES IT SOUND FAMILIAR?

Moving right along, we enter the Sixties. And it is Winkler’s explanation of the “Black Power” movement that is perhaps the most ironic and telling segment of “Gunfight”. It’s my favorite, because I was literally there and actually did yell “Free Huey” a few times!

You want a “no compromise” Second Amendment group? The original Black Panthers, in their first year or two, were as hard core as they come. Those rude “Soul Brothers and Sisters” drove to Sacramento and marched into the California State Capitol building bristling with fully loaded rifles, shotguns, pistols and revolvers! And it was ALL fully legal at the time! This was in 1967.

Winkler’s description of Huey Newton’s armed public showdown with an Oakland, CA cop is a classic. Newton later became a sicko, crack smoking, murdering scumbag … and died with three bullets to the face from a rival. But for a few months there Huey was walkin’ the walk. And, I have to say, regarding guns, during that short time he spoke for all free Americans, black or white.

Meanwhile, the NRA helped Thomas Dodd write the “Gun Control Act of 1968”. Dodd leaned heavily on Nazi German knowhow to specifically phrase America’s full immersion into citizen gun registration. Prove me wrong, but nowhere that I can recall does author Winkler substantially connect the dots between gun registration and gun confiscation.

At this point, 1968, author Winkler delves into the mentality of compromise. The NRA truly did have a bad or worse choice to make. Do you get up and leave the room with your morality intact, but a complete loser? Or do you scramble to negotiate some favorable crumbs from a bad situation that is inevitably going to come down?

What I got out of the Sixties narrative is two edged. The Black Panthers may have actually caused GCA ’68. They certainly caused sweeping negative revisions of California gun laws, lead by supposedly ”pro gun“ Governor Ronald Reagan. But, at the same time, were the Panthers the earliest modern warning to today’s thoughtful gun owners?

Winkler doesn’t allege this, but are the “Militia” and “Patriot Movement” members the Black Panthers of this day and age? Could it be that (predominantly white) gun owners of today should revisit that era and pay closer attention to what Malcolm X, H. Rap Brown, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale were saying about freedom … and guns?

“Gunfight” author Adam Winkler skirts very lightly around “gun control” and genocide. That bothered me. JPFO is mentioned as an “extremist” group. So is Gun Owners of America. Winkler interviewed the now late Aaron Zelman. Aaron is quoted briefly. However, I blinked in surprise when the author noted that Wayne LaPierre in recent times seems to be moving into the mindset of Aaron Zelman! Oh, were it truly so! From your mouth to G-d’s ear, Professor Winkler!

Winkler also at times seems to have what appears to be a short sighted trust in the goodwill of government. This irks me, as so many of his observations are laced with realistic insight and wisdom, and his deep understanding of the Bill of Rights is unquestionable.

But when he is using the standard Brady canards like “reasonable gun control”, “responsible gun control”, and “common sense”, you almost think he is fishing for the endorsement from uber liberal Arianna Huffington that appears on the back cover of the book.

Both sides in the debate on “gun control” will use Adam Winkler’s book for support. The NRA will act like is was never printed.

It is important that we also realize something else: This book will be the future blueprint for the gun prohibitionists.

Whether knowingly or not, the author has given the Sarah Bradys, Michael Bloombergs and Charles Schumers, the only viable map to their goal of complete citizen disarmament. That map’s instructions are to abandon the hysteria and the utopian fantasizing of a disarmed world and get ultra slick and ultra seductive. We will see the psychological and political weapon of incrementalism, the almost microscopic but persistent nibbling away of our gun rights, used with more cunning than ever before. They will chew our toes off painlessly.

Something about how Adam Winkler presents the “Gunfight” story makes me think that if you asked him directly if my above observation were true he might simply raise his eyebrows and smile enigmatically. Maybe, from the point of view of a cagey lawyer, some things are best left unsaid.

Get “Gunfight”. Read it. Learn from it, and stay free. Oh, and one other thing: Alan Gura is an American hero.


The book is due in book stores September 19th, 2011.


Kirby Ferris collaborated intensively with Aaron Zelman over the last two years of Aaron’s life. Ferris is currently the Operations Manager of JPFO.

See all of Kirby Ferris’ articles.

© Copyright Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership 2011.

Original material on JPFO is copyright, and so it cannot be used or plagiarized as the work of another. JPFO does however encourage article reproduction and sharing, providing full attribution is given and a link back to the original page on JPFO is included.


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