The American government funded the country’s first gun companies, but as the nation matured, manufacturers faced a dilemma. To stay afloat, they needed to build a civilian market for weapons initially designed for war. Their answer: advertising. And the persuasive marketing tactics they pioneered are the same ones companies rely on today.

In the third episode of The Gun Machine, we talk about the man who wrote that playbook — Samuel Colt, who also helped seed the fantastical version of the American West that is often misremembered as fact today.

Follow the show on your favorite podcast app to get new episodes every Wednesday. The Gun Machine will also be available on WBUR’s site and on Here & Now from NPR and WBUR every Thursday.


Alain Stephens: It was the early 19th century. And an invasion had taken place. The Indigenous people of the Southwest plains, and their empire encompassing what is now considered modern Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, and New Mexico were under attack. Their enemies had called them many names over the years, but they called themselves: 

Carney Saupitty: Nʉmʉnʉʉ. That’s the real name, which means people.

Alain Stephens: You may know them by the name the Spanish and white colonizers have left them: The Comancheria or The Comanche. Years prior, The Comanche, or Nʉmʉnʉʉ, had beaten off the Spanish, taking their livestock — the desert-bred Iberian Mustang — and making it their own.

Carney Saupitty: They mastered the horse and it gave us tremendous mobility. It was really a game-changer for us.

Alain Stephens: Carney Saupitty is the cultural director at the Comanche Nation Cultural Center in Lawton, Oklahoma. The Comanche had also taken another implement from their white enemies pushing in from the east: The gun. By integrating single-shot pistols and rifles with their already established arsenal of lances and bows, the Comanche had turned every warrior on horseback into a mobile weapons platform.

Carney Saupitty: And it made us the major player and the, what you would say, the most powerful tribe on the Southern Plains, because of the ability to have all your people on horseback and to be able to hunt and to be able to take care of yourself.

Alain Stephens: The power of the horse had allowed them to hold the Spanish at their mercy, put Mexico on its knees. But now, in June 1844, in blistering Hill Country, they’d come across their latest enemy: White colonizers from the newly initiated Republic of Texas. To be specific it wasn’t just the colonizers they’d come across this day, but their enforcers: The Texas Rangers. 

Carney Saupitty: In any civilization when one meets another, you’re gonna defend your homeland through any means that you feel is proper for you.

Alain Stephens: And the Rangers were looking for a fight. They’d been hunting for Comanches as part of a long range patrol, and they were armed to the teeth. I’m from Texas, and I know this area just south of Austin in the summertime: Stony hills, shade from oak trees, but not much else other than heat and cicadas — and the merciless sun. The Rangers were outnumbered. Big time. The 200-strong Comanche force was also better skilled, an edge cemented by its leader Yellow Wolf, who was a cunning strategist in his own right. But this is exactly the fight the Rangers want. 

John Bainbridge: They said, “charge!” — both in English and Spanish — and they threw a couple of vulgarities at ’em too.

Alain Stephens: That’s John Bainbridge, a journalist and author of Gun Barons: The Weapons That Transformed America and the Men Who Invented Them.

John Bainbridge: The Rangers then did something unusual. They wheeled and launched into a full gallop, not in reverse, but they split into two groups across a shallow ravine, out of sight of the Indians. They took opposite sides of the hill, circling behind the enemy, and — despite a five-to-one disadvantage in manpower — broke cover and charged into the Comanche’s midst. The Comanches band now realize that the Rangers, they were much more dangerous than before.

Alain Stephens: For centuries the fundamental failure point of the gun was lack of repeatability. Up until this moment, to reload, reset, aim, and shoot a weapon was a catastrophically slow process in combat — with just one shot before you had to reload, a failure point so devastating it would become a linchpin of military training across the world, an absolute make or break point for battles across history. But today, the Rangers brought something new. 

John Bainbridge: They don’t even have to drop their hands to stick a, let’s say a shot pistol in a belt and pull out another one. They can put their hands out and continue to shoot with just the movement of the thumb and the forefinger, and they can do it accurately.

Alain Stephens: The amount of lead thrown at the Comanche was devastating. 

John Bainbridge: They said that their white adversaries had a shot for every finger on the hand. That’s something new to them. They would not yield, but they could also not gauge how many shots the Texans had left in their newfound weaponry.

Alain Stephens: What the Comanche didn’t know was that they had come up against a level of experimental weaponry few people, both white and Brown, had ever encountered before. A weapon that carried six times the rounds of its contemporaries, and boasted 15 times the rate of fire. This was the revolver. The Rangers claimed victory on that battle in Hill Country, the Battle of Walker’s Creek. But what many people didn’t see is that this blood-soaked battle would become the centerpiece of a marketing campaign and help build a billion dollar gun empire for one man: Samuel Colt. It should go without saying that there are many reasons white settlers were able to brutally displace so many Indigenous nations. Disease, genocidal campaigns. And of course the rampant trickery, thievery, and betrayal. But this specific battle? Pretty much the sole reason the Texas Rangers could even walk away alive was due to the brainchild of a New England tech startup. This was the Colt six-shooter, and you don’t have to know guns to know it’s iconic. 

Clip from The Quick and the Dead: Is it true that you gunned down four men? // Two with my left hand, two with my right.

Alain Stephens: The story of the West wouldn’t be written with a pen, but with a gun — and most of it is a myth. And it’s all because of Colt. I’m Alain Stephens. And you’re listening to The Gun Machine: How America Was Forged By the Gun Industry, a podcast by WBUR and the Trace. In earlier episodes, we’ve told you how there is no gun industry without the government — and there is no America as we know it without the gun industry. How it’s been this way since the launch of the Springfield Armory: the first open-source, government-funded technological resource, a revolutionary partnership between the government and the private sector. But that doesn’t mean being a gunmaker was a license to print money. As the country matured, those guys would have to write a different playbook: One outside of war, outside of fickle government. And it’s a playbook they use even now. Today, we talk about the man who wrote that playbook. Chapter 3: Go West. 

Alain Stephens: Anyone who has handled a Colt Single Action pistol can tell you, it is damn near perfection. Sure, it pales in comparison to the night-sighted, semi-auto, half-plastic pistols of today. But what it lacks in modern flair, it makes up for in near-perfect balance, artistry, and a certain classic profile that almost feels like an extension of the hand. I actually own a replica of a Colt Single Action Army revolver, part of the lineage of that first pistol the rangers pulled in Walker’s Creek, and there is a saying about the gun: That God made man, but Colt made man equal. And that was Colt’s greatest invention. Not the gun — but how he marketed it. And for that, I have to bring in producer Grace Tatter. 

[Grace Tatter: I have to sit on these stairs actually, and we’re gonna read.]

Alain Stephens: So Grace is my right-hand woman. You see, Imma keep it real. I’m an expert in blood, guts, violence, tech specs, and criminality. But Grace is my perfect backstop. She is organized, bookish. I lift. She runs. I’m Black. She’s white. And if I’m covered in a perpetual shadow of violence, she carries a glimmer of optimism. She and I wanted to dig into Colt’s legacy, and see it with our own eyes. So we take a trip to Hartford, Connecticut, to the Kingdom of Colt. 

[Grace Tatter: OK, when we turn the corner, we are going to see a big blue dome, that I think you’ve seen, we’ve kind of been able to see from afar…]

Alain Stephens: Our first stop in Hartford: The Colt Armory.

Grace Tatter: This is the factory where the gun first entered the mass market. 

[Alain Stephens: It almost looks like an embassy in a weird way, right?]

Alain Stephens: The armory is a large square building, topped with an impressive-looking blue dome. 

Grace Tatter: And about a block away, there are rows of apartments. Back in the day, this was company housing for Colt employees. 

[Alain Stephens: And it’s not bad.]

[Grace Tatter: No, it’s kind of charming, like the painted brick…]

Grace Tatter: But it’s nothing compared to the place where Colt lived: a huge manor, glamorously titled: Armsmear. 

[Alain Stephens: Arms meant guns, and mear was an archaic term for meadow. So guns in the meadow.]

Alain Stephens: Then there’s this massive church.

[Grace Tatter: It’s pretty.]

[Alain Stephens: Yeah, if you like gothic churches. Now, why are you sending us on a National Treasure Adventure? That’s what it seems like, it’s like it’s hidden right in front of us.]

Grace Tatter: Samuel Colt’s widow, Elizabeth, built this church in her husband’s honor. It’s called the Church of the Good Shepherd.

Alain Stephens: We rolled up with a couple of mics, and also a very handy book: Revolver, a biography of Colt by Jim Rasenberger.

[Grace Tatter: Here is what this book says about this church: Elizabeth believed unquestioningly in two things, her religion and her dead husband, and the Church of the Good Shepherd was her most explicit attempt to reconcile the two…]

Alain Stephens: When Elizabeth commissioned this church to be built, she told the architect to engrave it with all these symbols about guns. They’re pretty subtle, and at first, I can barely even notice them. 

[Alain Stephens: OK, so I do think I see some imagery here. So like, look up here, right? So, you have…]

Alain Stephens: But once you see the guns, they’re everywhere.

[Alain Stephens: These like five little cylindrical things, right? Sitting in the corner caps here, Very reminiscent of, like, a revolver.]

Grace Tatter: The church is still active today, but the city around it is very different. Hartford used to be the richest city in New England. But a few years ago, it almost had to file for bankruptcy. Like a lot of American cities, gun violence is a huge problem.  

[Alain Stephens: And while we’re looking for these, you know, secret gun symbols hidden away in its architecture, on the signs of all these buildings on the property, it says it’s like, you know, united against gun violence, right? So obviously it’s top of mind that, um, you know, gun violence is going on here today. I don’t know if it’s top of mind, how deeply rooted it is in our history.]

Grace Tatter: Colt built this empire by tapping into his spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation. But it wouldn’t have been possible without government spending. 

Alain Stephens: Or marketing. And Colt was a master marketer. He didn’t just sell a gun, he sold the myth of what it meant to own one: Self-reliant. Tough. The good guy with a gun. And unapologetically… white. 

Grace Tatter: He was selling an image of what it meant to be American at the time.

Alain Stephens: And another part of Colt’s mythmaking started with his own image. He’d talk himself up as a self-starter — rags-to-riches — when in fact, Colt was an original nepo baby. He was raised in Ware, Massachusetts, where his wealthy father ran the mill that employed most of their neighbors. Colt did some typical rich kid stuff: Getting into trouble, getting kicked out of boarding school, and as a result he ended up working on a merchant ship sailing to India. He would later say it was on that voyage that he invented his six-shooter.

Grace Tatter: Yeah and the thing is, even though Colt sometimes gets credit for inventing the revolver, he definitely didn’t. There were pepperbox pistols way back in the 1500s. In the 17th century, there was something called the Puckle gun, that had to be stood up on a tripod.

Alain Stephens: But Colt’s idea would make something smaller, more portable, and, crucially, more reliable.

Grace Tatter: We don’t know if he was really inspired while sailing to India, but we DO know that shortly after getting back to land, he bee-lined it to Washington, D.C., to get a patent for his idea.

Alain Stephens: He… did not succeed. Author John Bainbridge says that’s when Colt decided to rebrand himself. 

[John Bainbridge: He called himself the celebrated Dr. Coult. He put a U in his name, C-O-U-L-T, and he was, uh, full of sh…]

Grace Tatter: Shenanigans. That’s one way of putting it. He would travel around the country, making money by getting people high.

[John Bainbridge: He would go to various places and subject people to nitrous oxide, which was a big deal and everyone got excited. Everyone did funny things…]

Alain Stephens: But what was even more exciting for Colt than getting the nation high off of laughing gas? Guns. He’d shake down family, friends, and scratch together any cash he could to invest in his revolver.

Grace Tatter: Eventually he got that patent, and he started his gunmaking business for real. 

Alain Stephens: But what he didn’t have was enough customers to keep his business going.

[John Bainbridge: He spent lavishly, he couldn’t quite get contracts he wanted. And so it went up in smoke.]

Alain Stephens: His business folded. And it looked like he was out of the gun game, for good. But then, in 1846, Sam Colt meets another Sam — a Texas Ranger named Samuel Walker. 

[John Bainbridge: He received communication from a fabulously dynamic young Texas Ranger who said, ‘I’ve seen your gun. I’ve used it in the Texas plains and I like it, but it needs improvement. And I’ve got some ideas for that.’]

Alain Stephens: And his ideas just might be what Sam Colt needs to turn plucky invention into a household name. More after the break.

Alain Stephens: Samuel Walker and the Texas Rangers had used Sam Colt’s revolver at the battle of Walker’s Creek.

Grace Tatter: By the way, it’s just a coincidence that his name was Samuel Walker, and the battle was at Walker’s Creek. And that everyone was named Sam. 

Alain Stephens: Even though Walker’s Creek was a victory for the Texas Rangers, Samuel Walker nearly died. When he gets in touch with Sam Colt, they start working together to make Colt’s six shooter even better. 

[John Bainbridge: They developed a behemoth of a gun. A great huge thing, weighed four pounds, nine ounces. It shot six times, and it could be, it was meant to be carried in pairs on a horse.]

Grace Tatter: The other thing the Sams have going for them: Sam Walker is already a celebrity. 

[John Bainbridge: Well, Walker was big on this. His name was big. President Polk received him in the White House. He was a well-known, charismatic military man. And he had clout.]

Alain Stephens: And this is the first time we see a firearm with a celebrity endorsement. They call it the Walker pistol — it’s like the Air Jordan of guns. And suddenly people get interested. The U.S. government orders 1,000 Colt revolvers for service in the Mexican-American War.

Grace Tatter: There’s just one thing — Colt isn’t set up to make them.

John Bainbridge: He didn’t have a workforce, he had nothing. But he suddenly had an order for guns. And what is he gonna do? He’s gonna make it work.

Grace Tatter: And if this sounds familiar, that’s because Eli Whitney pulled the same thing.

Alain Stephens: Yeah, like we told you earlier in the series, Whitney promised the government a shipment of guns that he initially had no way of delivering.

Grace Tatter: Unlike Whitney, Colt actually does have the design and the technological know-how. He just needs everything else. So he turns to… Eli Whitney. Or rather, Eli Whitney’s son, who is now running his daddy’s armory. Colt gets him to manufacture the gun.

[John Bainbridge: The government now wanted more of them, and Colt was at this point, was on his way and there was no turning back.]

Grace Tatter: Now that he has government contracts, he’s able to restart his own company, open his factory in Hartford, and start to branch out. And this is where we see the beginning of a now-familiar cycle. 

Alain Stephens: A cycle that pushes gunmakers into reaching for the pinnacle of firearm technology. When the government wants guns, it invests in the gun industry. And gunmakers like Colt are able to improve on the weapons they’re making. They become bigger, more accurate, and deadlier. But then Colt becomes one of the first to figure out that if you really wanna get rich, you take that weapon designed for the military and bring it to the open market. Phil Klay wrote about this for the New Yorker and in his book, Uncertain Ground: Citizenship in An Age of Endless War

[Phil Klay: Colt rapidly recognized, and this was picked up by other early gun manufacturers, was that, if you wanted to have a stable and consistent business, it wasn’t good enough to hope for war and government contracts. You needed to build a civilian market.  He began mythologizing his weaponry.]

Grace Tatter: This is Colt’s big stroke of genius. He markets his gun as the weapon that won the Battle of Walker’s Creek. That won the Mexican-American War. That’s endorsed by Samuel Walker, a famous war hero.

Alain Stephens: And he’s doing all of this marketing at the dawn of mass media in the 1850s, a story told a century later by Hollywood: 

[Clip from Colt .45: “I heard a lot about these new Colt repeating pistols, Mr. Ferrell.” / “You’ll hear more, nothing like them.” / “How much more does a man have to hear? Look what it says in this advertising your company is doing: Secretary of War under President Polk has contracted with Mr. Colt for 2000 of his pistols.” / “During the war with Mexico, these pistols were responsible for our victories, even though we were outnumbered.”]

Alain Stephens: Colt places ads in national papers and magazines, reaching thousands of potential customers.

[Jennifer Tucker: This is years before Mad Men, and he’s really stepping into this space where there’s beginning to be a lot of opportunities for mass culture and mass entertainment.]

Grace Tatter: Jennifer Tucker is a historian at Wesleyan University and the director of the Center for the Study of Guns and Society. She walks me through some of the ads Colt used to convince everyday people they needed his guns. He did things like commission the popular artist George Catlin to paint self-portraits of him using Colt revolvers to fight Indigenous peoples. It’s what marketers call “predicament advertising.” 

[Jennifer Tucker: These gun advertisements, they’re intended to stimulate the viewer’s imagination by telling a story. And they’re trying to evoke a feeling, whether that was of excitement or suspense or fear or nostalgia. They could do that with a story as opposed to just saying, you know, these are the practical uses of the firearm…

Grace Tatter: Other gun makers start doing the same thing. Colt dies in 1862. But the myths he used to sell his guns live on. 

Alain Stephens: And those myths don’t just create a false image of who American gunslingers are. They also misrepresent what’s actually happening. Because while white Americans brought guns to the fight, Native Americans were often better at using them. 

Brian DeLay: It is often the case that, especially in the United States, that settlers and settler armies and militias are better armed than the Native people that they are trying to displace and conquer. But it’s not always the case.

Alain Stephens: That’s Berkeley professor Brian DeLay, again, who’s been providing us with some historical context throughout the series. He’s also an expert on Indigenous conflict. Mainstream images show Native Americans armed with almost everything but guns, and overpowered by the white man’s supposedly superior weaponry. In reality, many Native groups were expert gunmen. Decades after the Texas Rangers fought the Comanche at Walker’s Creek, the United States Army was still struggling against nations they far outnumbered.

Brian DeLay: I think it’s clear that Native polities who have access to the arms trade are able to sustain their own sovereignty for longer in most cases.

Alain Stephens: The reality of what firearms have meant to American Indians, and continues to mean today has been obscured by the myths sold to us by people like Colt so he could sell guns, myths that have become so ubiquitous, we forget they’re myths, in part because they’re seared into our cultural memory as the lifeblood of an iconic genre: the Western. First came dime store novels and traveling shows. Think Buffalo’s Bill Wild West and Annie Oakley. Then… came the movies.   

[Filmreel: I’d like you to take a look at this gun. The balance is excellent. This trigger responds to a pressure of one ounce. This gun was handcrafted to my specifications and I rarely draw it unless I mean to use it.]

Grace Tatter: The tropes gun companies helped craft and spread became the basis for a whole iconic genre. And you might be thinking of huge Hollywood names like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood.

[Filmreel: “I never kissed a gunsmith before.” / “You just shot an unarmed man. He shoulda armed himself.”]

Alain Stephens: But the real star of the Western was the gun. 

[Filmreel: “Four fast guns” / “Five guns West” / “The six shooter!” / “Seven guns for the MacGregors” / “40 guns!” / “100 rifles!”]

Grace Tatter: Hollywood released eight films with gun in the title in 1950 alone. And that trend has continued. 

[Filmreel: “Gunsmoke” / “Gun fury” / “Heaven with a gun.” / “Day of the evil gun.” “Young guns.”] 

Alain Stephens: Movies featuring outlaws with guns, good guys with guns, shoot-outs in saloons, and of course villainous depictions of Native Americans. 

[Filmreel: “The Apache Bride” / “The Avenging Scout” / “The Longshot Gambler.”]

Alain Stephens: These stories — all about rugged individualism and a wide-open frontier — are some of America’s most significant cultural exports.

Grace Tatter: So-called Spaghetti Westerns from Italy, and other foreign adaptations of Westerns, didn’t just help create and sustain a big civilian market for guns in the U.S. They completely shaped how America is viewed, and how we view ourselves. So it’s not surprising     that some of these myths that were created to help sell guns are now remembered as facts. 

Alain Stephens: And this was all part of Samuel Colt’s playbook: Go after government contracts, develop guns in partnership with law enforcement and the army, and then use those stories and endorsements to capture people’s imaginations — and their wallets. You can see the influence of this legacy everywhere. After his death, the business he created only got bigger. His company started making the Single Action Army revolver, which remained popular until the late 20th century. They manufactured designs from the legendary gunsmith John Browning, including the first gas-powered machine gun, and the first mainstream semi-automatic pistoll which would eventually be known as the Colt 1911 — used in military service until Operation Desert Storm.

Newsreel: The skies of Baghdad have been just filled up with the sounds of gunfire here tonight.

Alain Stephens: Colt was behind the military’s M16. And, for a long time, Colt was responsible for making most civilian AR-15s.

Grace Tatter: And the advertisements for those weapons. Like this video…

Colt promo video: Most people that are experienced with AR-15s will say that this would be the pinnacle of Colt’s development…

Alain Stephens: The pinnacle of Colt’s development. Now firmly embedded in the mass market. A gun not just for the military, but for everyday citizens. And that brings us back to another part of Colt’s legacy: The impact of the gun, not just in winning wars, but in defeating nations. All the way to today.

[Pamela End of Horn: I am a descendant of a Wounded Knee massacre survivor. My fifth grandmother survived the Wounded Knee massacre and then went on, married, and had children.]

That’s Pamela End of Horn. She’s an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Sioux Tribe. In 1890, American soldiers entered a Lakota camp to disarm them. Some of the Lakota warriors fought back. The soldiers opened fire, killing close to 300 men, women, and children.

[Pamela End of Horn: It’s something that, it’s a sadness that our family went through because that band was our family. That is one of the biggest traumas within our reservation is the massacre of those men, women, and children at Wounded Knee, and the repercussions from that are still felt today.]

Alain Stephens: Wounded Knee was one in a series of efforts to take weapons and land away from Native Americans. From the get-go, New England colonies banned settlers from teaching Indigenous people how to make or fix guns. In 1838, white militia would disarm Native peoples to kick off the largest displacement of Indigenous people in the history of Indiana. The forced march would be called the Potawatomi Trail of Death. Around the same time, U.S. soldiers would use the same tactics to start off a rolling operation to displace more than 100,000 Indigenous people, killing thousands along the way — in what would be known as the Trail of Tears. And then in 1876, the Lakota Sioux embarrassed the U.S. Army by outgunning them at Custer’s Last Stand, the Battle of Little Big Horn.

[Brian DeLay: Native warriors who were victorious in that battle had access, for example, to a really large number of Winchester rifles and Henry rifles, for example. Lots and lots of revolvers. It’s a humiliation for the national government for obvious reasons.] 

Alain Stephens: Time and again, many of the worst displacements began with Indigenous people being disarmed. The end effects of the U.S’s policy by gunpoint — the colonization, disarmament, relocation, and culture erosion — are abundantly clear. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights found that Native American men carry significantly higher death rates and lower life expectancy compared to their white counterparts. They are nearly three times more likely to die from diabetes than the general population, and five times more likely to die from liver-related disease. And then there is the threat Pamela End of Horn is fighting: Deaths of Despair. She’s also the National Suicide Prevention consultant for Indian Health Services, the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that provides health care to American Indians and Alaska Natives enrolled in federally recognized tribes. And her job is difficult, because American Indians and Alaska Natives are nearly twice as likely to die by suicide.  

[Pamela End of Horn: When you’re thinking about American and Alaska native communities, the impact of firearm use and availability has had huge ramifications over the last few centuries.]

Alain Stephens: And for thousands of people, it is still one of the remaining vestiges of that life. Which means simply telling someone to get rid of a gun, is akin to telling someone to get rid of their identity.

[Pamela End of Horn: These are elements of a traditional way of life that they’re utilizing and they’re acting up within, and they’re also providing food to themselves, their family, as well as the larger community. So it has a larger range versus just a hobby or a sport. It actually is part of the way of life.]

Alain Stephens: Guns are used in about half of suicides among this population. She says one of the biggest defenses to despair is regaining a sense of identity that perhaps has been stripped away. 

[Pamela End of Horn: So the culture then becomes the prevention, the connection to the culture, the language immersion, the practices of ceremony, knowledge base. That then becomes the protective factor for older American and Alaskan natives.]

Alain Stephens: Notice, she said older, because part of the problem is the loss of identity is among youth, the prime age of suicide risk. But, she says that by gaining that identity back, by seeing those connections to the larger community, they can gain something else. 

[Pamela End of Horn:We want that connection to the culture to provide them purpose, meaning, reason to live.]

Alain Stephens: You might ask: How did a story that started with Samuel Colt end up here? How is it all related? And that’s the thing. It’s complicated, but it all is. It almost seems like you can’t pick up a single thread of American history without tugging on guns. We know that, from Samuel Colt’s multi-shot revolver onward — guns have gotten way better at doing what they’ve always been intended to do: Killing. And we know that you’re more likely to die from a firearm-inflicted wound if you have a gun in your house. And we know that, because of the mass manufacturing of the 19th century, and because of the appetite for guns whetted by all sorts of cultural forces, guns in America are really easy to get. What we don’t know is how to untangle this knot — of the unerasable parts of our history, of our cultural identities, of money, and of death. Next time, we talk about another consequence of creating a mass civilian market for guns, especially the most advanced and the most lethal: crime.

Damion Johnson: Back in the day, you’re lucky if you were to get your hands on like a little .32 Jennings or something like that. Now it’s so common, these guys want assault rifles, specifically AK-47s. I seen a kid running around with a SCAR-H, which is like a military weapon.

Alain Stephens: This episode dealt with a lot of heavy topics. For people in need, you can call the Suicide Prevention line — 988. If you’re an indigenous person and you’re in crisis, you can contact Indian Health Services by texting NATIVE or 741741. Again that’s NATIVE or 741741.

Alain Stephens: The Gun Machine is a production of WBUR in partnership with The Trace. I’m your host, Alain Stephens. If you want more on this, or any of our other episodes, you should visit the or

If you feel like we are telling an important story, review the show on your podcast app and fill out The Gun Machine survey at You can sign up for The Trace’s newsletter to find more on this reporting at

Our producer, who always has my six, is WBUR’s Grace Tatter. Our editing fellow from The Trace is Agya Aning. Our fact checker is Megan Cattel. Orchestrating our beat drops is sound designer Emily Jankowski. Our production manager is Paul Vaitkus. Our editors are Kevin Sullivan and WBUR Podcasts executive producer Ben Brock Johnson. Additional editing from Miles Kohrman. Our WBUR managing producer is Samata Joshi. And our engagement editor at The Trace is Gracie McKenzie. Audio engineering from Tim Felten and our artwork is by Diego Mallo.

Special thanks to WBUR executive editor of news Dan Mauzy; The Trace’s executive editor Craig Hunter, WBUR chief content officer Victor Hernandez, associate director of institutional giving Nicole Leonard, director of marketing Kristen Holgerson and Jessica Coughlin of Onward and Upward media; Tali Woodward, editor-in-chief at The Trace; and Margaret Low, CEO of WBUR.

Support for the Gun Machine comes from The Joyce Foundation, a nonpartisan philanthropy that invests in racial equity and economic mobility in the Great Lakes region. For more than 25 years, Joyce has supported research, education, and policy solutions to reduce gun violence and make communities safer. To learn more, go to Additional funding provided by the Kendeda Fund.