Sounds like a blurb from the NRA, but in fact this slogan is one of the lynch-pins of one of the most complicated and headlong adventures that van Vogt (often called the master of the re-complicated story) ever wrote.
The Weapon Shops, like many of his stories, was actually written and published as several stories before being collected and somewhat edited into book form. In this case, the major portions were published as "The Seesaw" (Astounding, July 1941), "The Weapon Shop" (Astounding, Dec 1942), and "The Weapon Shops of Isher (Thrilling Wonder Stories, Feb. 1949). It is important to note the age of these stories, written as they were during the so-called `Golden Age' of science fiction, when ideas were far more important than character or great prose style. This book is absolutely replete with ideas, but the prose, dialogue, and character development certainly leave something to be desired when compared to modern novels. While reading this book you need to let the story line and ideas overwhelm you, and ignore some of the more blatant excesses in writing style.
It starts with a Weapon Shop magically appearing in a 1950 neighborhood. When a policeman attempts to open its door, he finds it locked - but when a newspaperman tries it just a minute later, it opens - and the newspaperman finds himself in the Isher Empire, which has been around for 4700 years, and where the Weapon Shops effectively form the `opposition' to this government. This is plot thread number one. The second thread is that of a young man wishing to leave his provincial village and make his fortune in the big city - where he finds that he is a `callidetic giant', able to beat any game of chance, and ends up amassing a fortune so large that he can upset the economic stability of the Empire. Thread three involves the world's only immortal, Robert Hedrock, who was instrumental in establishing both the Empire and the Weapon Shops, the first to provide a stable form of government, the second to ensure that the Empire can neither stagnate nor become an unopposed dictatorship. Stir in invisibility, time travel, and the secret of faster-than-light propulsion and you have an explosive mix that will keep you turning pages as fast as you can (and don't you dare think about the plausibility of any of this!).
I think I first read this book around 1960, when I was about twelve, and many of the images of this book made a large impression on me: the casinos and their very futuristic gambling machines, the giant computer that kept track of all the vital statistics of every person in the solar system, the idea of waging war by shifting in time, the `brothels' of the day, even the `energy weapons' that the Weapon Shops sold. Reading it today, these same items still fascinate - and the ending is still an explosive bang.
The thematic point of the right to have weapons strong enough to protect the individual from any government excesses is a major one, and certainly was very topical when it was written at the height of WWII. However, this point is not examined very closely for its downside, because in the story such weapons could `sense' whether or not the person purchasing it had the appropriate mental outlook - an easy way out of the problems seen by today's society with too many weapons freely available to almost anyone.
This is possibly his strongest novel, certainly at least as good as his Slan and The World of Null-A, as here all the various ideas and plot threads do seem to come together in a cohesive whole, something that could not be said about a lot of his works. And it is a pell-mell, head-over-heels, fun and fascinating read.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)