As someone who reads a lot of books, I’m quite surprised that I haven’t turned to putting book reviews up on the blog. So here goes review number one.
In the past few years I’ve been really interested in cultural writing. I’ve devoured more well-known books like Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, been slightly bored by books like David Brooks’ The Social Animal and have nodded my head in agreement with books like The Authenticity Hoax by Andrew Potter.
I’ve been reading a lot of fiction lately, so I switched back over to nonfiction with the book Gun Guys by Dan Baum. Baum has an interesting backstory as a freelance writer. Despite being a Democrat politically, he’s a gun owner (he owns quite a lot of them, actually) and enjoys shooting at gun ranges every now and then.
It makes him the perfect fit for this book, in which he travels around the United States talking to “gun guys,” the people who own guns and will fight you for their right to hold onto them, even if they never end up using them.
This book also couldn’t have come out at a more opportune time. Just as the book was going to press, the devastating shooting in Newtown happened, and that happened a few months after the horrific Aurora shooting. Baum acknowledges this in the book’s postscript.
He begins the book with his own personal gun history and how he was turned onto guns when he was in high school. He talks about the guns he currently owns, and he spends the first fifty (at least) pages training to get a “concealed carry” permit, allowing him to legally wear a gun that is hidden in his pants pockets or waistband.
Then he goes on his road trip, and he talks to a lot of very interesting people. He makes a rule that while he’s driving to meet with people or to go to gun shows, he’ll stop at any gun store he can. He finds a lot of stores have closed down, and most of the guys he talks to in-store are almost all the same; conservatives who hate Obama and call Democrats “gun grabbers.” It’s amusing to see Baum figuratively roll his eyes at some of the people he talks to.
But that’s not to imply that Baum has no time for pro-gun people. In fact, Baum makes a pretty compelling case as to why banning guns would be a bad idea. He goes into statistics in a few places, and the stats he provides are pretty damning. Crime has been dropping for years and years now, and there’s more to it than that.
Amongst the “OBAMA IS EVIL”-chanting people, he does meet some other characters along the way. One is a man who was robbed at gunpoint, then gets his own gun and now teaches gun use to his community. Another is a Jewish man who formed Jews for the Preservation of Gun Ownership, an organization that Baum thought at first was a joke.
At the end of the book, Baum makes a few very reasonable suggestions as to how America’s gun problems might be fixed, and what he suggests isn’t radical but much more common-sense. It’s a wonder these things aren’t being done already.
What Gun Guys is, in the end, is the least political book about guns one might ever read. It’s remarkably clear-headed and fair, giving both sides of the coin equal opportunity to speak, all backed up by actual statistics and not just bluster. As a reviewer on Goodreads said, a book like this needs to be written on other issues like abortion and gay marriage.