I’m still not writing new stuff — or off shooting guns for that matter, so you get another retro review.
This one is from March 21, 2013, and the book came to me courtesy of Amazon’s Vine program.
Review: Gun Guys: A Road Trip, Dan Baum, 2013.
Dan Baum has spent a lot of time trying to reconcile his two halves and, in a sense, two halves of America. There’s liberal Jewish Democrat Baum and there’s Baum who’s had a love of guns and shooting since he was five years old. He thinks the rift in his soul is a rift in America, that, if he can explain why guns are important to so many of us, maybe he can get his friends, family, and political allies to understand and accept – as in not trying to ban and control – guns. And, maybe, those of us who like guns will become less suspicious of his politics. We’ll all unite in attacking the future in a Progressive way.
Gun lovers and conservatives really aren’t the target here for this book. Stereotypical liberals are.
This is not a book retreading criminological statistics (a brief chapter of footnotes covers that). Baum talks to people, except for members of the military or police, to whom guns are important.
I’m not a hardcore gun enthusiast, but I am a lifetime NRA member and have hung out at shooting ranges in three states. Many of the encounters Baum describes remind me of people I’ve meant then: hunters, competitive shooters, those interested in the technology of guns, preppers and survivalists, doctors – perhaps learning another way to “manage death” as one puts it, and guys who let complete strangers fire their new $9,000 gun. He also talks to four types of gun guys you would not readily think of: a weapons master for Hollywood productions, an engineer who became an evangelizer of gun ownership to his fellow blacks after he was robbed at gunpoint, a former Chicago gang member once jailed for shooting a man (and the only interview subject who has actually been shot), and a Jew who published academic works showing the direct inspiration of Nazi gun control laws on American gun control legislation and the role of gun control in fostering genocide in several countries -works pretty much ignored by every side of the gun debate. This is an honest, thorough, fun book.
These aren’t dry interviews. Baum is funny and knows how to tell a story. Maybe, since he already related his own hunting stories, the “Hogzilla” chapter about hunting wild pigs in Texas wasn’t strictly necessary, but it’s the funniest of the book. He careens across the country starting out enthusiastically (and legally) packing a pistol in the Whole Foods Market in Boulder – and disappointingly noting no reaction – and ending up at NRA headquarters.
The matter of the NRA brings up one problem of the book. Baum constantly harps on people wanting to arm themselves out of fear of crime – even while crime rates are going down. He sees the NRA as exaggerating crime for political ends instead of concentrating on useful gun safety programs. The importance of maintaining a legal right and ability of armed self-defense no matter what the level of present personal danger is doesn’t seem to occur to him.
Baum also spends a lot of time pointing out that Democrats and the Obama administration have given up on gun control. Indeed, he points out the Obama administration’s only action on guns was to make it easier to carry concealed weapons in national parks. While he does acknowledge the futility and ignorance behind the Feinstein “assault weapons” ban, he says that’s in the past. Obama and his political allies don’t want to confiscate guns and restrict Second Amendment rights. That’s just NRA fear mongering to get donations.
Of course, history has invalidated that viewpoint post-Sandy Hook. The NRA’s fears turned out to be entirely justified. Gun-grabbing is in the DNA of many Democrats though, in fairness to Baum, I have met other Democrat and Obama supporters who like guns. I would dearly like to know how Baum would revise his book in light of recent history. His Democrat party has made gun control a priority again. His native state of Colorado has passed significant gun control legislation.
To his credit, Baum, at the end, begins to maybe see that many people in America are feeling “overmanaged and under-respected” in many areas, that their exasperated rhetoric often sounds like gun owners. Will he have a change of heart? I’m afraid that, like one of his interviewees, I think most political opinions are almost genetic, emotion based, rationalized with a patina of reason and very refractory. That goes for opinions on guns.
To be honest, while I’d like to hope Baum will change the minds of his fellow liberals, I don’t think he will. I think gun guys will be the ones that most enjoy this book.
There is one theme running through this book which is interesting no matter which side of the debate you are on. Baum says that the experience of frequently carrying a weapon calmed him, made him more observant, and even more eager to avoid a confrontation. It seems that there might be something to be said for managing death, truly and practically considering the consequences of that power. One of his subjects thinks this is what links the place of the gun in American culture to the respect and mythic place the samurai has in Japan or the medieval knight in Europe.