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Dan Baum is both a lifelong gun guy and a Jewish Democrat who grew up in suburban New Jersey feeling like a "child of a bitter divorce with allegiance to both parents." In "Gun Guys" he grabs his licensed concealed handgun and hits the road to meet some of the 40 percent of Americans who own guns. We meet Rick Ector, a black Detroit autoworker who buys a Smith & Wesson after suffering an armed robbery--then quits his job to preach the gospel of armed self-defense, especially to the resistant black community; Jeremy and Marcey Parker, a young, successful Kentucky couple whose idea of a romantic getaway is the Blue Ridge Mountain 3-Gun Championship in Bowling Green; and Aaron Zelman, head of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership. Baum also travels to New Orleans, where he enters the world of a man disabled by a bullet, and to Chicago to interview a killer. Along the way, he takes us to gun shows, gun stores, and shooting ranges trying to figure out why so many of us love these things and why they inspire such passions.
In the tradition of "Confederates in the Attic" and "Among the Thugs, " Baum brings an entire world to life. Written equally for avid shooters and those who would never touch a firearm, "Gun Guys" is more than a travelogue. It gives a fresh assessment of the heated politics surrounding guns, one that will challenge and inform people on all sides of the issue. This may be the first book that goes beyond gun politics to illuminate the visceral appeal of guns--an original, perceptive, and surprisingly funny journey through American gun culture.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-02-11
- Reviewer: Staff
To explore America’s gun culture, Baum, a former staff writer for the New Yorker and author of Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans, traverses the country talking to gun owners, shooting instructors, gun advocates, gun control supporters, and even a former gang member who used a gun to kill someone. As a “stoop-shouldered, bald-headed, middle-aged” Jewish Democrat, Baum isn’t your typical gun owner, but he admits to having an “obsession” with guns and has one on his person for much of his road trip. Crisscrossing America he finds a lot of inconsistencies, like gun owners who think the government is coming for their guns despite the fact that “guns laws were getting looser everywhere” or gun control groups pushing for new legislation without understanding how guns work or the historical ineffectiveness of gun control. Though he tries to find diversity among the gun owners he interviews, many just spout antiliberal dogma or “play the role of victim,” so these encounters become repetitive. It’s when the tone of the book shifts from travelogue to narrative, with stories like those of Tim White, who “used a gun in his criminal undertakings”; Rick Ector, an industrial engineer who turned gun carrier after a mugging; and Brandon Franklin, a young New Orleans man who was shot while trying to defend the mother of his children, that Baum’s skill as a writer and journalist is revealed. Overall, this is a very balanced accounting of both sides of America’s gun issue, and while Baum doesn’t have all the answers, his solution that both sides come together to promote gun safety is both admirable and prudent. Baum can be lauded for trying to find an accommodating solution to the problem of guns, but no doubt gun lovers and gun haters both will vehemently disagree with him. (Mar.)
Americans and their guns
In a postscript to Gun Guys written after the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School (and after his manuscript had gone to galleys), Dan Baum offers “three modest suggestions” for improving gun safety. These suggestions—good (and mandatory) safety training for anyone who owns a gun; holding gun owners criminally liable for crimes committed with guns stolen from their houses; and better background checks—will surprise no one who has read all the way through this well-written, thought-provoking and often humorous account of his road trip through America’s gun culture.
Baum, a progressive Democrat who describes himself as “a stoop-shouldered, bald-headed, middle-aged Jew in pleated pants and glasses,” has been a gun enthusiast and collector since he was young. As such, he felt he was a gun guy who didn’t really belong to the country’s gun culture. So in 2009, just after President Obama moved into the White House (and set off a gun-buying frenzy), Baum set out to explore that culture. He stopped at gun shops and gun shows across the country, and talked with all manner of gun enthusiasts, a victim of gun violence and even a reformed gangbanger who had shot and killed a rival. He visited both NRA headquarters and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. As an experiment, he openly wore a handgun into a Home Depot, an Apple store and a Whole Foods store in his hometown of Boulder, Colorado (and was surprised and a bit disappointed that no one reacted). Later he applied for a concealed carry permit, then observed the rather counterintuitive psychological effects that carrying a concealed weapon had on him.
Because he is curious and observant and because he straddles a sort of invisible line (not in favor of gun bans, but appalled by the Second Amendment absolutists of the NRA and their blatant fear-mongering), Baum is an excellent companion on this road trip. Part of his project is to find data about what works and what does not work in efforts to reduce gun violence. Even those who favor a complete ban on guns like the AR-15 should read the chapter “The iGun,” which goes a long way toward explaining the appeal and versatility of the weapon and the not-so-implausible arguments of those who believe they should be able to own one. In fact, Gun Guys is the sort of readable, information-rich book that could change minds and help bridge the huge national divide over guns. Let’s hope it finds the readership it deserves.