To call this subject a “sensitive” one might be appropriate, if a little lackluster. Calling it a “goddamn minefield” might be a little more honest. Nevertheless, it rises up again and again, in think pieces, blogs, non-sequitur tweets, and worst of all–hundreds-long comment chains on Facebook. No matter how dormant your social media presence might be, post an opinion on this topic and you’re suddenly wearing a suit of stale bread at the beach. These arguments are most often characterized by ill-informed statements, emotional knee-jerks, and general outrage on both sides, manifesting in an endless circle of strawmen, ad-hominems, and worst of all, armchair constitutional experts spitting and sputtering back and forth through textbook-length comments that if, god forbid, you actually sift through, leaves everyone only angrier, and more convinced than ever of whatever opinion they held in the first place. Almost no one commenting in these threads is open to having their opinion changed, and almost no one reading them is looking for anything other than affirmation, and annihilation of the opposition’s reasoning.
This list isn’t about telling you what to think, but instead giving you the tools to help you form your own conclusion. Because that’s what readers do–educate and inform themselves for the sake of a balanced and strong argument, right?
On the topic of guns in America, there isn’t necessarily one definitive work against which everything else is judged, and in fact, almost all of them are as controversial as the average Facebook opinion. Furthermore, it behooves one to pay close attention to the writer as their writing is so often subject to their bias. Having said that, here’s a list of works than can hopefully help you build a more informed and well-rounded opinion on this quintessentially American debate.
This is the least risky piece on this list as it simply follows the relatively short, but powerful history of the glock in America. Created in 1982, it quickly became the gun of choice for law enforcement due to its reliability, durability, accuracy, and affordability. Truly a gun of many… abilities. In very Hollywood fashion, the rise of the glock is stained with some shady politics, a hint of big money, and a little blood. Which is to say it’s actually a riveting narrative in its own right–a gripping read that explores the rise of both the glock, and America’s gun culture as the manufacturers expanded their sales from law enforcement to the public. Not necessarily a book exploring the gun debate, as much as providing a much needed piece of context for us in 2017.
Alright, break out your suit of armor, maybe some bayonets and clubs, this is where things start to get hairy. Hell, even the cover is likely to incite a fight. The LA Times calls it “A refreshing tonic in this most loaded of debates” though so let’s give it a chance. Michael Waldman explores the history of the Second Amendment, why it was created in the first place and the evolution of our collective perception of the Second Amendment. Did you know that before 2008, the Supreme Court ruled against the constitutional right to own a gun in four separate cases across the 20th century? Waldman explores the roots of our modern debate about guns which started in the 1970s, the groups influencing the debate on both sides, and exhaustively demonstrates that the way we approach the gun debate has never been influenced by the constitution as much as it has been by the political groups, narratives, and beliefs cultivating public perception.
This has a lot in common with Waldman’s book, but with a bit more policy opinion at its core. Adam Winkler is a constitutional law professor who’s written about the history of gun rights and restrictions in America, going back all the way to the founding of our country. He argues that gun ownership rights and gun control have been part of the fabric of our culture since its inception, and there has, for most of our history, been a strong balance between the two. He makes clear that even despite the argument over interpretation of the Second Amendment, state constitutional law guarantees the right to gun ownership for every American. Along with this however, he demonstrates the stringent laws that have restricted ownership throughout history, even those enacted by the founding fathers (laws which would have the NRA quivering with rage were they written today). He lambasts both the right and left for the extreme positions they’ve taken today–unrestricted ownership vs. no private ownership whatsoever. A debate being driven by the most extreme voices on either side with no historical precedent. Worth reading if for no other reason, than simply learning about all the wild and weird forms of gun control that existed in our nation’s infancy.
Philip Cook and Kristin Gross are two Duke professors who’ve put together the most straightforward, dry, and simple ‘presentation of the facts’ on guns in America. It’s organized in a Q&A format, with as little editorializing as they can manage. Think of it this as a handguide for being able to actually know the facts that people pretend like they do on the internet. As far as my research is concerned, it appears that people on both sides of the debate tend to use this book to bolster their own arguments, slyly omitting what doesn’t fit. Most people seem to be okay with the presentation of information in this book, though some gun rights advocates do feel, with much chagrin, that it’s clear which side of the issue the authors are on, so be mindful of that.
This is the first book on the list with plainly heavy bias, and it seeks to prove exactly what the title suggests. This is a heavy line that the NRA and many gun rights advocates alike love to drive home–that as gun ownership has risen over the past several decades, gun crime has gone down. And frankly, they’re right. All recorded data up to today tells us this–gun ownership has risen in the past thirty years like never before in our history, but gun crime has been trending down over that same period of time. Pretty cut and dry. Learned people in this debate however are not arguing over this data point. What’s is up for debate, is how correlated, if at all, these two factors actually are. John Lott goes far beyond just ownership and crime rate, sifting through an awful lot of research in his effort to prove that this is a meaningful statistic from which one can reasonably assert that increased ownership actually does lead to decreased crime.
This isn’t a book explicitly opposed to the guns in America, but instead expresses its opposition by documenting the human cost of gun violence. Gary Young follows the story of several people across the country, all in the same 24 hour period, all victims of gun violence. This isn’t a book about statistics or research–it’s about people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the ones they’ve left behind. An effort in reminding us that there’s a life’s story behind that brief paragraph that appears in the paper. This book probably won’t influence anyone who’s already made up their mind on the issue, but it will if nothing else, emphasize the regular cost of inaction.
Who said this was going to be exclusively books? Jason Fagone has put together an incredible profile of trauma surgeon Dr. Amy Goldberg in this piece from Highline. What Bullets Do to Bodies goes to great lengths to let us witness Dr. Goldberg’s experience as an expert in bullet wounds at Temple University Hospital in North Philadelphia. As a thirty year trauma surgeon in one of America’s deadliest cities, it goes without saying that she has a wealth of experience, and maybe a few opinions on guns in America. A stance on gun control notwithstanding, this is a piece worth reading for a meaningful glimpse into the experience of doctors who work on gunshot wounds (not to mention other blunt and penetrating trauma) almost everyday. For the sake of the gun debate, and largely why this article is part of this list, Dr. Goldberg has very strong opinions on what it will take to elicit a strong enough desire to create change within the debate. She makes it very clear to the author outright that this profile, now matter how good, will change nothing. In her mind, there is only one thing that will make people understand–showing what bullets do to bodies. Until then–until the American people see what trauma surgeons see, the human body torn apart by bullets, nothing will change.
This list is a mere drop in the bucket of what there is to read on this subject, but it demands mentioning that finding substantive books on this debate is awfully challenging. The average book on this debate isn’t that much more level or honest than the average outraged Facebook comment or meme that pretends like the issue can be explained away in two obnoxiously sarcastic sentences. There is nothing simple or straightforward when it comes to guns in our country, and while it does seem like most people agree that something must be done, most people are too busying bickering like children over the solution to even fantasize about the concept of agreement or compromise. The first step we can take is acknowledging that this argument is a lot more nuanced than most care to admit, so get out there, start reading, and stop being so goddamn stubborn.