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by Peter Moskos

April 5, 2013

Gun Guys, by Dan Baum


I finished reading Gun Guys, and it's very good.

Here's Dan Baum talking about his book on the BBC. And here he a more in-depth interview with Dan Baum on KMO's C-Realm Podcast (which just happens to have been recorded in my basement). [Update: and here is Baum in the New York Times.]

Baum makes the point that nothing productive with gun policy unless anti-gun people actually listen to gun guys. And he presents his case from a "liberal Jewish gun-loving" perspective. This book isn't a defense of the NRA, since the NRA represent but a small minority of gun owners (something like 4 million of 100 million gun owners). But rather an attack on the gut-level reaction so many liberals have against gun, without considering (or worse, mindlessly dismissing) the thoughts, feelings, and needs of hundreds of million of non-criminal gun owners.

A take-away point is that guns are here, like them or not. We can pass all the pointless laws we want, but if we want a safer and less violent America, we need to have an engaging, serious, and rational conversation about guns. Gun Guys does that. How does it make sense to advocate restricting something when the people advocating such restrictions have no idea what they're talking about? For instance, if the goal is fewer guns, how does it make sense to push for laws that result in a boom in gun sales?

I do think Baum places a bit too much of the onus on people who don't like guns. It doesn't seem to much to ask for a less violent America. Even an America with fewer guns (not that those two are necessarily related--the past two decades have seen less restrictive gun laws, more guns, and a reduction in violence). But to say something isn't politically feasible is different than saying something isn't a good and even noble goal.

Baum stretches credibility a bit when he makes the analogy that hating gun owners is akin to being racist or anti-semitic. But he's right in that such mindless hatred is often based in ignorance and fear of people the hater makes no effort to get to know. But what about the mindless and ignorant fear of gun owners who think their guns are going to be taken away or feel an irrational need to protect themselves from some criminal class of people? From my perspective, too much of "gun rights" is linked to "state's rights" and "protecting a way of life" and fear of some "them" taking over America. Until there is serious discussion about repealing the 2nd Amendment, why such paranoia about an assault on freedom? I mean, I love the 1st Amendment, but I'm not shouting objectionable things in the street to protect my 1st Amendment rights. Why? Because they're not in jeopardy!

There's also the point (not in the book) that guns are not freedom. Guns protect freedom. We should be worried about our freedoms being taken away (warrantless searches, mass incarceration, indefinite detention without due process, Presidential-ordered assassinations of US citizens). Having guns without freedom is, to paraphrase Bill Maher, like being in a titty-bar filled with bouncers but no strippers!

Regardless, Baum makes the essential point that simply hating guns and people who own them is counterproductive from any anti-gun or anti-violence perspective. Most guns are not the problem. Most gun owners are not the problem. And until gun-control people get that through their thick liberal heads, nothing productive will ever happen. Certainly this book is a great starting point to any rational discussion on guns and gun policy. It's also a good read.

At its core (and in its title), Gun Guys is a road trip. Who doesn't like a road trip? Baum takes the reader on an adventure while he talks to as many gun owners and stops in as many gun shops and gun shows as possible. Entertaining and educational! What more could one ask for?

Now buy his book and read it. You'll be happy you did.

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