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.