9 Books To Help You Understand The Gun Control Argument

by E. Ce Miller
Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images

In a moment of irony — or, perhaps, whatever the opposite of irony is — I’m writing this as I listen to my neighbor fire several rounds of buckshot into the left turn ahead sign posted at the end of our street. It’s a weekend ritual, several rounds fired at the sign until it’s a splash of white pockmarks that some traffic control employee replaces every few months, in case anyone unfamiliar with local traffic patterns would like to turn left at some point. This rural, southern town where I currently reside couldn’t be more different from Chicago, the city where I was born and lived the first 25 years of my life. In Chicago, through the gun violence is pervasive and I knew people who had been shot and even killed just going about their daily business, I had never actually been in the presence of a firearm (at least, to my knowledge) until I moved 850 miles southeast, and into a town where gun violence hardly ever makes headlines, but where open carry holsters are common and everything from wayward squirrels to particularly raucous mosquitoes become subject to deadly fire. It's noteworthy that both of these places, culturally and politically different as they may seem, are equally ruled by guns. And both have been central to the formation of my beliefs regarding gun control, gun ownership, and the whole of American gun culture.

The debates surrounding gun control are noisy — perhaps they’re designed to be, in hopes that if we can just get one another yelling loud enough, it will create the illusion that something is happening, without anyone actually having to do much of anything at all. Though we bear witness to mass shootings with startling regularity, nothing changes in American gun law or culture. Nothing has changed, on either front, in years, except the number of Americans killed by guns — more than anyone else, anywhere else in the world, outside of Central America and the Caribbean, where most of the violence is attributed to gangs and drug trafficking.

But you don’t need me to tell you the stats. We’ve become so polarized on the issue of gun control in this country, chances are if you’ve managed to read this far without rage-Tweeting me, I’m probably preaching to the choir. The choir, however, can always fortify itself with more information.

So, here are nine books that prove we need stricter gun laws in the United States (if the headlines don’t have you convinced already, that is.)

'The Second Amendment: A Biography' by Michael Waldman

One noteworthy point about the gun debate in the United States is that the Second Amendment is one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted aspects of the Bill of Rights. In The Second Amendment: A Biography, author Michael Waldman takes readers through the history of the Second Amendment — its origins and how its interpretation has evolved to serve those with specific political agendas — as well as the history of gun control in the United States, demonstrating that the obsession with citizens' alleged Constitutional right to own a gun is actually a modern American phenomenon, and that it was only as recently as 2008 that the US Supreme Court ruled for the first time that the Constitution protects an individual right to gun ownership.

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'The Gunning of America: Business and the Making of American Gun Culture' by Pamela Haag

Historian Pamela Haag takes a hard, unflinching look at the mythology of gun ownership in America, in her 2016 title The Gunning of America: Business and the Making of American Gun Culture. In it, Haag argues that the assumed synchronicity of gun ownership and American patriotism actually began as a marketing campaign launched by gun manufactures — one that created the illusion of both empowerment and terror (one achieved and the other alleviated by gun ownership) that was so successful and pervasive it’s become woven into modern American life and politics in a way that seems now impossible to back away from.

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'Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths That Paralyze American Gun Policy' by Dennis A. Henigan

Another book that tackles the kinds of firearm mythologies perpetuated for no other reason than to make gun manufacturers rich, (including that now-ubiquitous platitude: “guns don’t kill people; people kill people”) Dennis A. Henigan’s Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths That Paralyze American Gun Policy explores the specific and targeted "bumper-sticker-style" messaging of the NRA, and how their marketing campaigns have changed gun culture in America. Henigan also illuminates how pro/con positions on gun control have become inextricable from politics, polarizing an issue that actually concerns the safety, health, and well-being of everyone, no matter what political party you happen to affiliate with.

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'A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy' by Sue Klebold

Anyone who was school-aged when the Columbine school shooting happened will recognize the name Sue Klebold — the mother of 17-year-old shooter Dylan Klebold, who was one of two teens who carried out the shooting that left 12 students and one teacher dead. A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy is Kelbold’s memoir; one that took the mother years to publish, and in which she laments the fact that she didn’t know her son and describes the years spent wondering what she could have done to prevent the tragedy.

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'The Hour I First Believed' by Wally Lamb

Sometimes, especially when it comes to heated, contentious issues, it's easier to find empathy through fiction. Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed centers around a Columbine High School-inspired school shooting: the events leading up to the shooting, the minutes that drag on for all those caught in the violence, and the shooting’s aftermath. Over the course of 700-plus pages, narrator Caelum Quirk describes the day of the shooting — when he stayed home from work, while his wife Maureen spent the shooting hiding in a cabinet in the school library — and the subsequent unraveling of Maureen’s sanity and their life together.

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'Fierce Kingdom' by Gin Phillips

Utterly heart-pounding and terrifying, Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillips is another novel that tackles gun control and gun violence in an all-too-relatable way. Unfolding over the course of a single evening, Fierce Kingdom tells the story of a woman named Joan and her four-year-old son, who are trapped in their local zoo when teenage, armed gunmen begin shooting animals and zoo patrons. Spending an evening both running and hiding in terror, Joan and her son actually come within feet of the gunmen more than once, and begin to take desperate risks that could just as equally save their lives as get them killed.

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'Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America' by Adam Winkler

Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America by Adam Winkler tells the story of that 2008 Supreme Court case Michael Waldman mentions in his own book, The Second Amendment: A Biography (see above). In Gunfight, Winkler, a law professor, takes readers through the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, which upheld the individual rights view of the Second Amendment for the first time in U.S. history. Winkler also argues that the black/white view of gun control is at the heart of America’s polarized politics, more than any other issue.

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'One of Star Wars One of Doom' by Lee K. Abbott

First published in 2007, One of Star Wars One of Doom by Lee K. Abbott is a stand-alone short story about a high school civics teacher and two angry and alienated students who plan and carry out a school shooting. Told in stream-of-consciousness prose, One of Star Wars One of Doom follows Mr. DeWine as he moves closer and closer towards the gunfire, distracted by an affair he’s having with a fellow teacher, and unable to recognize the fact that what he’s hearing is actual gunshots. This is a brief, but disturbing glimpse into the small, minute-by-minute moments of a school shooting.

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'Living With Guns: A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment' by Craig Whitney

Craig Whitney’s Living With Guns: A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment takes a rather moderate (and therefore, uncommon) view of gun control in the United States, making a case for reconciliation between Second Amendment advocates and those in favor of gun control, with the aim of reducing the number of Americans killed by guns every year, regardless of where the politics fall. Seemingly implausibly, Whitney is both a political liberal and a member of the NRA, perhaps giving him a unique view of the gun control debate.

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