A controversial new book about gun control and firearms culture in America recommends arming inner-city youth and calls the anti-gun left "disrespectful" and "ignorant."
The author—a Jewish Democrat living in Boulder, Colo.—says that enlisting America's 55 million gun owners is key to stemming gun violence and those who don't face violent urban streets shouldn't prescribe for others how best to protect themselves.
"Maybe we could improve the behavior of some of these [young, urban] men by saying you get to carry a gun if your record is clean and you get to keep it if your record is clean," argues Dan Baum, author of Gun Guys: A Road Trip that hit the shelves this month. "You mention that to the gun control crowd and they throw their hands up in horror. But it's been shown that when you let people carry guns, they behave well with them."
Chronicling the travels of a self-professed "stoop-shouldered, bald-headed, middle-aged Jew in pleated pants and glasses," Gun Guys follows Baum as he interviews firearms enthusiasts from gun shows, to target ranges, to Texas hog hunts. While Baum's journalistic and political pedigree type-cast him as a potential anti-gun zealot—he's written for The New Yorker, Playboy and Harper's—the legally concealed Colt .38 revolver tucked in his waistband gave him entree to the gun world's wide and deep membership.
What he found was that gun guys are proud of their firearms, cherishing their personal mastery of the death-dealing objects. And it's because of that pride—and a sense that as trained gun owners they are somehow more responsible than the non-carrying public—that gun guys are so insulted by the direction America's gun debate has taken, he argues.
"Gun owners get a lot of self esteem out of being gun owners. … And then to have people talk about them as the problem, and to have people who don't understand guns want to ban them," Baum says. "It's incredibly disrespectful and ignorant and that's not good for the country."
And the double standard is obvious, he adds.
"You don't talk about gays this way. You don't talk about Hispanics this way; and when you do you get called out," Baum says. "But it's perfectly OK to say anything you want about gun owners."
Most of Baum's research was conducted before both the Aurora, Colo., shooting and the Sandy Hook school murders, and the author admits he wishes Gun Guys had come out before the Connecticut shooting forced each side into its fighting positions.
"There's been a lot of talk after Sandy Hook that the problem is gun culture," Baum says. "Well, the gun guys I met doing this book—law abiding gun owners—say 'Wait a minute, I'm gun culture. That's me you're talking about. My guns have never hurt anybody. You're saying I'm responsible for Sandy Hook?'"
"That is very offensive, I feel it myself," Baum adds.
And while he offers a "reasoned" criticism of gun control efforts—like an assault weapons ban or restricting the sale of high-capacity magazines—that are based more on "emotion," don't go thinking Baum is setting himself up to keynote the next NRA convention. The author pulls no punches when he claims the nation's leading gun rights group is "old, fat and white."
"I think the NRA has put an angry, off-putting, old, white face on the gun community," Baum says. "We've driven [gun owners] into a defensive crouch. And these are precisely the people who could be educating us on how do we live safely in this country among 300 million guns."