Gun Guys: A Road Trip
Dan Baum's reportorial style brings much-needed humor and rationality to the fractious gun debate.
A hunter and gun collector, a Jew, and a liberal Democrat, Dan Baum isÂ a wonderfully guileless and open-minded guide to American gun culture. Gun Guys, his âroad tripâ across the firearms landscape, expands theÂ conversation about this treacherous terrain even as it turns down the volume.Â
The book's autobiographical aspect also reflects the nationâs conflict about guns.Â While carrying a firearm gained this middle-aged, stoop-shoulderedÂ journalist entrĂŠe to a culture of gun devotees from rational to rabid, it also put off membersÂ of Baumâs own family. And, had they known of his concealed carry, it wouldÂ have appalled Baum's friends â particularly in his home city of Boulder, Colo., a community âso achingly liberal that its city council onceÂ argued for three days over whether people were âownersâ or âguardiansâ ofÂ their pets. (Guardians won.)â
Baum offers no solutions to the complicated issue of gun violence thatÂ continues to roil the United States, particularly in the wake of the Dec.Â 14 shooting of 20 elementary school children and six of their teachers inÂ Newtown, Conn. Nevertheless, his book is a blast, pun intended.
As the US continues to struggle with questions of firearms control,Â including a proposed ban on semiautomatic weapons like the ubiquitous AR-Â 15 (which Baum dubs the âiGunâ because of its malleability) and universalÂ background checks, Baum weighs in with reason, insight, and humor.Â
He takes us first to a gun range near Denver, and then to a gun store nearÂ Phoenix where owner Frank DeSomma schools him in the AR-15.Â
âIt was easy to see, then, why the AR-15 was so popular,â Baum writes.Â âIt was fun to shoot. It was a geekâs dream of limitless high-tech parts. ItÂ made everybody a bit player in the global war on terror and the march ofÂ American history. It worked for whatever kind of shooting a gun guy mightÂ want. It limited a shooterâs exposure to the federal firearms bureaucracy.Â And it made life harder for the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco andÂ Firearms). It was the perfect gun for the Tea Party era.â
Among others Baum visits/stops: Robert, the scion of âMidwestern Jewish royaltyâÂ who invites Baum to a submachine gun meet in Wikieup, Ariz.; LarryÂ Zanoff, a Hollywood âarmorerâ who tells Baum most movie guns are madeÂ of rubber; a gun show at the Grand Island Convention Center in Nebraska,Â where âInfidel,â a skinny, young dealer, suggests President Barack ObamaÂ will âmake his moveâ against guns in his second term; Rick Ector, anÂ African-American from Detroit who took up arms after he was mugged; and Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership founder Aaron Zelman,Â a Wisconsin man who traces the Holocaust to the Nazi ban on JewsÂ owning guns. No matter where he turns, Baum always seeks the rational.Â
âGun politics all but ruined my enjoyment of firearms,â confesses Baum,Â who also has written books on New Orleans after Katrina ("Nine Lives"), the war onÂ drugs ("Smoke and Mirrors"), and the family of beer magnate Adolph Coors ("Citizen Coors"). âAlthough the vitriolÂ surrounding gun politics was what had first attracted me to this project,Â it was the cultural division represented by the politics that Iâd set out toÂ explore.â
Gun control, however, is different from gun politics. Those appalled byÂ the very notion of guns do their best to suppress them and shame theirÂ owners. Those who cherish them â and defend them on the basis ofÂ the Second Amendment â do their best to expand their spread. In airing outÂ Americaâs gun culture, Baum, a fearless reporter of sharp eye and wittyÂ phrase, has done a public service.
Cleveland journalist Carlo Wolff plans to take a concealed carry course thisÂ spring. He works for the Cleveland Jewish News.