While reading “the classics” is never a bad idea, most people read newer books. However, a middle-age book can also give a refreshing perspective. I just finished Lethal Passage: The Story of a Gun, written by Erik Larson and published in 1995. It was recommended to me by a good British friend who struggles to understand the love affair that Americans have with guns.
In many respects, the book is just as current as a new one published today. It cites endless examples of pointless shootings and meaningless deaths. The difference is that the author looks at one particular shooting, coincidently in my hometown of Virginia Beach, by a 16-year-old and then he traces the history of the gun that was used, which was surprising short. Our 16-year-old shooter got a relative to purchase the gun for him from a Federally-licensed-gun-dealer about 90 minutes away.
There are many anecdotal stories in the book, but the most important was probably about the National Rifle Association (NRA) which was organized in 1871 to sharpen and maintain marksmanship skills. In 1977, it was taken over by a convicted murderer, Harlon Carter, who lurched the NRA to the right and molded it into the powerful lobbying organization that we all know and fear. Another surprising factoid about the NRA is that their membership has historically supported additional gun regulation, but their membership is constantly changing and flows thru the organization without staying. It is controlled by hardcore “life members”.
The author concludes with proposed legislation, some of which are (1) Require real regulation of licensed-gun-dealers, limiting them to having real businesses with physical addresses that are inspected annually and requiring them to actually take a course in gun regulation, (2) Instead of 50 jurisdictions with competing and confusing rules, create one governing authority, to reduce conflicting rules, (3) Get one clarifying case before the Supreme Court, which has already confused the issue and compromised our safety, (4) Support the Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms department (ATF) agents, which are currently handcuffed, and (5) Require gun-buyers to actually pass a course in gun safety.
Although I worship at the altar of capitalism, my perspective is that we have too much of it in the gun business. The gun manufacturers own the NRA and the NRA owns elected “leaders”. We also had too much capitalism in the opioid business and look what happened there.