In his first book, Daily Beast columnist Winkler (Constitutional Law/UCLA) takes on the contentious issue of gun control in the United States.
There have always been plenty of guns in America, but also plenty of gun control. For the author, there remains a need for both, yet extremist positions have emerged on both sides. “Gun nuts” argue for the absolute right of individuals to arm themselves, “gun grabbers” for a complete ban on all privately owned guns. The Second Amendment to the Constitution has been of little help, as it is not clear if the Amendment meant simply to ensure the formation of state militias or indeed gave the individual the right to bear arms. In 2008, a Washington, D.C., law banning all handguns was challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court, thus putting to the test the meaning of the Second Amendment. The unifying thread of the book is Winkler’s Grisham-like story of the personalities and issues surrounding this case. He also places the current debate within an often surprising historical context. Yes, the Founding Fathers expected white men to have guns for service in the militia, but they also surrounded such gun possession with rules and regulations. The Wild West was not so wild after all. Places like Tombstone and Dodge City had some of the strongest gun laws ever devised in America. Race has played a large part in gun control, as before and after the Civil War black Americans were often terrorized by armed whites, with little legal recourse to arming themselves for self-defense. In 1967, Gov. Ronald Reagan signed into law strict prohibitions on the carrying of arms after the Black Panthers marched into the California Capitol Building armed to the teeth. In the end, the Supreme Court struck down the D.C. law but also noted there remained the right of government to regulate gun ownership. Winkler writes that this decision may open the way for action to truly reduce gun violence, yet unfortunately offers few suggestions for what these actions might be.
Detailed, balanced and engrossing—sure to displease both sides of the gun-control debate.
Former New York Times reporter and editor Whitney (All The Stops: The Glorious Pipe Organ and Its American Masters, 2003, etc.) mounts an evenhanded review of the gun issue in the United States.
There’s a gun for every American, writes the author, “about 100 million of them handguns,” and the National Rifle Association has emerged as one of the most powerful lobbies in the country, with outsized political clout. To hear the NRA tell it, gun rights are constantly under assault thanks to a liberal administration, even if President Barack Obama has rarely addressed the topic. Whitney examines the reasons for preserving private ownership of firearms, one being the well-worn constitutional bit about the “well-regulated militia”—though, thanks to an ardently pro-gun Supreme Court, you “don’t have to be part of any militia to exercise it”—and he endorses the broad notion that guns have a role in maintaining liberty, though that role has since been supplanted by still broader notions of self-defense. The author argues that because it is now unconstitutional to ban classes of weapons used in self-defense (including, apparently, machine guns and assault rifles), authorities and citizens would do better to press not for gun control as such, but instead to require training in the use and maintenance of weapons and to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not be holding them. “Instead of fighting chimerical battles,” writes Whitney, “American gun-rights and gun-control enthusiasts should be talking to each other about what can be done…to reduce gun violence, particularly by addressing the criminal and psychopathological behavior patterns that cause it.”
A fresh and balanced argument, though unlikely to convince most NRA members that liberals aren’t the enemy.
One of its former regional political directors charges the National Rifle Association with being “a cynical, mercenary political cult.”
Feldman, an avowed supporter of the right to bear arms, thought he had landed the perfect job when the NRA hired him in 1984 as a state liaison for its lobbying arm. Within about three years, however, he ran into serious conflicts with his boss, whom he depicts as a narrow-minded functionary jealous of his successes in the field. Feldman was forced to quit, but his subsequent position with the firearm industry’s trade association kept him in touch with the NRA; he was a political consultant for the organization in both New Jersey and Virginia and later coordinated efforts to defeat the Brady Bill on Capitol Hill. The scope of these campaigns and his personal role in them are detailed with gusto. Feldman provides a capsule history of the NRA from its 19th-century sporting origins through its burst of growth after World War II and its emergence as a powerful lobbying force in the 1970s. He devotes considerable attention to internal struggles for control and to the advertising agency that became its in-house public-affairs department. His major complaint is what he sees as the organization’s manipulation of members in order to enhance its political power and enrich its senior executives. It is not, he claims, interested in solutions to problems, but in prolonging conflict over issues. Citing its reaction to such events as the 1984 Bernhard Goetz shooting in a New York subway and the shootout at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, he concludes that the NRA relishes fights with anti-gun groups because such controversies increase membership and stimulate contributions. Throughout, Feldman pulls no punches, naming names and calling names.
A breezy, easy-to-read exposé, though the author’s staunch pro-firearms position may alienate readers who are anti-gun as well as anti-NRA.
An eye-opening, often grim history of automatic weapons, emphasizing the Soviet Union’s murderous, wildly successful legacy.
Former Marine officer and New York Times Moscow bureau chief Chivers hardly mentions his subject in the book’s first third as he recounts the history of automatic weapons from the American Civil War to World War I with familiar eponyms: Gatling, Maxim, Browning, Mauser. Although heavy and requiring a team to operate, WWI machine guns dominated the battlefield, and a few forward-looking military leaders advocated an automatic weapon suitable for infantry who still used single-shot rifles. World War II saw early models that were too heavy (the American Browning Automatic Rifle) or too short-range (the Thompson submachine gun). In 1947, after several years of development, the AK-47 was chosen as the Soviet Army’s infantry weapon. Unlike the complex, accurate and expensive postwar American M16, to whose painful trials Chivers devotes a long section, the AK-47 was not particularly accurate but was simple, cheap and extraordinarily sturdy and reliable. NATO and U.S. allies followed the American lead, but AK-47 models quickly became the preferred rifle for most armed forces, police forces, guerrillas and drug cartels. Some readers may skim sections devoted to innumerable conflicts in which the AK-47 family participated, from the 1956 Hungarian uprising against the Soviet Union to today’s wars, insurgencies and criminal enterprises. But it’s hard to resist a narrative that ends with a world awash with a weapon that has killed more soldiers and civilians than all the high-tech planes, missiles, bombs, WMDs and America’s sophisticated rifles combined.
An entertaining work that combines technical details, biographies, political maneuvering and insightful military history.
A Bloomberg BusinessWeek editor takes expert aim at Glock—the man, the company, the handgun.
Before it was “America’s gun,” it was Austria’s, where outside Vienna Gaston Glock operated a garage metal shop. When the Austrian Army needed a new sidearm in the early 1980s, the unlikely Glock designed a revolutionary semi-automatic pistol, featuring a polymer-fashioned frame. Light, thin, easy to shoot and maintain, Glock 17 beat back media assaults against easily concealable “plastic pistols” and, instead, earned the attention of U.S. law-enforcement agencies looking for greater “stopping power” against increasingly better armed criminals. Offering huge discounts and shrewdly marketing to police from its facility in Smyrna, Ga., the company employed Gold Club strippers and Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders to attract crowds, entertain clients and lend the pistol a sexy cachet that grew exponentially when it popped up all over TV and movies as the gun of choice for cops and killers alike. Within the industry, Glock went its own way, quietly settling or aggressively defending lawsuits, alternately feuding or making nice with the federal and city governments and the powerful NRA. Having reported this story for years, Barrett (American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion, 2006, etc.) well knows every aspect of the Glock phenomenon, the company’s astonishing rise to market dominance and its seamy business practices—which have included money laundering, tax evasion and illegal campaign contributions. The author unmasks the in-house lawyers who embezzled and the financial advisor who siphoned funds and who clumsily attempted an assassination of the increasingly imperious founder, whose taste for mistresses and lavish entertainments only grew as Glock amassed billions. Gun enthusiasts surely will enjoy Barrett’s account, but it also serves as a colorful case study of the manufacturer who beat long-entrenched, legendary brands at their own game.
A solidly reported story of a modern-day Samuel Colt who transformed the handgun business.