A veteran journalist recounts his upbringing within a culture of guns.
At the beginning, Collins claims that this is “not an antigun book.” However, the book is not entirely pro-gun either, as the author is careful to remain an observer without too much editorializing. Recounting his childhood in small-town Nevada, Collins portrays his affection for the rugged individualism of the Western lifestyle. He recalls his first goose hunting trip at the age of 4, making homemade fish oil by burying a trash can filled with fish for several months, and even spying on local cathouse women sunbathing topless. The other aspect of the romantic West that attracted Collins: guns. The author describes the gun as America’s “one constant companion,” and that was certainly true of his own upbringing. In particular, one hunting expedition proved an early example of the danger of guns, and it serves as the backbone of his narrative. Barely a teenager, Collins accidentally shot himself in his foot with a hunting rifle and had to endure his injury for more than eight hours as he traveled out of the wilderness to the nearest hospital. The author was lucky; had the shot entered only a fraction of an inch in the other direction, he might have lost his foot. In his remembrance, however, others were not so fortunate. Collins recalls numerous personal experiences of senseless violence caused by guns, sometimes killing and other times severely disabling. (Collins himself had another close call with a loaded shotgun he was sure he’d emptied.) At times, he tries to justify our persistent love affair with guns by claiming that “guns are part of our country’s creation myth” and providing fanciful historical anecdotes meant to contextualize the endless violence, but it’s hard to see how the author can remain so aloof and indifferent to guns and gun culture considering how intimately he has been affected by them.
Despite his personal connection to guns, Collins is frustratingly unopinionated about the elephant in the room.