How the Travels of a Single Handgun Expose the Roots of America's Gun Crisis
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A frightening tour through America's gun culture by way of a single weapon -- a semiautomatic hailed by its manufacturer as "the gun that made the '80s roar," and a single criminal -- a troubled Virginia teenager who used the gun in a terrifying rampage. In December 1988, hoping to retaliate against a taunting class bully, 16-year-old Nicholas Elliot walked into his Virginia Beach high school and ended up murdering one teacher, grievously wounding another, and was only prevented from wreaking havoc by jammed cartridges. Wall Street Journal reporter Larson (The Naked Consumer, 1992) is after more than just an In Cold Blood-style narrative of a crime and its punishment. He outlines, painstakingly and chillingly, how the Cobray M-11/9, a weapon originally designed for battlefield use, ended up, like so many other guns across the country, falling into the wrong hands. How could the number of handguns grow so exponentially in America, from 16 million in 1960 to almost 67 million in 1989? The popular culture has fanned interest in them, from westerns that created the mystique of the American rifleman to media accounts of shooting sprees and movies and TV episodes that have boosted sales of exotic weapons. But Larson also finds "a de facto conspiracy of gun dealers, manufacturers, marketers, gun writers, and federal regulators" that have fed the huge demand. In the course of his research, Larson attended gun shows, visited a self-defense class that teaches women how to shoot, applied for and received a federal gun dealer's license, and interviewed a mail-order merchant of how-to guides to murder and the owner of the gun shop later found guilty of negligence in selling the handgun. He describes how the hard-core leadership of the National Rifle Association continues to hold sway over a more moderate rank and file and explains the workings of the toothless agency designated to enforce the nation's few gun laws, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (e.g., gun purchase records remain in the hands of gun dealers, who can obstruct the work of ATF agents). An urgent and, after the Long Island Railroad massacre, sadly timely wake-up call to stop America's "new tyranny" of gun violence.
Pub Date: March 9th, 1994
ISBN: 0679759271
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1994

Kirkus Interview
Erik Larson
author of DEAD WAKE
March 17, 2015

On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth month, a luxury ocean liner as richly appointed as an English country house sailed out of New York, bound for Liverpool, carrying a record number of children and infants. The passengers were surprisingly at ease, even though Germany had declared the seas around Britain to be a war zone. For months, German U-boats had brought terror to the North Atlantic. But the Lusitania was one of the era’s great transatlantic “Greyhounds”—the fastest liner then in service—and her captain, William Thomas Turner, placed tremendous faith in the gentlemanly strictures of warfare that for a century had kept civilian ships safe from attack. It is a story that many of us think we know but don’t, and Erik Larson tells it thrillingly in Dead Wake, switching between hunter and hunted while painting a larger portrait of America at the height of the Progressive Era. “An intriguing, entirely engrossing investigation into a legendary disaster,” our reviewer writes in a starred review. View video >


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