In Overton’s first book, the British journalist travels the globe to see how the logic of the Second Amendment has affected people beyond America’s borders.
The author makes a big concession: “Guns are fun,” he writes. “I have no doubt about that. When used in the right way and in the right place, they can bring great satisfaction and pleasure.” But to understand the full breadth of the influence of firearms, Overton, the director of investigations at Action on Armed Violence, traveled to more than two dozen countries and interviewed hundreds of disparate subjects. While he covers well-worn topics like National Rifle Association lobbyists and mass shootings in the United States, he also analyzes some original niches of gun culture—e.g., Americans’ obsession with zombie stories and gun references in pornographic films. Much of the book is personal. In one episode, Overton describes his shooting-range visit with Miss Cambodia and in another, getting mugged in Papua New Guinea in 1996. When he reported getting held at gunpoint, the police threatened to burn down neighboring villages as “retributive justice.” Every page is packed with emotional power and startling statistics, but the most provocative chapter is “The Sex Pistols,” in which the author draws a disturbing line between guns, masculinity, and sexual violence. While the book is long and dense with data, Overton skips quickly from one vignette to the next, and he smoothly characterizes his cast of criminals and collectors. In each chapter, readers are transported to such diverse places as Las Vegas, South Africa, and Pakistan, and the author’s final anecdote about the Statue of Liberty is a clever flourish. In the end, the book is not just an investigation, but a long essay, and its central thesis is loud and clear: “of course, there are countries funding ways to address the hurt that guns bring, but far, far less money is spent on addressing the pain and suffering they cause than is made selling them.”
A passionate mix of rhetoric and travelogue, Overton’s book takes the gun debate into impressive new territory.