GUNS IN AMERICAN LIFE by Jervis Anderson


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A brief, calm, intelligent review of rifles and handguns in American life, past and present--the prototypical New Yorker fact piece--that leaves the issue exactly where it was: at an impasse. Leading off with a quote from Dickens, Anderson (A. Philip Randolph, This Was Harlem) puts simply what we all know: ""Guns and shooting were an American institution long before that, and have remained so ever since."" Citing John Hinckley, he remarks: ""some of the views he came to hold and the ease with which he was able to acquire his firearms are typical of the gun culture."" (A rare arresting touch is the Hinckley quote late-on: ""I'm considering my support to the National Coalition to Ban Handguns."") Discussion of the gun-control issue is preceded with historical background on rifles (the Kentucky single-shot rifle and Daniel Boone, the repeating rifle and the end of the buffalo, Teddy Roosevelt and sports hunting, the pro- and anti-hunting positions) and the handgun (the concealable derringer that killed Lincoln, the Colt six-shooter and the Texas Rangers, the Colt in the hands of the lawless, Eastern romanticization of Western lawlessness, the H'wood Western and gangster film). ""Rights in Conflict,"" Anderson's third section, then lays out the statistics (e.g., almost twice as many domestic gun deaths, 196373, as in Vietnam), the opposing forces and arguments. There are complexities, contradictions: ""though polls show that the gun lobby represents a minority opinion,"" gun-control advocates don't vote solely on that issue; if the majority is pro-control, why did California's Prop 15 (for hand-gun registration) fail in 1982? Against the National Rifle Association's opposition to any regulation, there is a member's reproach to the NRA for fighting the ban on armor-piercing, cop-killing bullets; for the general NRA position, there is non-fanatic Michael Korda's argument that social conditions are the cause of violence (an improvement on the standard claim that ""people kill, not guns""). The book is delicately, not crudely, balanced--and if not on par with John G. Mitchell's The Hunt (1980) for intensity and penetration, still creditable and useful.

Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 1984
Publisher: Random House