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WHAT WE'VE BECOME by Jonathan M. Metzl Kirkus Star


Living and Dying in a Country of Arms

by Jonathan M. Metzl

Pub Date: Jan. 30th, 2024
ISBN: 9781324050254
Publisher: Norton

A penetrating look at our failed attempts to curb gun violence.

In April 2018, 29-year-old Travis Reinking, “another angry white man with a gun,” drove from his home in Illinois to Nashville, where he opened fire on the late-night patrons of a Waffle House, most of them young, working-class Black and Latine people. Four died in the shooting, and Reinking eluded capture for a couple of days. When he was caught, it was revealed that he suffered from mental illness and had acted in a threatening manner before. Metzl, a Nashville-based doctor and sociologist and author of Dying of Whiteness, has been arguing for years that gun violence is a public health issue, an analysis that he now considers incomplete. “Strategies from the tobacco wars, the seat belt wars, or other last-century profits-versus-people contests were never going to change the terms of the debate,” he writes. Instead, the epidemic of mass-shooter gun violence, almost all committed by young white men, is the logical manifestation of “a larger racial conflict that [aims] to correct past wrongs and guard against encroachment from woke liberals, undeserving minorities, coastal elites, and overreaching governments.” In other words, it’s not a bug but a feature, and any meaningful gun reform must be a subset of a larger effort to erase inequalities and advance civil rights. The problem of Reinking, like that of all those other angry young white men, is structural, his actions “buoyed by laws, judges, social mores, financial systems, permissive policies, and centuries of history that [have] defined guns as symbols of white liberty.” Metzl’s argument is consistently persuasive and, unfortunately, both timely and probably timeless, given the reluctance of those in power to do anything to halt the bloodshed.

A powerful, convincing effort to reframe the discussion around gun control and its discontents.