A journalist and former gun shop owner re-evaluates the Sandy Hook massacre and the retailer who sold the weapons used.
Between 2010 and 2011, Nancy Lanza purchased two guns—a Sig 226 pistol and a Bushmaster assault rifle—from Riverview Sales, a gun shop owned by David Laguercia. Shortly after, her son, Adam Lanza, used those weapons to murder his mother and more than two dozen others before taking his own life. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives was able to quickly trace the Sig 226 back to Riverview Sales, which became the subject of an intense federal investigation, often conducted very publicly through the media. Weisser (The Myth of the Armed Citizen, 2015, etc.) focuses on Laguercia’s role in the tragedy and argues that not only was he scapegoated by federal authorities, but he was also intentionally vilified in the press. Despite the brevity of the book, the author covers a wide range of issues: the link between mental health and gun violence, the federal regulation of weapons sales, and the particular danger posed by assault rifles like the one used in the Sandy Hook incident. But the crux of the tale is Laguercia’s plight. According to Weisser, despite the fact the sale of the guns used at Sandy Hook was entirely compliant with existing law, the federal authorities still persecuted Laguercia and actively created the impression—with the media playing the role of enthusiastic accomplice—that he was an irresponsible dealer dangerously dismissive of the rules.
As a former gun shop owner, Weisser is expertly knowledgeable not only about firearms, but also the regulatory demands made upon dealers by the government. He makes a compelling case that the bureaucratic requests regarding compliance that Laguercia faced were considerable and that, in general, he was scrupulous in satisfying them. The author also makes a persuasive argument that suggests the federal government—potentially including public figures as high on the official food chain as then-Attorney General Eric Holder—knowingly disseminated false information regarding Laguercia’s culpability for Adam Lanza’s murderous rampage. Of course, the full extent of the government’s intentions can’t be adequately assessed on the basis of information publicly accessible, and Weisser wisely acknowledges this limitation, laying out the evidence for conspiracy without precipitously drawing any dogmatic conclusions. The most impressive feature of the author’s investigative study, though, is its analysis of the way the government naturally responds to a crisis. The absence of any confident interpretation of what caused the horror at Sandy Hook—and, as a consequence, a deficit of reasonable theories about future prevention—produces a panicked rush to devise quick if ineffective legislative strategies: “We don’t know the answers to these questions, which is why events like Sandy Hook fill us with fear and dread. And because we are filled with fear, well-meaning individuals in places of public responsibility feel it is necessary to help us believe that something can and will be done.” Weisser’s account is brimming with common sense and a spirit of philosophical restraint and is a valuable contribution to the study of gun violence in America.
A rigorously researched and thoughtful analysis of a controversial issue.