Adam Winkler is a professor of constitutional law at the UCLA School of Law and the author of “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America.”
Last weekend’s massacre in Orlando reignited the debate over gun access in America. Gun-control proponents wondered why shooter Omar Mateen, once included on the FBI’s terrorist watch list, was able to legally purchase his weapons just days before the attack. Gun rights proponents, on the other hand, fell back on a common argument: that arming more “good guys” would have made the rampage easier to stop. This illustrates, once again, how thorny the issue of gun rights has become. Here are some excellent books to read if you want to better understand the debate.
“The Gun Debate: What Everyone Needs to Know,” by Philip J. Cook and Kristin A. Goss
Gun-control supporters are often disadvantaged in the debate because many don’t know very much about firearms or gun violence. Cook and Goss, public policy professors at Duke University, provide a fantastic overview of the major issues. Although they tend to favor stricter regulation, their book is balanced — and frank about what both sides get wrong.
“The Second Amendment: A Biography,” by Michael Waldman
In this book, Waldman demonstrates that the meaning of the Second Amendment has been determined less by the text of the Constitution than by the push and pull of politics. He shows how the Supreme Court’s recent embrace of the view that the amendment protects an individual right to have guns for self-defense was a product of a 40-year social movement led and fed by the National Rifle Association, not anything intended by the Founding Fathers.
“More Guns, Less Crime,” by John Lott Jr.
The empirical claims in this study — that rates of violent crime drop when states pass permissive concealed-carry laws — have been challenged by scholars. Several have even challenged the integrity of the author. Even so, “More Guns, Less Crime” is one of the most influential books on gun policy. An academic book filled with statistics rarely encapsulates the zeitgeist of a movement so perfectly.
“The Gunning of America: Business and the Making of American Gun Culture,” by Pamela Haag
Haag uses the remarkable story of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company to illustrate how American gun manufacturers remade America’s gun culture. In pursuit of sales, Winchester and other companies marketed their products as tools of empowerment. This effort, launched in the 19th century, transformed a mundane object into a potent symbol of American liberty and kick-started the modern gun rights movement.
“Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms” by Nicholas Johnson
Gun control, like voting and marriage laws, suffers from a racist past. Gun laws were once used to disarm blacks, relegating them to second-class-citizen status. Johnson shows that despite the civil rights movement’s association with nonviolence, throughout American history, blacks took up arms to defend themselves and their communities because they were unable to rely on the police for protection.
“Don’t Shoot: One Man, a Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America,” by David M. Kennedy
Curbing gun violence doesn’t always involve gun control. Kennedy, a criminologist, was able to dramatically reduce the number of gun deaths in Boston by targeting the worst offenders and bringing together gang members, police and community leaders. This innovative intervention, detailed in his memoir, was so successful it was called the “Boston Miracle.”