Gun Control on Trial: Inside the Supreme Court Battle over the Second Amendment

By Brian Doherty | Go to book overview

4. Gun Stories, Gun Culture, and
Gun Prejudice

It's a common trope in books about guns or gun control to begin with a tightly told, evocative story of something very, very bad that happened because someone had a gun. (An alternate take on this genre is the “very bad thing that happened because someone didn't have a gun” story.) These stories work, at least for the reader they are designed for, because such stories are true. Bad things do happen with a gun as the tool; bad things are prevented because a gun was available to be used as a tool; mothers weep because the wrong person had a gun and used it to do evil; men grit their teeth and lose their dignity because they didn't have a gun at a moment when one was needed.

True narratives capture readers' attention and make them feel the implications of what they're being told must be true, because the stories are rooted in fact. These stories are never told just for their inherent narrative drive, merely for the art of the reporter capturing a dark moment in the human story. Instead, they are always told to imply something larger about what ought to be done when it comes to gun policy in America. Many such stories are out there: troubled men (pretty much always) who act out their rage by assuming temporary power over others, fearful aftermaths, punishing loss. And then there's the other kind of story, with less outer drama, but plenty internal: men and women who stand up for their own and others' lives with a grim and dangerous, but sometimes necessary, tool.

Far more details tend to be available to the typical researcher or reader about the tragedies, the innocents murdered with impunity because the wrong person had a gun. “Wrong person” is the right term. A lot of gun regulation is based on trying to identify that “wrong person.” Of course, such laws do far more than they have to do if their goal is keeping us safe from those who would use guns to harm innocents. Even in the most frightening-sounding

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