Philip Cook and Kristin Goss have published a very important book which deserves everyone’s attention for two reasons: First, the authors are without doubt two of the best-informed and serious gun scholars publishing today, and second, they have written a very balanced and well-documented essay that objectively summarizes the state of the gun argument on both sides of the debate. The Gun Debate is a book that needs to be read and then discussed seriously, which is what I am going to do right now.
What I like most of all about the book is that the authors, as they cover each and every point, are careful to demonstrate that there’s a kernel of truth in every argument presented by both sides regarding the good news and bad news about guns. Whether it’s the pro-gun position that guns protect us against crime, or the anti-gun position that more guns equals more violent crime, Cook and Goss are careful to show that there’s at least some data that either side can use to bolster their point of view. In other words, what we finally get in the gun debate is a book that sets out to be balanced in the hopes, according to the authors, “that there’s still a possibility of a reasoned discussion based on the best available information.” The foregoing is how the book ends and there’s no question that by the time you get to that closing sentence, you will have been treated to the best available information. The book really is that good.
But here’s the bad news. In aspiring to produce a work that treats both points of view seriously and objectively, the authors assume a degree of parity in terms of the motivations and objectives of both sides in the gun debate which simply isn’t true. The tip-off in this respect is the frequent use of the words like ‘scholar’ or ‘scholarship’ when referring to articles and books published by authors whose positions on issues can be basically described as pro-NRA. For example, they refer to the “terrible oversight” committed by historians who paid little attention to gun control policies as an aspect of the consolidation of Nazi power after 1933, an omission now thankfully corrected by the “scholarship” of a self-proclaimed expert on Constitutional gun law named Stephen Halbrook. He has been peddling this Nazi nonsense for years, and it is brandished about by the NRA as part of their ‘slippery-slope‘ strategy to shoot down gun control regulations of any sort. The reason why historians have ignored this aspect of the Nazi regime is that it is of no consequence in explaining how and why the most educated and advanced society in Western Europe could embrace a government that was based on such savagery and hate. One doesn’t become a ‘scholar’ simply by writing about something that real scholars have decided doesn’t need to be discussed.
The strength of the NRA lies in the fact that they represent a constituency which, when it comes to gun control, has something tangible to lose; namely, their guns. You can dress it up any way you choose – fighting for America’s freedoms, fighting for civil rights, fighting for family values. But none of those fights would engage even a fraction of the current NRA membership if behind all those battles wasn’t the possibility that their guns would be taken away. And to the author’s credit, they understand why this tangible loss faced by gun owners far outstrips the theoretical gains that gun control would yield for the other side.
The NRA and its pro-gun allies has absolutely no interest in supporting real scholarship or coming to the table for a ‘reasoned’ debate. Because abandoning their hard-core, extremist position would mean they were perhaps willing to admit the possibility that the other side had something worthwhile to say. In which case, what’s the point of being a pro-gun advocate at all? If only 25 percent of Americans own guns, then the job of the NRA and its ‘scholar’ allies is to figure out how to get guns into the hands of the other 75 percent. Isn’t that what the gun debate is really all about?