Book Review: "Gunfight"
In “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America,” the constitutional law professor Adam Winkler tries to find a middle way to sober the debate between gun rights and gun control, with remarkable storytelling. “Gun rights and gun control are not only compatible; they have lived together since the birth of America,” he writes.
In an effort to reveal that secret history of America, he tells stories about both pro-gun extremism and gun control advocacy.
He writes the right to bear arms is "one of the oldest and most firmly established rights in America" and one that predates the Second Amendment. He quotes Ron Paul who claimed that a “lack of respect for the Second Amendment” caused “a whole lot to the disaster of 9/11.”
But he also admits that in the United States, “guns are associated with enough deaths—approximately thirty thousand annually.” And "gun control is as much a part of the history of guns in America as the Second Amendment."
He respects both sides and examines arguments from both sides carefully and critically. There is no pro- or anti- in his book. He seems to believe that the two seemingly conflicting ideas are not at all mutually exclusive.
A large portion of the book is devoted to the Supreme Court case of the District of Colombia v. Heller, which Winkler believes protected the right to bear arms but also showed that “justices deemed many forms of gun control to be constitutional.” This part is told with vivid narration and good pacing. The story starts with people waiting outside the Supreme Court to witness the historical case, with the tone of a novel. Then it goes on to provide insightful analysis on the Second Amendment, with detailed examples and reasoning in plain language. As he has said, the book is written for average readers, and it is true it is easy to read, full of context and historical background, and presents a middle-ground perspective into both sides of the issue.
He also discusses the founding of the modern National Rifle Association (NRA). For a long time after its founding in 1871, NRA promoted gun safety, and even contributed to gun control laws. It was not until the mid 1970s when John Dingell argued there should be a shift, that the organization began its modern advocacy, which as Winkler puts, “shape gun politics for decades to come.”
But the most interesting part of the book is the story of the early history of guns. He shows that founding fathers “understood that gun rights had to be balanced with public safety needs.” He writes “they supported forcible disarmament of slaves, free blacks, and people of mixed race out of fear that these groups would use guns to revolt against slave masters.” He says that before the Revolution, “at least one colony, Maryland, passed a law barring Catholics from possessing firearms” and that “other colonial governments prohibited any white person unwilling to affirm his allegiance to the British Crown from collecting firearms.” The story of the wild west is also attractive. Contrary to popular belief, Winkler says that it was not all wild. There was always gun regulation in the west in early days. Some frontier towns even had very strict gun control laws.
Winkler has done an impressive job in “Gunfight” in telling stories of America while examining gun issues with honesty. The book is informative as well as interesting, even if you are not a fan of law or gun debate.
Reach Staff Reporter Kay here.
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