Reading a poorly written book–so you don’t have to

In an earlier post, I mentioned a book (Every Handgun is Aimed at You: The Case for Banning Handguns) by everyone’s favorite anti-gun zealot, Josh Sugarmann, of the VPC. I was curious enough as to just what the case for banning handguns could be, that I resolved to read the book if I could find it at the library (I certainly wasn’t going to pay for it, thus helping to fund the civilian disarmament lobby). As it turns out, my school library has a copy, and I finished it yesterday.

To my disappointment (if that’s the word for it), Sugarmann didn’t really advance many arguments that the gun hating crowd hasn’t already trotted out a million times before. Probably the most interesting “feature” of the book is that it drew heavily on the “research” of discredited historian Michael Bellesiles, author of Arming America, the Origins of the National Gun Culture. In this book, Bellesiles makes the claim that prior to about the mid-19th century, gun ownership was the exception, rather than the rule, in the U.S. However, after compelling evidence was brought to light that much of the information contained in the book was seriously flawed (many have called it fraudulent), Bellesiles found it necessary to resign his position at Emory University. He was also stripped of the Bancroft Prize, which Columbia University had bestowed on him for the book in question, before the problems with his “research” were discovered. He was, amusingly, referred to as “the Milli Vanilli of the academic world.” The book’s publisher, Knopf, quickly withdrew the book from distribution. Even formerly enthusiastic reviewers of the book eventually labeled him as a fraud and a liar. Sugarmann’s book, however, was published when Bellesiles was still the darling of the civilian disarmament movement, which had (in a wild excess of optimism, it turns out) seen him as providing much needed scholarly legitimacy to the idea that guns were not such an integral part of American history after all.

Another problem that Sugarmann seems to have with private ownership of handguns is that too high a percentage of handgun owners are white males. He doesn’t really make clear why the gender and racial makeup of handgun owners should factor into a debate over banning handguns–unless he is trying to imply that handgun ownership is associated with racism and misogyny (a rather bizarre thought, it seems to me). Oddly, he also decries the gun industry’s attempts to market firearms to women and minorities, despite the fact that success in those endeavors would help to address what he seems to see as the “problem” of white men owning a disproportionate number of handguns.

I read this book with the idea that it might provide me with insights into the thinking of those who wish to disarm Americans, but as it happens, it only deepened my conviction that there’s not much thinking in their position, at all.

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