July 5, 2013

Review: The Last Gun: Stopping Gun Terror in America

The Last Gun: Stopping Gun Terror in America
The Last Gun: Stopping Gun Terror in America by Tom Diaz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think this is an important book, mainly because of the unique angle it takes towards the problem of gun violence. Instead of wasting pages on useless arguments about the Founding Fathers and the Second Amendment, the author approaches the subject from the standpoint of consumer safety.

Needless to say, using that criteria, the industry does not come off well. In fact, the author portrays them as callous, greedy sonsabitches whose only goal is getting their ever-shrinking customer base to buy more and more guns. To that end, they employ the ultimate grifters, Wayne LaPierre and the National Rifle Association, to whip up public fear and paranoia ("Obama is coming to take our guns!" thunders LaPierre before the 2012 election) and increase sales. Of course, the collateral damage (30,000+ Americans killed every year by gun violence) is simply brushed aside as a cost of doing business.

It doesn't have to be this way. As the author points out (p. 222), "firearms are the last consumer product manufactured in the United States that is not subject to federal health and safety regulation." He notes the progress made in making automobiles safer, including "changes in both vehicle and highway design, incorporating more safety features, improving roads, enacting seat-belt laws, and reducing alchohol-impaired driving." (paraphrased) This has not happened with the gun industry. (p.224) "Driven by ideology, triangulation, and flatly misinformed opinion, attention remains focused on 'bad people' and exaggerated 'rights,' not on the greed of the gun industry and on the reckless features of its militarized products--guns that hitherto 'good people' use dozens of times a day to kill each other and themselves."

The last chapter, "Solutions Worthy of the Name," offers several excellent suggestions to reduce this carnage. I like No. 5, "Look upstream for gun violence prevention measures." (p. 230) "Once vehicle safety advocates stopped trying to reform people and started looking at the actual designs of vehicles and roads, enormous strides were made in saving lives and preventing injuries. This is precisely what needs to be done to turn around America's gun violence problem. We need to prevent injury before it happens. To do that, we need to look upstream at the gun industry, its products, and how they are distributed."

(The gun industry, of course, will do anything to prevent this. That's why they're so strident about suppressing research and information about their products and their use, not to mention the fact that they managed to get a federal law passed--in 2005, I believe--shielding them from civil lawsuits.)

This is a very well-written and heavily-researched book, with copious notes (over 60 pages). It's just what is needed to start the conversation, with the goal of reducing gun violence and death in America.

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