Following my post on organizing my gun culture library, here are my top picks for books on guns in America. Some of these books are at the top of the list because they resonate with my personal and scholarly interests. They are not necessarily of interest to anyone and everyone.
That said, these 9 books fall into 4 rough categories.
From left to right, the first two books are historical, though driven by contemporary interests.
- Adam Winkler’s Gunfight — I have said before that this is the best single volume treatment of guns in America. The history of debates over guns is intertwined with the story of the landmark SCOTUS decision in the Heller case.
- Craig Whitney’s Living with Guns — resonates with me because he approaches his work from the perspective of a political liberal. In fact, the subtitle is “A liberal’s case for the Second Amendment.”
The next three books deal with the contemporary scene.
- The Gun Debate, by Philip Cook and Kristin Goss, is part of Oxford University Press’s “What Everyone Needs to Know” series. I have used it in my Sociology of Guns course because it covers many essential issues in a single, easily accessible volume.
- Paul Barrett’s Glock tells the recent history of guns in America by focusing on the rise of Glock. It is a fascinating story that I’ve read 2.5 times.
- Anthropologist Abigail Kohn’s book, Shooters: Myths and Realities of America’s Gun Cultures remains one of the only social scientific studies of gun owners which seeks to understand (at least in part) from their own perspectives why they enthusiastically own guns.
The next two books address concealed carry in particular.
- Jennifer Carlson’s Citizen-Protectors is the best existing social scientific study of individual gun carriers in America. Although that is a sort of low bar, that should not take away from her achievements. I realize in writing this that I have never properly reviewed the book here (watch for it soon), but she appears many times on this blog and her work is foundational to my own study of Gun Culture 2.0.
- The late Brian Anse Patrick’s book on the history of the concealed weapon carry movement has also profoundly informed my own work. Don’t let the title fool you. Rise of the Anti-Media tells us alot about the rise of Gun Culture 2.0.
Last, although my primary interest in guns is in their lawful use by legal owners, I cannot help but cross paths with the issue of gun violence. I include the topic in my Sociology of Guns seminar, and I try to know enough to speak in an educated manner about it when called upon by the media, friends, and family.
- Steven Pinker’s door-stopper, The Better Angels of Our Nature, is an exhaustive and exhausting treatise on why violence has declined over the course of human history. For all the talk about the “epidemic” of gun violence in America, Pinker reminds us that we don’t know from violence. Perhaps a big reason today’s gun violence is so disturbing is because, as Pinker writes, “we may be living in the most peaceable era in ours species’ existence.”
- David Kennedy’s Don’t Shoot is an interesting account of his and others’ efforts at reducing inner-city violence through prevention and intervention. He notes that most gun violence is extremely concentrated in the US and can be reduced without any additional gun control measures.
I welcome your feedback on this list, your own lists, and your other suggestions.