Happiness is a Warm Book About Guns: Intellectual Self-Defense

I began writing this on Friday, hours after NRA loon-in-chief Wayne LaPierre offered his predictably over-the-top defense of gun nuts, pimps and apologists for the weapons industry. Hard to imagine the cognitive dissonance required of somebody who can stick to his, yes, guns in the face of Sandy Hook and all the rest of the murders. Or not. He's paid well, and has quite the operation. When I called the NRA a week ago to thank them for their terrific work getting weapons into the hands of so many Americans, I was put on hold first and heard not a recording of how "people kill people" but that President Obama is giving away our national sovereignty to one-world government! The NRA's ambitions are clearly more than most "liberal media" and government has dared call them out on. Not Mr. Bib! Your unshy opponent of an armed citizen Bircher mafia here offers modest bookish self-defense for challenging the power of the murderous corporate gun thugs.

Since Friday I've been pleased, heartened, encouraged at the reasonable and appropriate anger and humane resistance to the gun lobby. Some of the commercial mainstream media seems, for once, to be willing to diagnose LaPierre's anti-social psychopathology, perhaps because he so elegantly flaunted it at his weird press conference. Lawrence O'Donnell did a righteous piece on his "The Last Word," notable and powerful and brave and comprehensive. Because although even a moderate Republican can see there's a problem of a big fat violent bully on the block, it seems to take more dead children to start somebody, anybody with a microphone and a camera to just go for it.  

By way of more mental case study, I offer the following.  How serendipitous is it that the same morning LaPierre offered his absurd proposal to place armed vigilantes in front of schools and blamed symbolic movie and video game violence, the mostly pro-gun rightists who red-baited him agreed that they might indeed accept Senator John Kerry as Secretary of State? Huh?  Not one employee of the 

"liberal media" has asked McCain and Graham how they could now possibly accept the traitorous Kerry who they so successfully Swift Boated, and put him in charge of the swift ship of state.  The best thing Kerry ever did was the Winter Soldier campaign and work to stop the US War against the people of Southeast Asia and work with Viet Nam Vets Against the War.  But, no they made up some nonsense about him not challenging their doomed imperialist war but for being a coward!  Apparently cognitive dissonance is contagious.  Remember it is the same incredibly curious and courageous reporters who missed the really big story, that Senatorial candidate Obama, presumably a Kenyan Muslim radical Black anti-imperialist Christian Marxist disciple of Reverend Wright all along, became a threat to America's security and well-being only when he decided to run for Prez.  

So, yes, I am thrilled by the excellent New York Times editorial taking on the gun kooks and have appreciated the telling of the history of our psychic and political molestation and intimidation at the hands of the NRA by some terrific guests on Pacifica and NPR (more on that below). This morning I remind myself, too, of Bertholt Brecht's great line "Hungry man, reach for the book. It is the a weapon."  And I'd refer readers of this militantly pro-gun control (make that handgun abolition!) blog to start weaponizing their minds with three terrific books by having a look at the review I composed a year ago over at Tom Lutz's Los Angeles Review of Books.  In it I very much
 recommend Chapman University writer-professor Tom Zoellner's excellent if perhaps too-restrained case study of the truly strange state of Arizona and its cultural and political hard-on for gun violence, A Safeway in Arizona: What the Gabrielle Giffords Shooting Tells Us About the Grand Canyon State in Life in America. 

Zoellner makes the mistake of being fair and objective, and although a professional journalist, must have struggled hard to frame humanely and honestly the profiles he offers of victims and  what I would call victimizers. His investigation is sad and heartfelt as it is also a kind of autobiography. He was raised in the Grand Canyon State, worked for Giffords, perhaps even loved her. The book offers a largeness of spirit and empathy which, frankly, seems heartbreakingly, uselessly hopeful in tone after the latest predictable massacre.  Imagine that. But it is urgent and accurate in its telling of the history of guns, as promised.

 Toward countering the sonic shit storm offered by most of the feel-bad commercial media, offering largely grief and fatalism and existential nonsense and, yes, religion and God up the wazoo, you've no doubt found succor, as I have I, in the voices on Warren Olney's "To the Point" on KCRW and Terry Gross's excellent "Fresh Air" locally on KPCC, both of which hosted go-to expert Adam Winkler for a history of the gun lobby and turned me on to a fellow named Tom Diaz, whose work I did not know.  Diaz's credentials are amazing, his tone is honest, but he is unsparing about explaining the LaPierre gangsters' behavior of the past decades.  His own book on the topic,The Last Gun: Changes in the Gun Industry Are Killing Americans and What it Will Take to Stop It arrives in June, but meanwhile his is the smartest voice I have heard on this topic. Diaz, left, works at the Violence Policy Center, is an attorney and professor. He is a former gun guy who has become the leading thorn in the side of the gun lobby by simply, carefully explaining how it has achieved political hegemony through an internal coup d'etat from its right flank. I heard him on Fresh Air and on the most consistently engaged and the drive-time show of the most out-front political affairs journalist in Southern Cal, our own Ian Masters of KPFK's Background Briefing.  I don't know how many times he and Jon "Four O'Clock Report" Wiener have hosted Winkler, but all of my public and community radio heroes have offered a precise and startling historical analysis by which to understand and respond to the Connecticut massacre.  And all of it is archived of course.

Winkler's excellent book Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America looks at, among other things, the ironies of interpreting, passing, challenging gun law. If you are a Californian with a memory or some history in your arsenal, you will remember the Black Panthers taking on then-Governor Ronald Reagan on the steps of the capitol.  Black revolutionaries with shotguns scared the bejesus out of the former FBI fink and White establishment so much so that they passed the Mulford Act to prohibit carrying loaded guns around in the Golden State. Of course the KKK and others have their place in the story, but it just makes me happy to remind people about Ronnie the informant. And to say up front that neither Diaz or Winkler, a Constitutional law expert, are raving abolitionists.

Friends, I write this weekly blog for a couple of reasons. I need a place to organize my own critique, my intellectual life, a deadline-driven writing and thinking-machine.  Of course, it's also my way of doing the democratic missionary work of book evangelism, and making the all-too-obvious but frequently missed point that people who don't read, don't think, and can't reason do not get to be part of the conversation. Sorry!  Indeed, perhaps you, like me, have successfully stopped a hundred conversations with rightist know-nothings or liberal feel-goodies by asking them if they have read a book, or an article, or are aware of a commentary or thought piece or book review essential to any discussion or argument, one which might, say, help them make their point. 

That's why writing about, thinking about, recommending books is especially crucial this weekend and in the fight for a democratic campaign to disarm. To be able to challenge the knuckleheads with their dumb critiques about human nature and Fox News--Rush Limbaugh boilerplate. And to understand, finally, that the limits of the conversation are artificial, contrived, politically easy. It's not, finally, only about guns. It's about the theft of reason by well-funded tyrants who lie to us, and to their flock.  When I telephoned the NRA on the Friday morning of the shooting to thank them for their terrific awful work of getting weapons into the hands of as many Americans as they can, I was put on hold. No, the recorded message from its crazy leader was not about how "people kill people" but a rave about how President Obama was going to surrender our national sovereignty to one-world government. Do they believe this? Of course not. We need to say so. When milquetoasts and cowardly liberals shake their heads or talk about how cool it is to go to the shooting range or offer their lame acceptance of the total manipulation of the Second Amendment, do challenge them. Please! These are all obvious and clumsy lies told to obscure, to confuse and to cheer the membership of a militia whose only real mission is protecting the wealth of an industry which has done its best to murder our democracy. The preceding is not an "opinion" or one perspective.  That is the history of a movement, as documented in three terrific books by three credible authors whose work we might embrace. Oh, by they way, ask people if they have guns in their homes.  You'd be surprised.  And then?  Do not visit their homes. You, and they, all of us, are in danger. 

Finally, tired and angry and exhausted from grieving, I cheered myself and found courage to write this post while stuffing holiday cards and watching perhaps one of my all-time favorite films about just this struggle for humanity and reason as against brutal and sadistic force. It's Michael Apted's "Amazing Grace," about the struggle significantly directed by Lord William Wilberforce (1759-1833) to stop the British slave trade.  After decades, he won because he was humane, smarter than his opponents, and committed.  And, yes, he won!

A Safeway in Arizona: What the Gabrielle Giffords Shooting Tells Us About the Grand Canyon State in Life in America, Tom Zoellner, Viking, 288 pgs., $ 26.95

Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America, Adam Winkler, Norton, 361 pgs, $27.95

The Last Gun: Changes in the Gun Industry Are Killing Americans and What it Will Take to Stop It, Tom Diaz, New Press, 224 pgs, $24.95 (forthcoming, June 2013)

Andrew Tonkovich hosts the Wednesday night literary arts program Bibliocracy Radio on KPFK 90.7 FM in Southern California.

Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >