Dan Baum is a self-professed “weirdo hybrid“—a card-carrying liberal from suburban New Jersey whose affinity for firearms places him firmly in the opposite camp. For his latest book, Gun Guys: A Road Trip, the former New Yorker scribe embarked on a 15,000-mile cross-country journey to figure out why millions of Americans—himself included—instinctively cling to their guns.
His timing was notable. For this past December, just as Baum’s book was going to press, news began pouring out about a horrific incident at an elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Months later, Democrats and Republicans are clashing over gun-control at every level of government, and Baum worries that the voices of ordinary gun owners are being tuned out of the debate.
Over a dubious cell-phone connection—Baum was driving in the Montana boonies—the author took me inside the mind of a gun guy as we discussed the lure of the NRA, the left’s screw-ups, the merits of the AR-15, and why the “guns don’t kill people” refrain makes sense—at least to a gun guy.
Mother Jones: You wrote Gun Guys in advance of the mass shootings in Aurora, Oak Creek, Minneapolis, and Newtown. You eventually added a postscript recommending regulations that you thought gun advocates and detractors could agree on. Did you worry that all these horror stories would affect how people received your book?
Dan Baum: I wasn’t so much worried about a backlash. I don’t think Sandy Hook has changed the lives of any of the people in the book other than they feel more beleaguered and more blamed for things like that. I think it’s really destructive that when something like Sandy Hook or Aurora happens, pundits will say the problem in the this country is that we have this terrible gun culture. Any of the people in my book—and frankly me—will say, “Wait, wait, wait! I’m gun culture. I like guns. I buy guns. I shoot guns. Are you saying I am to blame for Sandy Hook?”
What I learned traveling around the country as a liberal Democrat is whoah, there are costs to gun laws and there are even costs to talking about gun laws. When something like Sandy Hook or Aurora happens, the knee-jerk reaction on the left is ban the guns! When you do that, you also alienate the very people who might help us reduce gun violence. They’re the people who know guns, who know how they function, who know how to…