Living with Guns: A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment

Living with Guns: A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment

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by Craig Whitney
     
 

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Newtown. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Tucson. Aurora. Gun violence on a massive scale has become a plague in our society, yet politicians seem more afraid of having a serious conversation about guns than they are of the next horrific shooting. Any attempt to change the status quo, whether to strengthen gun regulations or weaken them, is sure to degenerate into a

Overview


Newtown. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Tucson. Aurora. Gun violence on a massive scale has become a plague in our society, yet politicians seem more afraid of having a serious conversation about guns than they are of the next horrific shooting. Any attempt to change the status quo, whether to strengthen gun regulations or weaken them, is sure to degenerate into a hysteria that changes nothing. Our attitudes toward guns are utterly polarized, leaving basic questions unasked: How can we reconcile the individual right to own and use firearms with the right to be safe from gun violence? Is keeping guns out of the hands of as many law-abiding Americans as possible really the best way to keep them out of the hands of criminals? And do 30,000 of us really have to die by gunfire every year as the price of a freedom protected by the Constitution?

In Living with Guns, Craig R. Whitney, former foreign correspondent and editor at the New York Times, seeks out answers. He re-examines why the right to bear arms was enshrined in the Bill of Rights, and how it came to be misunderstood. He looks to colonial times, surveying the degree to which guns were a part of everyday life. Finally, blending history and reportage, Whitney explores how twentieth-century turmoil and culture war led to today’s climate of activism, partisanship, and stalemate, in a nation that contains an estimated 300 million guns––and probably at least 60 million gun owners.

In the end, Whitney proposes a new way forward through our gun rights stalemate, showing how we can live with guns––and why, with so many of them around, we have no other choice.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Even for doubters of Mr. Whitney's hopeful message the book has much to offer. Of particular interest is his brief and readable history of the role of guns (and their regulation) in the colonial era. This history provides the context for understanding what was on the minds of the founding fathers in drafting the Second Amendment, and for deciphering its rather abstruse wording.
—Philip J. Cook
Publishers Weekly
With America's epidemic of gun violence showing no sign of ebbing, it likely that Whitney's book-length op-ed on gun control will remain relevant for years. A career New York Times reporter and editor, now retired, Whitney has previously written on such diverse subjects as pipe organs (in 2004's All The Stops) and claims no special expertise in constitutional law or firearms. Instead, he writes as a concerned citizen. His primer on gun law history sometimes gets bogged down in minutiae, but also produces fascinating tidbits like the decidedly nonprogressive bent of some early gun control legislation, namely toward African Americans. Less scholarly but still valuable are his memories of when firearms did not divide right and left, and when the NRA was mostly associated with safety training. The book's subtitle does its argument a disservice by implying that Whitney's concern is with defending the Second Amendment, when instead he is against liberals' common resort to the "well-regulated militia" language to claim a constitutional lack of protection for individual gun use. Opposed to arbitrary restrictions, reckless loopholes, NRA fear-mongering, and liberal intolerance of gun culture's law-abiding side, Whitney's presentation of firearm ownership as a protected area of U.S. common, if not Constitutional, law, strikes a conciliatory note that sadly stands little chance of being heeded. Agent: The Strothman Agency. (Nov.)
From the Publisher

Adam Winkler, Author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America
Living With Guns is a fascinating and provocative illumination of America's centuries-long battle over gun control. No matter what your views on guns, you'll find yourself unable to put down this riveting history and thoughtful analysis of one of America's most contentious issues. Fair-minded, astute, and balanced, Living With Guns will change the way you think about guns and gun control.”

Kirkus“A fresh and balanced argument.”
David K. Shipler, author of The Rights of the People and Rights at Risk
"Whether you come from the right or the left, this meticulously researched and argued book will make you think hard and reconsider your assumptions. His illuminating research into gun ownership and gun control in early America is an antidote to absolutism. It should be read closely by both sides in the debate."

Booklist“A very thoughtful, well-researched, and well-reasoned argument in favor of the right to bear arms within reasonable limitations and an appeal to responsible gun ownership.”

New York Times Book Review

“Whitney’s fresh eyes and relative agnosticism serve him well in his historical account of guns in America.”

New York Times“Even for doubters of Mr. Whitney’s hopeful message [Living with Guns] has much to offer. Of particular interest is his brief and readable history of the role of guns (and their regulation) in the colonial era. This history provides the context for understanding what was on the minds of the founding fathers in drafting the Second Amendment, and for deciphering its rather abstruse wording.”

Philadelphia Inquirer“Were there to be a reasoned debate about gun control in the United States, Craig R. Whitney might make an ideal moderator…. He has produced a well-researched and nuanced work about the history of the Second Amendment and attitudes toward gun control from Plymouth Rock to the current Supreme Court.”

Library Journal
America has a long history of gun ownership, from the arrival of the first settlers to current heated discussions over the Second Amendment. Here veteran journalist Whitney (former assistant managing editor in charge of standards & ethics, New York Times; All the Stops) argues that neither side's positions are completely correct. The Left seems to want to tighten gun-control laws including for law-abiding citizens, which he argues becomes burdensome and in some locations highly arbitrary. The Right has the powerful NRA lobby, which objects to the slightest mention of new laws with dire warnings of government disarming citizens. The book is filled with much detail, which can occasionally bog down the reader. Often, the work reads like a long op ed piece. Nonetheless, it provides a moderate viewpoint that is often missing in this discussion. VERDICT This book will be attractive to readers who fall in the middle of this issue and may give pause to others. It is not a scholarly work, but provides some solutions worthy of consideration.—Beth M. Johns, Saginaw Valley State Univ. Lib., University Ctr., MI
Kirkus Reviews
Former New York Times reporter and editor Whitney (All The Stops: The Glorious Pipe Organ and Its American Masters, 2003, etc.) mounts an evenhanded review of the gun issue in the United States. There's a gun for every American, writes the author, "about 100 million of them handguns," and the National Rifle Association has emerged as one of the most powerful lobbies in the country, with outsized political clout. To hear the NRA tell it, gun rights are constantly under assault thanks to a liberal administration, even if President Barack Obama has rarely addressed the topic. Whitney examines the reasons for preserving private ownership of firearms, one being the well-worn constitutional bit about the "well-regulated militia"--though, thanks to an ardently pro-gun Supreme Court, you "don't have to be part of any militia to exercise it"--and he endorses the broad notion that guns have a role in maintaining liberty, though that role has since been supplanted by still broader notions of self-defense. The author argues that because it is now unconstitutional to ban classes of weapons used in self-defense (including, apparently, machine guns and assault rifles), authorities and citizens would do better to press not for gun control as such, but instead to require training in the use and maintenance of weapons and to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not be holding them. "Instead of fighting chimerical battles," writes Whitney, "American gun-rights and gun-control enthusiasts should be talking to each other about what can be done…to reduce gun violence, particularly by addressing the criminal and psychopathological behavior patterns that cause it." A fresh and balanced argument, though unlikely to convince most NRA members that liberals aren't the enemy.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781610391696
Publisher:
PublicAffairs
Publication date:
11/13/2012
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
1,176,482
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.34(h) x 1.00(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
Adam Winkler, Author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America
Living With Guns is a fascinating and provocative illumination of America's centuries-long battle over gun control. No matter what your views on guns, you'll find yourself unable to put down this riveting history and thoughtful analysis of one of America's most contentious issues. Fair-minded, astute, and balanced, Living With Guns will change the way you think about guns and gun control.”

Kirkus“A fresh and balanced argument.”
David K. Shipler, author of The Rights of the People and Rights at Risk
"Whether you come from the right or the left, this meticulously researched and argued book will make you think hard and reconsider your assumptions. His illuminating research into gun ownership and gun control in early America is an antidote to absolutism. It should be read closely by both sides in the debate."

Booklist“A very thoughtful, well-researched, and well-reasoned argument in favor of the right to bear arms within reasonable limitations and an appeal to responsible gun ownership.”

New York Times Book Review

“Whitney’s fresh eyes and relative agnosticism serve him well in his historical account of guns in America.”

New York Times“Even for doubters of Mr. Whitney’s hopeful message [Living with Guns] has much to offer. Of particular interest is his brief and readable history of the role of guns (and their regulation) in the colonial era. This history provides the context for understanding what was on the minds of the founding fathers in drafting the Second Amendment, and for deciphering its rather abstruse wording.”

Philadelphia Inquirer“Were there to be a reasoned debate about gun control in the United States, Craig R. Whitney might make an ideal moderator…. He has produced a well-researched and nuanced work about the history of the Second Amendment and attitudes toward gun control from Plymouth Rock to the current Supreme Court.”

Meet the Author


Craig R. Whitney spent his entire professional career as a reporter, foreign correspondent, and editor at the New York Times, where he was assistant managing editor in charge of standards and ethics when he retired in 2009. He is the author most recently of All The Stops. He lives in New York City.

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Living with Guns: A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
By Bill Marsano. This is a useful guide to the Second Amendment and the history of the many attempts to limit or nullify it, and it’s short, too. Just as well: Whitney’s tour is brisk but his writing is merely workmanlike at best. He makes a couple of important points. For example, the desirable attempt to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, crackpots and other obviously unfit folk is seriously undermined by the many states that simply don’t take the trouble to provide information to the FBI’s national database. If you seek an argument supporting the gun-owners’ claim that we have plenty of gun laws but just don’t enforce them, that alone is sufficient. He makes the important point that a gun license can no longer be denied solely on the discretion of, say, the local sheriff. That is, the license can’t be refused to a person who satisfies all legal requirement just because the sheriff thinks he ‘doesn’t need one’ or ‘doesn’t really need that kind of protection.’ He makes two points about the NRA—one right and one wrong. First, he points out that the  NRA needs the continuing controversy over gun control to generate funds. Although I’m an NRA member myself, I agree. Then he says  that the NRA’s and gun-owners’ fear of registration as a device enabling government confiscation is some kind of paranoid delusion, a hysterical fear of something just isn’t going to happen and never will. Here Whitney is dead wrong. Among the many outcries immediately after the december 2012 school shootings in Connecticut there were in fact several by legislators calling for just such a confiscation. Whitney, who accepts the current Supreme Court stand on the Second Amendment also fails to deal with the uncomfortable  facts owners of legally registered guns are simply not the people who use guns to commit crimes and that almost all of those crimes   involved guns that were obtained illegally. And there’s one extremely important facts that he doesn’t even recognize, which is that politicians  need the gun-control controversy just as much as the NRA does, because it guarantees politicians all the newspaper coverage and TV  interviews they want.  If you want proof, compare the number of politicos who beats their breasts over this issue with what they actually accomplished.–Bill Marsano is a professional writer and editor, and a sometime target shooter.