Dan Baum's Gun Guys (courtesy The Truth About Guns)

Dan Baum is an oxymoron. He’s so left-leaning he’s horizontal, and yet he “gets” guns deeply and completely. Go figure. Actually, that’s my job; I’m reviewing Gun Guys, A Road Trip for Friday. In the run up to that potentially friendship-killing event (although I highly recommend the book), I asked Mr. Baum if I could share a couple of excerpts from his tome with TTAG’s Armed Intelligentsia. The former New Yorker writer kindly agreed, perhaps in the hope that you’ll be captivated by his craftsmanship before you’re offended by his politics. This bit’s from Chapter 18, Tribes. Dan’s journeyed to the belly of the beast—NRA HQ—to confront the gun rights “extremists.” What he finds surprises him, and us . . .

I was getting impatient. Had I really trekked halfway across Fairfax to hear the same bromides I’d heard everyplace else? Here I was in the tem- ple of the firearm, where people had been thinking seriously about guns for years. And this was all they had? “Yeah, yeah, I get it,” I said roughly.

“History. Craftsmanship. Family lore and blah-de-blah. I’ve heard it all before. But let’s face it: We’re not talking about old kitchen tools or cameras here. These things are about death.

It was an inside pitch, a little dirty, and I expected Sean to whiff, denying that the attraction to firearms had anything to do with killing. Instead he calmly stepped back and put it over the right-field wall.

“Absolutely,” he said, touching my chest with the tip of an index finger. “These are about death! That’s a huge part of the attraction. They’re about mastering death. Mastering the fear of it. You’re not just in awe of death. You’re accepting responsibility for taking death in your hands, something that a lot of people don’t even want to think about.”

“Yup,” Andy said, nodding. “Yup.”

“When people think of America, they think of the cowboy and his Peacemaker,” Sean said. “But you can find an equivalent in every culture: the knights of Europe, the samurai warrior. That respect, that awe that every culture has for the warrior, for the man who will take it upon himself to be a master of death—that’s a lot of what goes into the love of firearms. It’s romantic. We love the science, the art, and the beauty. But there’s also that macabre element. There’s also the death.

Well, that was a surprise: The most honest and uncomfortable answer about firearms attraction I’d yet received, and inside the walls of the NRA. Sean wasn’t apologizing. He wasn’t saying, “Yeah, it’s too bad that our enjoyment of shooting sports and our admiration for the mechanical elegance of these devices is bound up with men slaughtering one another.” He was saying that the grisly business that lay behind firearms was part of their attraction, that a dark streak ran through humankind, and that we who liked guns should be proud of confronting it.

Despite Marcey Parker’s protestation, then, guns were not merely to gun guys what golf clubs were to golfers or sauté pans to cooks. They were also what fast cars were to race drivers or parachutes to sky divers: a means of approaching and staring down death, of walking the abyss dividing this world from the next. Gun guys got a little contact high from the grim reaper. They stood apart from those who misunderstood or disliked firearms and said, essentially, I am master of this death-dealing device, and you are not. I am prepared for and capable of surviving the kind of situation you can’t even bring yourself to think about. No apology necessary.

63 Responses to Exclusive Pre-Review Excerpt From Dan Baum’s Gun Guys

    • I wouldn’t. Dan Baum is not a gun rights advocate, he is a gun control advocate posing as “one of us” in order to make his agenda look more “reasonable”. If you read his interviews, you’ll find that he repeatedly promotes gun control and has even blamed the millions of law abiding gun owners for the crimes of a few people.

      Two quotes from a recent interview include “But my fellow gun guys have plenty to answer for, too. We don’t live in a vacuum. Our guns affect everybody, and the non-gun-owning public has a right to expect things to improve.” and “Gun guys are right to object to government officials who propose sweeping gun controls without understanding guns. But until they take responsibility for the gun violence that so frightens their fellow citizens, they’re setting themselves up for more regulation.

      This man is not our friend, this man is our enemy.

      • I’m always a bit conflicted about Baum. It appears as though he really does somewhat believe in the gun owning ethos – but in his own very odd way.

        It’s really hard to tell if he is a Greek bearing gifts, or he is internally conflicted driven by years of training that we really can ‘build a world free from evil’ if only we do “whatever”. Not to mention he gets paid to think (and write) a certain way.

        In the aggregate, I have to agree the most reasonable view is that he is a (perhaps semi-unwitting) Trojan Horse. I’ve never even met the guy, let alone know him well, but there is the (slight) possibility that he truly is on the road to “getting” guns.

        • I am conflicted as well. How can you ‘understand’ guns and the second amendment while at the same time believe in giving the government more power, money, and control over your life?

  1. Damn straight.

    When I debate with Liberal gun banners, the question that makes them the maddest is this:

    Suppose you and your wife were out walking, when two big bad guys dragged her into an alley while a third big bad guy told you to go away. What would you do?

    They absolutely hate that question, and hate me for asking it, and they never answer it. Because, of course, the answer is that they would go away. And maybe call 911 from a safe distance.

    So Dan has it absolutely right. We want guns because we want to feel like we can face and overcome the worst. At least the worst in some dimensions – they don’t prevent cancer after all. But still, when it comes to crime and violence, it feels good to be prepared.

    • That was the question that floored Michael Dukakis–What would you do if… The problem with many on the left is that they see the world divided into neat categories–disadvantaged but noble minorities, rich white guys, smart experts, and so forth. They can’t conceive of genuine evil. If only those rich CEOs could be told the truth, they’d save poor Tiny Tim, for example. The fact is that each person is born with potential for good or evil, and we each have to decide ourselves which way we’ll go.

  2. What else can you say it is? People who are scared of guns embrace a legitimized fear of death that we all are supposed to go along with. Fear of death and anything to do with it. The idea that people should not have power as a rule but only as select exceptions is why guns are frowned upon. Not for safety reasons but because trusting someone else’s judgement is more dangerous than preserving the right to judge for oneself.

  3. It’s a pretty fair analysis.

    I used to be deathly scared even of police with guns; teachers and the media regularly emphasize negligent discharges to the point that your average sheltered suburban schoolkid worries that any time he’s in the same room with a gun, the gun is going to “go off” and kill him or a friend.

    My biggest gun-related regret is not asking my grandfather to take me hunting when I was younger; he developed vascular dementia before I finished high school.

  4. I do hope you will comment on the last few pages…where Mr. Baum states the gun control laws he supports. This is by the way a very good book on the subject of people and guns. If you can get a copy and read it.

  5. That’s true, they can be very deadly tools but it’s also true that we live in an ironic world… In order to save life, sometimes life has to be taken… And IMHO that’s the only time we should…

    • Yes. Except for a select few too mean, nasty, dangerous and uncaring to live. I use the situation of a brutal killer doing L w/o P. If he continues killing fellow prisoners and guards, what is to be done? Give him his own island, where he can await castaways to brutalize?

  6. I was lucky enough to meet Dan at the Boulder Book Store earlier this week.

    I can’t speak for the book, since I have not read it yet, but his talk was excellent. I really wish somebody had recorded it.

    One thing that caught my attention was when he talked about the bigotry among liberals about gun owners, calling it a “permitted prejudice”. There was low-level laughter/chuckling among the crowd.

    • As I was writing the above comment, I was listening to George Carlin’s “People Who Ought To Be Killed” (recorded in 2002).

      At 16:35 into the recording, he says

      “Here are some more people with missing chromosones who ought to be thrown from a helicopter: Gun enthusiasts….”

      and then goes on to refer to NRA members as “dickless lunatics”.

      • Carlin was absolutely brilliant, and I’d like to think he would’ve gotten over this blind prejudice – the exact sort he so often railed against – if he’d had more time.

        Then again, maybe not. It sure tosses a lifetime of exceptional work onto the garbage heap, doesn’t it?

        • Carlin was a prime example of someone who was so angry and bitter inside that he couldn’t trust himself let alone anyone else. Did he say some funny stuff? Sure, except there was an awful lot of time, even in the early days, where I didn’t feel like he was laughing.

      • Carlin is hilarious and a genius. I actually laughed when I heard that. We dont have to agree on the guns issue. He really knew what was going in in society. Just listen to his rant about education.

      • Carlin was a bitter, sad sociopath who, in the right social situation, would’ve taken joy in killing others. He’s that guy in every disaster movie who’d kill everyone else to save himself. “Comedy” was his outlet of hatred. He was a pathetic lowlife and the world’s better off with him gone.

    • What about his comments about how all gun owners are responsible for violent crimes? How about his comments about how our guns affect everyone and that non-gun owners have a “right” to expect us to do something about criminals?

  7. It makes me think about slaughterhouses.

    We have slaughterhouses in our society. Barring a fringe minority, their existence is not a controversial thing. The overwhelming majority of us make use of their services, albeit indirectly, every day or near enough. Yet very few people want to have anything to do with them. We have no problem consuming the tissue of dead animals but most people want nothing to do with the dealing out death that necessarily comes before.

    Similarly, the right to take the life of another human being when it’s necessary to preserve one’s own life has long been accepted in our society, and in most societies around the world. Barring the lunatic fringe, this is not in question. But you start talking about having the means of self-defense and people suddenly get all uptight.

    There’s a big difference, of course. It’s entirely practically possible to outsource your animal slaughter needs, self-defense much less so. It might very well be that attempts to restrict firearm use to the police and military are actually psychological attempts to convince oneself that such outsourcing is possible, that the messy business of killing in self-defense can be shipped off to some anonymous other so we never have to deal with the ugly details.

    • I was thinking of that yesterday also! I saw a news piece about a horsemeat “processing plant” that wants to open in Roswell, NM. All the meat will go overseas (France); abbatoir workers are almost a hidden, lower caste, aren’t they? “What does your husband do?” “Er…”

      Funny: spell check tried repeatedly to change “abbatoir” to “Abba tour”.

  8. Thanks but no thanks. I caught this guy on Gun Talk and he’s not one of us ‘gun guys’. He disparaged the NRA and those who are in it with a broad brush then proved that he didn’t even know what he was talking about. Unfortunately, Tom let him get away with the lies, then had LaPierre on the show following this Dan guy. Just because Dan owns a gun doesn’t prove anything to me. I *won’t* be buying the book as it’s a waste of the paper.

  9. We face a minded problem when we confront the anti-gun camp.

    Those of us who carry and have training understand that in a flash you can be in a kill or be killed situation. Our opponents feel that the likelihood of it happening is so minuscule that they don’t take responsibility for their own protection; furthermore, they criminalize anyone who disagrees. That’s the genesis of such asinine comments like “You don’t need a gun to buy a burger”.

  10. For my money I would have preferred the NRA had said something like this:

    “No, they are about life. Since the beginning the biggest and strongest and, eventually, richest of us have been the masters of death, deciding who to kill and when. The rest of us, the elderly, the weak, the sick, could not resist, we could only hope we would not draw the ire of these masters of death, because we knew, and more importantly they knew that there was nothing we could do to stop them. And that gave them control over us — ownership of our lives — because we needed to do what they said or else they would visit death upon us or those we cared for.

    The gun changed this. All other weapons had been mere extensions of the wielder’s strength of body, but with a gun the 100 pound woman, the old man, the person in a wheel chair can, for the first time ever in history, have an advantage over their larger, stronger assailant. This takes so much power away from those erstwhile masters of death because now we know, and just as importantly they know that they no longer control whether they can visit death on us, or if we will visit death on them.

    The great thing about guns isn’t that we get to be like medieval knights but that we don’t have to be like the peasants who were at the knight’s mercy. What makes guns important is that they give all of us, no matter how physically weak, the ability to protect the agency and integrity, the right to own one’s own life, that everyone claims belongs to each human, but can only be certain among those who can defend it.”

    Dan, feel free to use that for the next edition.

    • 1. The serfs were disarmed and powerless.

      2. The lords and their knights terrorized, exploited and did whatever they wanted to them.

      3. The serfs hated their masters and their goons and knew that they were unlikely to get justice in this world, so they hoped they’d get it in the next. This is part of the reason why they were so religious.

      4. The crossbow was a game changer. A half-starved serf couldn’t take on a knight head-to-head in battle but he could launch a bolt right through the bastard’s armor. This realization is part of the reason why the Pope banned crossbows.

      Ownership of crossbow, guns, and other weapons that give the user an equalizing effect have historically been considered the mark of freemen for centuries.

      The gun is civilization.

      Without guns we’d all be completely at the mercy of a bunch of tyrants and their armed goons. Or strong goons in groups who could beat the **** out of you.

      If you consider yourself an advocate for equality you should support gun ownership.

      This “Sean” fellow sounds like a complete and utter lunatic, as well as an authority-worshiper. He probably would’ve made a good knight.

    • Yea, Dan got it almost completely backwards. A common belief in self ownership explains why most gun guys (although perhaps not most gun owners) have strongly libertarian instincts.

      Since many liberals are basically communitarians, they naturally reject the political implications of self ownership in favor of government authority. Gun control is a natural battleground between the philosophies of self ownership and state control.

    • That’s the most eloquent and intelligent statement about gun control I’ve ever heard. Circulated enough it might undo some of the damage that belligerent idiots like Alex Jones have done to our cause. I am saving your comments and will pass them onto as many people who are undecided as I can. Thank you and going forward I will be repeating this comment again and again, with all due credit to the author, of course.

  11. Way too much navel-gazing nonsense for me.

    Thousands of criminologists painstakingly gather the data that we use to refute anti-gun folks. Then, one guy drives around contemplating his toenails, writes a book, and he gets all the press. I heard him interviewed and have read some of his articles. He sure as hell doesn’t speak for this “liberal” gun owner.

  12. The paradox of a liberal gun owner is a strange thing. In the past, I have found Mr. Dan Baum’s writings interesting. But I do not fully agree with this excerpt. The description that the fascination of guns is ultimately rooted in death is negative, and the rest of the text makes it sound like a lot of gun guys are on a secret power trip. Granted many are on a power trip, but there are exceptions. Some collect antique firearms because they represent living history, others enjoy target shooting, while others consider guns artwork. To be fair, I could be wrong on this since I have not read the book to get a full understanding of Mr. Baum’s beliefs.

  13. I’m guessing Dan Baum’s Jewish (by birth, that is, not by religious practice), and that gives him 4:1 odds of being lefty. It’s not his fault, really, even if it’s still highly regrettable. Leftism is probably the (secular) religion of his family. If he had been raised in an orthodox Jewish household, he’d have had a better chance of being conservative, or at least not-lefty. As a Jewish fellow myself – of the politically conservative variety – I am pleased to see a Jewish lefty taking gun owners seriously and beginning the process of extricating himself from the materialism and neo-communism he was likely taught from childhood.

  14. Baum knows the words, but he’ll never know the music. Never. As a gun owner, he’s a caricature of the old left Eastern European socialist.

  15. Another contradicted liberal. They have so many contradictions. I have only one: that I’m nice to contradicted liberals.

  16. There’s actually nothing fundamentally strange about a leftist supporting gun rights. Agree or disagree with the policy proposals of the left, but the concern among those who are honest is for the little guy. As this piece suggests, firearms give a measure of reality to the assertion that we’re all equal.

    The political spectrum is useful in organizing ideas about how a particular person would go about achieving goals, but there are good people and evil people all along it. Someone who is in politics solely for personal gain or aggrandisement will do bad things to personal liberty, regardless of party.

    • but the concern among those who are honest is for the little guy.

      No, their concern is to get someone else to pay their bills so that they do not have to be held responsible for their actions.

  17. The problem is that this thinking is completely backwards. Guns are not about ‘Death.’ They are about ‘Life.’ Being able to stay alive in any threatening situation makes firearms as invaluable as any other insurance policy. And like any tool, mastery of the firearm creates a proficiency in living. You learn more responsibility and greater tolerance when you become a master of a firearm. You learn that you have the potential of being both the hero and the villian. How you choose to use the tools will decide your role. I choose life, always.

  18. Diane Arbus made a rather shabby living useing her bottomless and baseless hatred for all things non-lesbian as well, the Left even had the termidity to refer to her (in Public) as a journalist. A streach even for Columbia U!

  19. Simply put, a liberal cannot be trusted in any context. They want gun control because they want to do bad things to you that they cannot otherwise do if you were armed.

    Get them away from you as fast as you can. They are poison.

  20. What the actual fvck are you talkin bout Willis? Fascination with death? Dude, you need drugs, and a fvckin hug or something.

    I believe in gun rights because I don’t want anyone to have absolute control over me, or anyone else. Bureaucrat, criminal, or both. Communitarianism, utilitarianism, the “greater good”, the “good of society” *spit*. A pox on all their houses. There is nothing more important than the individual and the individual right. You cannot claim to be a defender of the little guy; of the minority, if you are not a defender of the individual. The individual is the smallest minority there is.

    I LIKE guns because I’m not a bloomin idiot. I’m well aware that life is not an action movie. I’m not going to get jumped for my wallet by three guys, get the sh!t kicked out of me, and be just fine. My aging mother is not going to be better of pepper spray than a 9mm. My 115# little sister is not going to get into a fistfight with a 220# rapist and pull off a perfect triangle choke or manage to hip toss him through a window. As others have said, guns are equalizers. They’re force multipliers. The small, the weak, the elderly, the infirm; they’re now on the same playing field as the 250# thug who’s been hitting the weights in the pen for the last five years.

    There’s a very large and important difference between a gun guy and gun rights guy. Dan Baum is a gun guy, Bruce Krafft is a gun rights guy.

    Bruce Krafft is a libertarian who happens to like guns. Dan Baum is a statist who happens to like guns.

    Dan Baum is not our friend.

  21. Trying to figure out the “why” by asking a bunch of people doesn’t impress me. Gathering consensus is not analysis. Don’t know about Dan, but I’ve been around guns going now on fifty years. In those years I have spent a lot of time thinking about guns and the issues surrounding them. Suffice to say that as with most other issues involving humanity, the answers depend on the individuals, that is to say, there is no “single” answer, not even close.

    Therefore, “People of the Gun” cannot be collectivized.

  22. Funny, I’m a gun guy because I have a “fascination” with liberty and self-preservation. Death has nothing to do with it.

    Is my acceptance and preparation of a possible outcome where I may have to take a life equivalent to a fascination or “mastery” over death? No, it simply means I’m a natural animal. Every animal is pre-programmed with violent survival instincts, including humans. As much as leftists and gun-grabbers may wish to ignore it in favor of their self-induced fantasy worlds, it’s true.

    But, then, leftists and gun-grabbers are never big on truth, are they?

    • Being a master of death, having a dark side, being “uncomfortable” with the “grisly business”… These are things that liberals understand. They appeal to the liberal psyche. That’s why Dan Baum identifies so well with it in this excerpt. Lefties love conflicting emotions and contradictions of character.

      I think it’s rather telling, personally.

  23. Inelegantly stated without any trace of political correctness.
    Though I take issue with the final conclusion: Though I am prepared every day to face death, I do not get a “contact high” from it. When I wake up in the morning and see my M&P sitting on my desk next to my bed, I shiver. That is my response to the world in which we live. Being master of my own welfare is not something I undertake with any degree of pleasure. There is no comfort in acknowledging the dangers of this world.
    No, what truly separates the people of the gun and everyone else is the willingness to accept that, in order to meet evil, you must be ready and able to destroy it.

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