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The Shooter’s Bookshelf: Gun Curious

One of the better-known quotes of Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese warrior philosopher, is “Know your enemy, know yourself, and you will be invincible.” The idea behind this saying is that if you truly know what you and the forces opposing you are each capable of doing, you’ll never fight a battle you can’t win.

When it comes to maintaining and expanding the right of self-defense of all Americans, there is little problem understanding the motives and capabilities of those opposing this right. Their intentions are available to anyone who has ever cracked open a newspaper, turned on a television set or glanced at social media.

However, “know yourself,” the second part of Sun Tzu’s maxim, is a little bit tougher. Who are American gun owners? Why do we buy guns? Has that changed in the last 50 years, and if so, how? Finding a truly neutral source for this sort of information is a challenge, as advocacy groups from both sides of the issue try to swing the needle in their direction. At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a problem, as all of us hate bad news and like to hear good things about what we believe in. Overconfidence and bad information are real things, though, so knowing who you are, warts and all, is vital for success.

See How We Are

This is just one of the things I took away from Dr. David Yamane’s new book, “Gun Curious: A Liberal Professor’s Surprising Journey Inside America’s Gun Culture.” Unlike most academics, who examine American gun owners in the same way one might examine something stuck to the bottom of their shoe, Dr. Yamane is a sociologist who takes the time to see gun owners as living, breathing, well-mannered individuals. To be sure, his politics and mine intersect but lightly, but where they do, namely on gun rights, they intersect with vigor. Dr. Yamane’s approach to American gun owners, as stated often in the book, is that guns are normal, and normal people own guns. That simple statement by itself sets this book apart from practically everything else written about the modern American gun owner, but more (much more) awaits inside. 

Now would be an appropriate time for me to mention that I consider Dr. Yamane to be a friend and have helped him coalesce his thoughts into this book. Indeed, I am mentioned several times in it. The reason for this is simple: Dr. Yamane is studying “Gun Culture 2.0,” a phrase created by my friends Michael Bane and Paul Erhardt. Their conjecture is that “Gun Culture 1.0” was what we saw in America prior to the Vietnam War, when for the most part, guns meant hunting, and competition meant matches like Camp Perry or an ISSF Olympic shooting sport.

Today, however, most gun owners buy firearms for personal defense, and sports like USPSA and Precision Rifle are very popular, and that’s also been my experience with firearms. As a result, I see myself reflected in “Gun Culture 2.0” and in this book, sometimes for good, sometimes for… not so good. And I’m okay with that, as honest criticism is a key to self-improvement. 

Reflections On A Culture

This isn’t surprising, as Dr. Yamane himself describes this as more of a personal journey into American gun culture rather than an academic study of who owns guns in America. This frank and honest approach to the realities of modern gun ownership is what sets this book apart from other titles. Dr. Yamane is not a cheerleader for gun control, nor does he advocate for relaxing more restrictions. Rather, this book is a travelog of sorts, a journey through a country called “American gun owners,” a country where Dr. Yamane may reside, (he owns a number of firearms and has attended classes at Gunsite and other schools), but by his own admission, he is not a native to the land he travels through. Dr. Yamane’s honesty and openness is what makes “Gun Curious” so appealing. This book is not a “rah-rah” polemic for or against gun ownership. Rather, by showing that gun owners aren’t “trigger happy gun nuts” but rather thinking, breathing human beings who are simultaneously concerned for their welfare and the welfare of those around them, Dr. Yamane shows gun owners as they really are. We are not numbers on a statistical chart, or a parody shown on late night comedy shows. Instead, we are normal people who own guns, as is normal in America. 

And let’s face it, we could all use a little more normal right now.

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