Glenn Beck just published a book about Guns called Control: Exposing the Truth About Guns.  Beck has built an audience for two reasons.  First, he pretends to be loony.  The Bloomberg-Hitler stunt during his NRA speech was right in character.  It’s like going to a NASCAR race and waiting for the crash.  Sooner or later if you can sit there long enough, Beck will say something that’s really nuts.  Second, he always makes you think that you’re going to get the “inside” scoop.  He has this rather charming way of making you believe that he’s discovered something that no one else knows and he wants to share it just with you.

Which is what made me buy this book.  After all, there’s precious little I don’t know about guns.  So if he’s going to expose the truth about guns, maybe there’s something out there that I still need to know.  I should have known better.  The book doesn’t ‘expose’ anything at all.   Beck grabs information from the usual conservative-leaning gun researchers like John Lott and Dave Grossman and he has no trouble shooting down various straw horses like Alan Dershowitz, Chuck Schumer and Stephen King.  Actually, the book is pretty boring; nothing sensational, nothing new.

But there is one recurrent theme that flits in and out of virtually every chapter. And it’s a rather remarkable stance for someone like Beck to take. One of the issues that comes up again and again in the gun debate is whether the United States has more crime and violence than other countries that have more restrictive gun laws.  Some say yes, some say no.  Liberals in favor of gun control point to data that shows that we have many more guns than other countries and much higher homicide levels; conservatives who are against gun control produce evidence that shows our crime rate to be much lower than other countries because we have so many guns.

Beck spends a lot of time comparing criminal data in the US to data from other countries and of course as a conservative he’s at pains to show that, if there’s any correlation between guns and crime, it’s that guns keep us safer and result in less crime.  He’s so committed to this comparative approach that I counted at least 14 times in the first 35 pages where he produced evidence that compared something about guns and crime in the US to something about guns and crime somewhere else.

I’m not really sure if his evidence stacks up.  But what I find interesting is that he would attempt to make any comparisons at all.  I find it interesting because it contradicts a fundamental axiom of current conservative orthodoxy, namely, the notion of American exceptionalism.  Conservatives trot out American exceptionalism at every opportunity, particularly when they can link it to the un-Americanism of liberals starting with Obama and going right down the line.  According to Beck and his cohorts, America is the only country that has ever been endowed by The Creator, Americans (i.e., real Americans) are the only people who enjoy liberty because it was given to them by God, and so on and so forth.

Given this belief in American exceptionalism, why would conservatives like Glenn Beck even care about whether we have more crime or less crime than England, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Sarawak or anyplace else?  And since America is so exceptional, which means it’s really so different, how could any comparison between America and anywhere else tell us anything of value anyway?  Not only are we different from everywhere else, we also can’t learn anything from studying anyone else.  After all, the US is the cradle of liberty and free enterprise.  The rest of the world suffers from various forms of Socialism, Communism, Fascism, Tribalism, Islamicism, God knows what else.

If I were a conservative, to be consistent I wouldn’t care whether we had more or less crime than other countries.  I wouldn’t link any of my thoughts on gun control to experiences around the globe.  I wouldn’t care whether Hitler, Stalin or Mao enslaved the masses, and I certainly wouldn’t assume that just because dictators disarmed their populations in other countries that something like that could happen here.  But if Beck and other conservatives really believe that the American government might take away our guns, the only real example he should point to are the post-Reconstruction laws that were passed in Southern states to take guns away from freed Blacks.

Control: Exposing the Truth About Guns is boring and dull.  And the only reason that Beck’s NRA audience didn’t fall asleep was they hoped and prayed that at some point he’d pull a real Beck.  They weren’t disappointed.