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A Must-Read Novel by Joyce Carol Oates

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              Joyce Carol Oates isn’t a gun nut, that’s for sure. But the way a gun briefly appears in her latest novel, Babysitter, makes this work something which every gun nut should read.

              I’m not going to discuss the novel’s plot because I don’t want to rob anyone of the pleasure of reading every word without knowing what the next word is going to be. But when Joyce Carol Oates describes how people feel and think about anything that happens in their lives, you won’t get it better or richer from anyone else.

              The scene involving a gun takes place with a man and a wife. He has bought a self-defense gun and pulls it out, shows her how to hold it, load it, pull the trigger and now she’s ready to defend herself and the kids in case someone tries to get into the house and do them harm.

              The wife, of course, knows from nothing about guns. And despite being reassured by her husband that a gun is the best way to prevent any trouble, she basically tells herself that she doesn’t feel ready or able to use a gun in self-defense.

              That’s it. The whole scene is one page in a novel which runs 432 printed pages front to back. But in this one, very brief episode, we are given an extraordinary insight into the whole, contemporary problem known as gun violence which the author of this brilliant novel, knowingly or not, seems to understand.

              I’ll return to Babysitter shortly, but first let me create a proper context for the appearance of a gun in this book.

              In 1986, the U.S. gun market absorbed 3,741,934 new guns, of which 1,655,387 or 44%, were handguns. In 2019, the market absorbed 10,998,608 new guns, of which 6,221,322, or 57% were handguns. Ever since the 1980’s, the gun market has increasingly been driven by a demand for handguns, because the only gun owners out there buying rifles and shotguns for hunting are old farts like me. Kids don’t hunt.

              Pistols are designed and carried only for armed, self-defense. Many revolvers are also purchased and carried for self-protection, including the revolver owned by the husband in the book written by Joyce Carol Oates.

              The husband seems to think that all he needs to do is show the wife how the gun works, and she’ll be able to use it to protect herself and the kids when they are home.

              The wife knows better. In just a couple of paragraphs, Joyce Carol Oates conveys the woman’s combination of fear, doubt, and anxiety which she feels just by looking at a gun.

              These emotions were exactly what I observed in the behavior of more than a thousand women who took the safety course that my state mandated in order to get licensed to buy, own or carry a gun. The women who took my course were either wives or girlfriends of men who owned guns, and they were getting licensed because my state (Massachusetts) has the toughest gun access law of all 50 states.

              The law basically says that every adult in the household must be licensed to access guns if any member of the household wants to keep guns in the home. Of these thousand women or so who took the safety course, the number who were going to buy their own guns was less than ten.

The women who took the course showed up when their husbands or partners also took the course. Most of the seven thousand enrollees in the course were men, and most of the men showed up for the course with other men.

I required every student in the course to shoot some rounds with a 22-caliber Ruger pistol, just to get the feeling for what happens when a gun is shot off. The male students couldn’t wait to get down to the range and fire away. The women were reluctant at best to shoot a live gun, at worst they were so frightened that they either started crying when the gun kicked back after firing or dropped the gun.

I don’t know how many of the men who got licensed as gun owners ever took the time and the trouble to go to a range on a frequent basis in order to develop and then maintain the proficiency needed to use a gun in self-defense. But if they thought that just by dint of owning a gun they could use a gun properly for self-defense, they were wrong.

In Babysitter, the husband simply assumes that his wife will be able to use a gun for self-defense because he tells her how to use the gun if someone tries to break into their home. And this totally delusional attitude on the part of the husband is described perfectly by Joyce Carol Oates.

It goes without saying that I loved this book, and you’ll love it too.

Why Do We Have Gun Violence? My New Book Attempts An Answer.

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I remember watching the TV news on February 1, 1968 when this film of a suspected Viet Cong agent being assassinated by a South Vietnamese Army colonel flashed across the screen. The shooting took place during the Tet Offensive and this one picture changed the entire course of the war.

Until that moment, there were still lots of folks who were against the war but hoped that maybe, just maybe we could find a way to wind things down but also protect the South Vietnamese. War was bad, but so was an immediate retreat. The picture above put an end to that argument once and for all.

This picture can be found on the final page of my latest book on guns which is available on Amazon as of today. The book is in print right now, the Kindle edition will appear shortly. It is Volume 10 in my Guns in America series, it is also the longest book by far, running some 66,000 words along with charts, graphs, maps nd copious footnotes – the whole bit. Incidentally, the previous 9 volumes can be purchased en toto in a Kindle edition for $49.95. I’m not trying to stack up my royalties; in fact, I just found out that Amazon has created this Kindle offer.

The reason I end the new book with the photo of the shooting in Saigon is because the whole point of this book is to discuss the way we have been talking about gun violence over the last seven or eight years. Concerns about gun violence were raised here and there from time to time going back to the assassination of JFK in 1963 and the passage of the big gun law in 1968. But it wasn’t until the massacre at Sandy Hook in December, 2012, that gun control became a continuous discussion, particularly within the many gun-control groups that sprang up after that date. The Newtown massacre also provoked the medical profession to get more involved in talking about guns and gun violence, ditto more research attention paid to this issue within the academic world, particularly public health.

The problem I have with this far-reaching concern about gun violence is that virtually all of the discussions within the gun-control community focus on the issue of violence without any concern or even awareness about the issue of guns. The gun-research community has published endless studies which explain who gets shot, where they get shot, how they got shot and why they get shot. But I can’t think of a single piece of research which tells me anything about the people who do the shooting. How can you create an ‘epidemiology’ of gun violence (the public health researcher’s favorite word) if you don’t know how and why the behavior which causes the injury actually spreads?

Which is what I try to do in this new book. Talk about how and why a certain number of individuals pick up a gun and use it to harm themselves or someone else. I trace this behavior – with data and personal testimonies – back to long before there was any professed concern about the violence caused by guns. And that’s why the book ends with the picture of one guy shooting another guy in South Vietnam, because when all is said and done, there’s really no difference between a shooting on a street in Saigon and a shooting on a street in Chicago’s West Side.

Like Walter Mosley says, ‘You walk around with a gun and it will go off, sooner or later.’

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