Monday, 15 June 2015

Gun Baby Gun by Iain Overton

Gun Baby Gun is an outstanding achievement. In a world of drones, stealth bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles, the author Iain Overton is perhaps the first journalist to trace the path of the humble gun, from factory to soldier, police officer to criminal. This is narrative history, a geographical journey that takes the reader from the shantytowns of South Africa to the well-heeled streets of investment fund New York.

I have to confess that as an aspiring crime novelist I approached this book with not a little vicarious fascination. Would I find some juicy titbit with which to pepper my novels? Would I glean some surprising factoid with which I might titillate my readers? But I found this to be no homage to the firearm, no hagiography; instead I found something much more interesting.

Gun Baby Gun is a sober but increasingly angry book. The author documents what guns do, the damage they wreak. The author rails against a culture that glorifies them. There’s a good section where he describes how guns transform a person, elevate the mere bully into the thug that cannot be ignored. He describes how even police officers and soldiers walk differently when they have a gun. He discusses masculinity, makes a throw away remark that perhaps only women should be allowed to own guns. Having read this book I wonder if that’s not such a bad idea.

But it’s the author’s use of statistics that are most compelling. Who knew that there are more gun shops in the US than petrol stations? Or that numbering almost 130'000, their number even surpasses that of McDonalds outlets? Or that the largest gun dealer of them all is Walmart? Statistics like these pepper the book and are used to great effect to highlight our culture’s absurd relationship with firearms. While this culture is most prevalent in the US, it can be seen in every gangster flick, action movie, or video game.

And that brings this review back to me. For I found myself increasingly uneasy reading this book. I read and write crime fiction. I play Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto on the PlayStation. I love a good action flick at the cinema. Will I continue to do all that? Yes. It’s almost certainly a cop out and I’m sure I wouldn’t be so glib if I ever witnessed gun violence myself, but I enjoy such entertainment and it’s never made me violent. (Please note, the author doesn’t claim that everyone who plays a video game or watches an action flick will turn into a gun-toting psychopath, but quite rightly, he does raise the issue of violence in entertainment and aggression in the real world).

But will I be more circumspect in future? Will I try to ensure that I don’t inadvertently glamorise the gun? After reading this, I’ll certainly try.

Five well deserved Stars

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