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Living with Guns: A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment [Hardcover]

Craig Whitney

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Book Description

27 Nov 2012
Newtown. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Tucson. Aurora. Gun violence on a massive scale has become a plague in our society, yet politicians seem more afraid of having a serious conversation about guns than they are of the next horrific shooting. Any attempt to change the status quo, whether to strengthen gun regulations or weaken them, is sure to degenerate into a hysteria that changes nothing. Our attitudes toward guns are utterly polarized, leaving basic questions unasked: How can we reconcile the individual right to own and use firearms with the right to be safe from gun violence? Is keeping guns out of the hands of as many law-abiding Americans as possible really the best way to keep them out of the hands of criminals? And do 30,000 of us really have to die by gunfire every year as the price of a freedom protected by the Constitution? In Living with Guns, Craig R. Whitney, former foreign correspondent and editor at the New York Times, seeks out answers. He re-examines why the right to bear arms was enshrined in the Bill of Rights, and how it came to be misunderstood. He looks to colonial times, surveying the degree to which guns were a part of everyday life. Finally, blending history and reportage, Whitney explores how twentieth-century turmoil and culture war led to today's climate of activism, partisanship, and stalemate, in a nation that contains an estimated 300 million guns----and probably at least 60 million gun owners. In the end, Whitney proposes a new way forward through our gun rights stalemate, showing how we can live with guns----and why, with so many of them around, we have no other choice.

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Adam Winkler, Author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America "Living With Guns is a fascinating and provocative illumination of America's centuries-long battle over gun control. No matter what your views on guns, you'll find yourself unable to put down this riveting history and thoughtful analysis of one of America's most contentious issues. Fair-minded, astute, and balanced, Living With Guns will change the way you think about guns and gun control." Kirkus"A fresh and balanced argument." David K. Shipler, author of The Rights of the People and Rights at Risk"Whether you come from the right or the left, this meticulously researched and argued book will make you think hard and reconsider your assumptions. His illuminating research into gun ownership and gun control in early America is an antidote to absolutism. It should be read closely by both sides in the debate." Booklist"A very thoughtful, well-researched, and well-reasoned argument in favor of the right to bear arms within reasonable limitations and an appeal to responsible gun ownership." New York Times Book Review "Whitney's fresh eyes and relative agnosticism serve him well in his historical account of guns in America." New York Times"Even for doubters of Mr. Whitney's hopeful message [Living with Guns] has much to offer. Of particular interest is his brief and readable history of the role of guns (and their regulation) in the colonial era. This history provides the context for understanding what was on the minds of the founding fathers in drafting the Second Amendment, and for deciphering its rather abstruse wording." Philadelphia Inquirer"Were there to be a reasoned debate about gun control in the United States, Craig R. Whitney might make an ideal moderator... He has produced a well-researched and nuanced work about the history of the Second Amendment and attitudes toward gun control from Plymouth Rock to the current Supreme Court."

About the Author

Craig R. Whitney spent his entire professional career as a reporter, foreign correspondent, and editor at the New York Times, where he was assistant managing editor in charge of standards and ethics when he retired in 2009. He is the author most recently of All The Stops. He lives in New York City.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.7 out of 5 stars  32 reviews
61 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Middle Ground in the OK Corral 4 Dec 2012
By Matthew Stevenson - Published on
This is an excellent book about guns in America that searches for the middle ground between the NRA, "standing its ground," and those that would wish away the 300 million firearms that are in American hands.

A former foreign correspondent and assistant managing editor of the New York Times, Craig Whitney makes the point that gun ownership is a basic individual right, not dependent on militia service, but that with it comes a social responsibility for how weapons are bought, sold, and handled around the nation. In the early chapters he traces the constitutional right of gun ownership from English law to the Second Amendment, dwelling on the origins of the text that now allows both for unfettered gun ownership but at the same time the rights of the the federal and state governments to legislate guidelines for the ways that weapons are acquired, carried, and deployed. He agrees with the Supreme Court's Heller decision, although scoffs at how they reached the conclusion that "the right to bear arms" is an individual right. At the same time he sees no constitutional rationale for recent laws that condone Wild West "stand your ground" practices.

Among his suggestions for ways to keep guns out of the hands of those that would open fire in malls and schools are: tighter background checks for all those, even at gun shows, who want to buy and sell guns; nationwide standards to teach responsible gun handling and thus the issuance of permits for owners; better data bases to trace missing or stolen guns; harsher penalties for illegal gun use; and easier methods to trace bullets and handguns discharged in a criminal way. Perhaps the most disquieting aspect of the book are his statistics that show little correlation between murder rates and gun control, and he listens attentively while one gun advocates makes a well-reasoned argument that even more guns in the society might deter criminals from using them.

He thinks stricter background checking is the way to prevent madmen like those at Columbine and Virginia Tech from getting their weapons, but believes laws unproductive that prevent ordinary citizens from having a gun in their homes to ward off intruders. His historical argument is that guns are synonymous with the founding of the American republic and will be around as long as the country is standing, and believes that the only way to reduce gun violence is to see that firearms, like the deadly automobile, are only used in safe hands and in a responsible manner. (More Americans die on the road than in shootouts, but few want to ban the car. Nevertheless, both tallies, adding up to 70,000 deaths annually, are ghastly.)

If you love guns or hate them, this is an important book to own, read, and study. The writing is clear, dispassionate, and backed up with excellent research. It is at once historical and contemporary, and believe it or not, even-tempered enough to allow for traces of humor amidst the grim statistical roll call. A citizen-soldier, Whitney only used and carried a gun while on duty in the Vietnam War, but in his Platonic American republic, the gun lobby and the gun controllers need to find an unemotional place on which both sides can stand--and express--their grounds.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Helpful But a Little Short-Sighted 1 Aug 2013
By Bill Marsano - Published on
X Living with Guns
: A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment by Craig Whitney

By Bill Marsano. This is a useful guide to the Second Amendment and the history of the many attempts to limit or nullify it, and it's short, too. Just as well: Whitney's tour is brisk but his writing is merely workmanlike at best. He makes a couple of important points. For example, the desirable attempt to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, crackpots and other obviously unfit folk is seriously undermined by the many states that simply don't take the trouble to provide information to the FBI's national database. If you seek an argument supporting the gun-owners' claim that we have plenty of gun laws but just don't enforce them, that alone is sufficient. He makes the important point that a gun license can no longer be denied solely on the discretion of, say, the local sheriff. That is, the license can't be refused to a person who satisfies all legal requirement just because the sheriff thinks he `doesn't need one' or `doesn't really need that kind of protection.' He makes two points about the NRA--one right and one wrong. First, he points out that the NRA needs the continuing controversy over gun control to generate funds. Although I'm an NRA member myself, I agree. Then he says that the NRA's and gun-owners' fear of registration as a device enabling government confiscation is some kind of paranoid delusion, a hysterical fear of something just isn't going to happen and never will. Here Whitney is dead wrong. Among the many outcries immediately after the December 2012 school shootings in Connecticut there were in fact several by legislators calling for just such a confiscation. Whitney, who accepts the current Supreme Court stand on the Second Amendment also fails to deal with the uncomfortable facts owners of legally registered guns are simply not the people who use guns to commit crimes and that almost all of those crimes involved guns that were obtained illegally. And there's one extremely important fact that he doesn't even recognize, which is that politicians need the gun-control controversy just as much as the NRA does, because it guarantees politicians all the newspaper coverage and TV interviews they want. If you want proof, compare the number of politicos who beats their breasts over this issue with what they actually accomplished. -Bill Marsano is a professional writer and editor, and a sometime target shooter.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well Written - Good Information on history and effectiveness of gun laws 20 Jan 2013
By Laurie B. Kerschen - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a well written and well researched book on the history of the 2nd Amendment and gun laws in America. Anyone who has an interest in gun control should read this book. As a hunter and pistol plinker all of my life, its nice to hear a self proclaimed "liberal" actually admit that owning guns is a individual right. Along with that right comes great responsibility for safety and just like the first Amendment there are limits to gun ownership.
While I agree with many of his suggested gun control proposals (stricter background checks, increased penalties for gun crimes, crack down on straw purchasers)I disagree with others. Mr. Whitney proposes large increases in federal and state governments by requiring all States to pass gun license programs similar to a drivers license, authorizing national gun operational safety standards and fingerprinting bullets and shell casings. None of these proposals will stop a criminal or a crazy person from getting a gun illegally. Mr, Whitney also neglects to mention who is going to pay for all this new gun control administration. That will be the law abiding gun owner and Mr. Whitney would do well to just admit that. As a liberal, any problem requires more government not less, and Mr. Whitney certainly passes that test. Even though we all know its human behavior that is at the core of the problem.

Still a very good book and we should all use his rational and data driven approach to addressing the gun issue.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars This is a very useful book to get the facts behind the current guns controversy and well worth reading. 26 Feb 2013
By RONWA - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The strength of this book is that the author has spent the time and effort to research the Constitution and also letters and other writings of the original players involved in the writing. As I see it, his conclusions are that the Second Amendment protected individual ownership of guns in order to support a militia for states to protect themselves from the new federal government; it did not specifically protect ownership for private defense. The US Supreme Court 5:4 decision of 2008, written by Justice Scalia, determined that gun ownership for personal protection is constitutionally protected because the original Constitution did not prohibit it and because such use was covered by common law at the time of writing so was not even considered to be necessary in the amendment.

The author then gives a good summary of recent history on gun laws which I found useful. It is when he proceeds to give advice on what should be done now that many readers may disagree. The controversy will be over how much control the state or nation may have over what is determined to be a Constitutional right. Whatever one's opinion on controls, it helps to know the basic facts about the Constitution before entering the discussion.
20 of 29 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Over-priced, capitolizing on current events. 25 May 2013
By Bruce Jenvey - Published on
No matter where you stand on the issue, this is book is terribly written, poorly constructed and an absolute agony to read. (Long, wordy sentences that drift senselessly from one dependent clause to another, leaving you rereading that which you just reread.) It's a lot like reading legal briefs and appeals court decisions... which most of it is.

He immediately cites that infamous anti-gun book that won the Brown Award some years back and was later stripped of the award for falsification of data. He dismisses that book, but then goes on to cite much of the same data. Timelines for cause and effect are out of whack, at one point stating a law was enacted due to an event that was still three years in the future... according to his OWN research.
The facts in this book appear to have been 'spun' and spun hard to get you to assume the basis from which the conclusions are drawn. (Of course the Colonials had stringent gun registration! How could you have a well-regulated militia if someone wasn't keeping track of all the guns? And if they had it then, we should have it now...)

He seems to waffle back and forth but in the end, winds up with a left handed endorsement of the 2nd Amendment, and then endorses all the modern era propositions on restriction, legislation and federal registration.

Once you wade through the horrid chapters and incredibly dry text, you realize one possible motive here: Money. With this controversial issue once again consuming the national interest, gather as much data as you can, through it together in one book with an intriguing title and then offer it for sale at 3x the going rate for a Kindle book. $$$ You are advised to save yours...

(Note: I would not have personally purchased and read this book had I not been obligated to do so by a very liberal-minded friend who suggested I should see that side of the coin. Later, she admitted it was so horrid, she could not finish it herself and let me off the hook. But I finished it anyway...)
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