Boulder author Dan Baum is a gun owner, and his most recent work, a companion piece to his upcoming book Guns Gone Wild that was released as a Kindle Single, makes an argument that most gun owners would seemingly support: that the AR-15 rifle is fun, a beacon of hope in a sinking gun market that does not deserve to be banned as an assault rifle.
So why are so many gun enthusiasts trashing the piece?
A portion of one review on Amazon.com reads: "His book is a left wing, error filled hit piece, filled with facts that he has changed to fit his 'yellow' style of writing. If this was a real book, with pages, it still would not be worthy to line a bird cage with."
Of the 33 customer reviews on Amazon.com, 22 give the piece one star.
"There is a small cohort of very angry gun guys who hang out on the Internet and I am known to them," says Baum, who also wrote Citizen Coors: An American Dynasty. "They know me as a Democrat and they hate me for that. I wrote a piece making their argument -- that this gun (the AR-15) is cool, that it's not a public safety hazard and it should not be banned. I made their argument and they still gave it negative reviews. I don't think most of them read the piece. I think they saw my name and that it's a gun article and teed off. It's a good example of the quality of the debate around firearms."
Backing Baum's point, one review referenced the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports by stating: "Mr. Baum would have been better served to research last years FBI UCR reports before publishing."
But here's what Baum actually wrote: "The FBI's annual Uniform Crime Reports from the past twenty years show that the effect of assault rifles on public safety is practically non-existent. Gun guys and gun-control advocates belittle each other's data constantly, but because the Uniform Crime Reports don't rely on the wording of survey question, and rather on a cold tally of crimes that police departments are required to report, it is the one data set that everybody seems to trust."
As a Democrat and a self-described "gun guy," Baum is uniquely qualified to speak for both sides of the debate. In researching his book, which won't be released until 2013, Baum drove all over the country talking to both gun-friendly and anti-gun people about their relationship with guns. Last summer, he wrote an article for Harper's about the time he spent carrying a concealed weapon.
Since he carries a gun, Baum is rather understanding of the vitriol he receives from the pro-gun audience. "They're very suspicious of anybody outside their world talking about guns," he says. "They feel totally beleaguered and they're not altogether wrong about this. They feel like they are vilified in the mainstream press all the time and that the mainstream press has had an instinctively pro gun-control view on their right to bear arms. I can see where these guys feel like people have called them ugly names and what not."
But while Baum is understanding of the combative nature of the gun debate, he's still discouraged by the reaction that his piece has garnered. A member on AR15.com started a thread entitled "Dan Baum's anti-AR15 hit piece is out." What follows is every bit the high-brow discussion we've come to expect from Internet message boards.
"I'm sure that when the book comes out they'll vilify it," says Baum. "They won't read it and they'll vilify it. It's depressing. You can talk about studies and statistics all you want. The people who like guns aren't going to be convinced and the people who don't like guns aren't going to be convinced. So when we argue about the role of guns in crime or violence or public health, nobody is really listening to those arguments because they already know how they feel about guns. That's what I'm writing about."
In his travels, Baum encountered gun collectors, historians, hunters, sport shooters, those who think private ownership of guns is what keeps America free and those who simply think guns are fun and cool. He says his book is not a political argument, but both a travelogue through gun America and a profile of those who like guns.
"There are a lot of people who derive a lot of self-esteem from being able to safely manage something that is as lethal and dangerous as a gun," says Baum. "It makes you feel good and it makes you feel rather noble. I think this is why people who like guns get so upset at the people who want to restrict gun ownership. They interpret the attack on the gun as an attack on them personally. If you want to limit my ability to buy and own and use a gun, you must be saying that you don't trust me with this gun."
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Much of the inspiration for the book came from Baum's conflicted feeling on the issue of guns.
"I am both a gun guy and a liberal Democrat, and I feel like the child of a bitter divorce," he says. "I have an allegiance to both tribes and these are two tribes that hate each other, or misunderstand each other. I wanted to explore why guns are popular -- why we who like them, like them."