A (Short) Reading List to Make Your Gun Debate Smarter

General Interest

By: Jessica Garner

The topic of guns may be the most glaring example of the divided state of national discourse. At the time of this writing, the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., still dominates the news cycle. By the time of publication — even if the lag time is minimal — the coverage may dwindle significantly. The pattern of these events has become almost predictable.

RevolverPart of the pattern includes vigorous debate about guns, gun laws, and the very nature of policy-making. That’s on a good day. On a bad day, the gun debate is much like other divisive topics: there is more shouting than listening.

As librarians interested in intellectual freedom, we should welcome patrons who seek out something more substantial in their quest to understand these troubling events, no matter which side of the political spectrum they come to the library from. I’ve taken a few moments to compile a list of books relevant to discussions about mass shootings and the gun debate. The list includes fiction and nonfiction, and hopefully includes a spectrum of ideas and ideologies.

A Sniper in the Tower, by Gary M. Lavergne, chronicles the shootings at the University of Texas in 1966. The event is the frame of reference for many school shootings, including Columbine, Virginia Tech, and the recent attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws, by John Lott, contains some of the rhetorical jumping-off points for pro-gun advocates. Much of the research in the book is disputed, but Lott’s effect on the gun debate shouldn’t be.

Columbine, by Dave Cullen, looked at one of the defining events of the turn of the century through different lenses. In addition to tracking the stories of the perpetrators and the victims at Columbine, Cullen’s book was critical of media errors. Those mistakes, Cullen argued, led to long-lasting misinformation about the event. Many of those misconceptions persist.

Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America, might be described as one of the least partisan sources in the national gun discussion. Adam Winkler, a professor of Constitutional Law at UCLA, is credited with offering what the Boston Globe called “a careful, unflinching, middle-ground analysis in a sea of polemic.”

Finally, We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver, won the Orange Prize in 2003. It is the fictional story of a New York high school mass shooting and the reckoning of the parents in in its aftermath.

Predictably, many of these books (and others from lists like this one) have courted controversy of one sort or another. It speaks to the value of intellectual freedom that patrons may find these differing accounts of this divisive topic under one roof. Our roof.


Jessica GarnerJessica Garner is the Access Services Department head at Georgia Southern University and has worked in public and academic libraries for over ten years. She has been involved with children’s services, collection development, cataloging, and interlibrary loan first as a public librarian at Live Oak Public Libraries and then at Georgia Southern University. Her scholarship interests include interlibrary loan, intellectual freedom, and patron services. Find her on Twitter @jessCgarner.

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