Guns: A Civil Conversation?

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In the wake of the massacre in December 2012 of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut by a man with an assault rifle, it would seem impossible to have a civil conversation about guns and gun ownership.

Surprisingly, Dan Baum’s Gun Guys: A Road Trip, takes the discussion of guns to unexpected amiable territory. He writes about guns from the personal perspective, taking the stance they are a sporting item and need a certain amount of expertise similar to those who like to shoot a bow and arrow.

Mr. Baum begins his tale of gun fascination from when he was elementary school age in 1961 and attended Sunapee summer camp in New Hampshire. He said he was a “pudgy, over mothered cherub amid a tribe of lean savages.” Learning how exactly to shoot guns at camp made him special. He was a good shot, and this expertise won him a bronze Pro-Marksman medal from the National Rifle Association. He got a patch his first year at camp and every year after that.

He was hooked.

But he previously no mentors among his friends or family members who shared his interest in guns. As someone beyond your world of avid, pro-gun-rights gun owners, Mr. Baum made a decision to take to the back roads of the U.S., visiting many gun stores, rifle ranges and gun shows to get what lies behind the powerful allure of guns for others.

Not fitting the stereotype, Mr. Baum knew he’d butt against some barriers. He describes himself as a New Jersey Democrat now living Boulder, Colorado, a bastion of liberal pacifists. “I’m a stoop-shouldered, bald-headed, middle-aged Jew in pleated pants and glasses.” He used his NRA baseball cap and NRA lapel pin as camouflage to attempt to fit in more.

He started his research by going out in public areas wearing an “open carry” gun strapped to his hip for everybody to see. was looking for reaction from ordinary folks.

His first stop was a house Depot. He made every effort to be obvious, but he got no reaction — positive nor negative.

Next stop was the neighborhood Apple Store. Surely, he wrote, that could result in a response from the technology folks. Again, no reaction. Finally Mr. Baum steeled himself to enter Whole Foods. Clearly the clientele from such a store could have something to say.


Mr. Baum said he felt such as a ghost. Or was there some form of weird psychological tic avoiding the Whole Foods customers from seeing the gun because it was too outrageous to be true, e.g. “This is Boulder; that can’t be a gun.”

His next move was taking the course to have a permit for carrying a concealed, loaded weapon. His instructor stressed the significance of assessing certain “Conditions” for folks wearing loaded guns.

Condition White stood for total security: home with the dog at the feet as well as your home alarm on.

Condition Yellow stood for being aware of one’s surroundings, such as walking around town.

Condition Orange was awareness of a possible threat.

Condition Red was responding to a real threat.

Mr. Baum wrote, “I found that I wasn’t so much in Condition Yellow as Condition Day-Glo Yellow. Everything around me appeared brilliantly sharp.” Mr. Baum’s hyper awareness spilled over into his reaction for those walking around him. He described the feeling of pity he felt for passersby who didn’t know he was capable of wreaking havoc at at any time.

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