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Guns: A Civil Conversation?

In the wake of the massacre in December 2012 of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut by a man having an assault rifle, it could 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 much like those who prefer 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 an excellent shot, which 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 had no mentors among his friends or family members who shared his fascination with guns. As someone beyond your world of avid, pro-gun-rights gun owners, Mr. decided to take to the back roads of the U.S., visiting many gun stores, rifle ranges and gun shows to find what lies behind the powerful allure of guns for others.

Not fitting the stereotype, Mr. Baum knew he’d butt up 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 try to fit in more.

He started his research by venturing out in public wearing an “open carry” gun strapped to his hip for everybody to see. He wanted 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 local 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. “That is Boulder; that can’t be a gun.”

His next move was taking the course to acquire a permit to carry a concealed, loaded weapon. His instructor stressed the importance of assessing certain “Conditions” for people wearing loaded guns.

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

Condition Yellow stood to be alert to 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 all those travelling him. He described the feeling of pity he felt for passersby who did not know he was capable of wreaking havoc at at any time.

Guns: A Civil Conversation?

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