For decades, residents of Nucla, Colorado mined the coal that fueled the nearby power plant. But a lawsuit brought on by environmentalists will close the nuclear plant in 2020, and the mine will shut down as well. One in eight people in the town will lose their jobs. Nucla had a moment of fame in 2013, not for its declining economy, but for an ordinance in the wake of Sandy Hook which ran against a national call for restricted gun access: Every household in Nucla would be required to own a gun.
Alexander Chee | Longreads | April 2016 | 15 minutes (3,713 words)
Editor’s Note: In April, novelist Alexander Chee wrote an essay for us about the proliferation of automatic weapons and growing gun culture in the U.S., the complicated, polarized politics around gun control—and the notion that with more guns, we are somehow safer.
“When you try to write about guns in America, you can’t bother to use the news peg approach. Any peg you choose goes by too quickly, replaced by another. It isn’t a peg as much as something that is always there—a constant, always rising death toll—spokes in a wheel that never stops turning.”
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My partner Dustin and I recently bought a cabin in a 1930s-era hunting association a few hours from New York City. Out in the yard is a game hook for hanging a deer after shooting it. We are thinking of turning it into a swing.
Last summer, my retired prison guard neighbor there tried to convince me to do two things: marry Dustin—“I’ve seen too many gay guys like you get screwed by the family when something happens to one of you”—and get a hunting license to help him shoot some of the bears. We thanked him but did not marry, and as for the hunting license, we prefer watching the bears eat apples from the trees in the meadow—you could even say we prefer the bears to some of our neighbors.
The bears don’t bother us.
Most of the members of the association don’t seem to hunt much. Dustin and I go up regularly, every other weekend, and only a few times a year do we really hear anyone off in the woods shooting at anything. One day another neighbor appeared in camouflage and a bush helmet, carrying a bow and arrow, inviting us over to drinks.
Real hunting, as I know from my own family life, is hard. You have to be in decent shape, you need to be dressed for the weather, sprayed for bugs, you need sunblock, you need food packed for the day, you have to have a good dog you’ve trained year round, and you have to be able to field-dress what you kill or at least drag it to where you parked your car. Also: you need to know how not to get lost in the woods. I have a lot of respect for many of these hunters even if I don’t agree with what they’re doing or want to participate in it.
But I also know my cousin Jon back in Maine has a sideline as a butcher for deer and moose, was young when he learned how to carve them up from his game warden father, and he gets a little money and a little or sometimes a lot of meat from it, plus bones for his dog. This sideline exists because most of the hunters coming through his small town don’t know how to do what he does, or they can’t be bothered to do it.
His venison with garlic marinade is exceptional. Every time I have it, I’m grateful to his clients.
I wonder if the day will come when I’ll have to buy a gun. I’m just afraid that when the day comes, it won’t be because I’m hunting bears. Read more…
“You look like you’re saving the world. Are you saving the world?”
I looked up from my notebook into the face of a tipsy, friendly woman, glammed up for her night out. We were in the narrow aisle of our local pizza joint. She’d shared a quick snack with her friend, and my sandwich and soda were half-finished. Writing here has become a Friday night tradition: When I wrap up my shift at the bookstore, I head here to eat, read and sketch out last-minute ideas for my reading lists.
If she knew what I was reading, she wouldn’t ask me that. “No!” I laughed. “I wish.”
“Well, good luck with it, whatever you’re doing,” she said. I thanked her. She left with her friend.
I was reading—am reading—about guns. About their magnetism, their effect, their handlers. About the people caught in the literal crossfire, the innocent and the marginalized. Read more…
Out-of-state residents can purchase firearms in Arizona read the sign behind the counter at Sprague’s Sports in Yuma. ASK US HOW. I asked a clerk named Ron for details. He was short, packed solid as a ham, with a crew cut and a genial demeanor. He pointed to the cavalcade of hunting rifles lined up on the long wall behind him. “Any of these you can get today—or these over here,” he said, leading me to a corner of the store where two young men in ball caps and a woman with a sparkly purse were admiring a selection of AK-47’s.
I didn’t really want to buy an assault rifle, or even a handgun, but I was curious to know what buying one felt like, how the purchase worked, what-all was involved. Nobody in my circle back east had guns, nobody wanted them, and if anybody talked about them, it was in cartoon terms: Guns are bad things owned by bad people who want to do bad things. About the only time the people where I come from thought about guns was when something terrible happened. A lunatic sprays into a crowd and we have the same conversation we always have: those damn guns and those damn people who insist on having them.
In this 2012 GQ piece, Jeanne Marie Laskas spends a few shifts behind the counter at Sprague’s Sports in Yuma, Arizona, to learn about guns and gun culture in the most gun-friendly state in America.
To begin to get a grasp on the economic toll, Mother Jones turned to Ted Miller at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, an independent nonprofit that studies public health, education, and safety issues. Miller has been one of the few researchers to delve deeply into guns, going back to the late 1980s when he began analyzing societal costs from violence, injury, and substance abuse, as well as the savings from prevention. Most of his 30-plus years of research has been funded by government grants and contracts; his work on guns in recent years has either been tucked into broader projects or done on the side. “I never take positions on legislation,” he notes. “Instead, I provide numbers to inform decision making.”
Miller’s approach looks at two categories of costs. The first is direct: Every time a bullet hits somebody, expenses can include emergency services, police investigations, and long-term medical and mental-health care, as well as court and prison costs. About 87 percent of these costs fall on taxpayers. The second category consists of indirect costs: Factors here include lost income, losses to employers, and impact on quality of life, which Miller bases on amounts that juries award for pain and suffering to victims of wrongful injury and death.
We’re pleased to bring College Longreads back for the academic year. Even if you had a productive summer, you still didn’t do as much as the 2014 News21 team. The Carnegie-Knight News21 is an investigative multimedia reporting project based out of Arizona State but staffed by student journalists from some sixteen universities. This year’s project, Gun Wars, resulted in dozens of stories, videos, interactive graphics and more about gun rights and regulations in the United States. The slick presentation is supported by deep, solid reporting, the kind that’s time consuming (interviews) and sometimes just plain tedious (comparing suicide-by-gun data, state by state). News21 presents its findings with empathy but without judgment, a rarity in a media culture where reporting is often presented through the lens of a particular point of view. So read, watch, and explore this lush journalism experience.