Unloaded: Crime writers pushing an agenda

unloadedA couple weeks ago, one of my crime writer friends on Facebook shared a post about a collaboration of crime fiction Eric Beetner was working on with several other moderate- to big-name authors. It was called Unloaded: Crime Writers Writing Without Guns. The description of the book reads: 

For the first time, more than two dozen crime and mystery authors have joined together to use the strongest weapon at their disposal — words — in a call for reasonable gun control in the U.S.A. In this collection you get all the thrills and excitement you come to expect from a great crime story, but without any guns.

Now I want to say first of all that I’ve met several of the authors (including Beetner, who was once kind enough to include me in a Noir at the Bar event) and they’re good people and good writers. Putting together a collection like this is a lot of work, and they managed to line up some real heavy hitters. I have no doubt this is an excellent collection of crime fiction, and I wish everyone involved the best. You should totally buy the book if a collection of crime fiction sans guns sounds interesting to you, or if you like the idea of supporting more gun control (Proceeds go to the nonprofit States United To Prevent Gun Violence).

That said, I find the concept ridiculous and the motivations of those involved disingenuous. As marketing slogans go, “Buy a book with no guns in it to support a world free of guns!” is a pretty good one, but it’s shallow and ultimately meaningless.

I’m going to set aside the absurdity of how a book without guns is supposed to draw attention to gun violence (Maybe next we could do a book about horse races to draw attention to car accidents?). I won’t linger on the weird progressive notion that “knife violence” or “baseball bat violence” is somehow less worrisome than “gun violence.” (Yes, more people are killed with guns than knives, but if you make the murder weapon in your story a knife instead of a gun, guess what? The victim is still dead. It’s almost like it’s the act of murder that we should be worried about, not guns.) Nor will I dwell on the fact that there are already hundreds of thousands of books out there with no guns in them, so these guys are a little late to the party.

Rather, I want to focus on the messaging behind Unloaded. Beetner said in a recent Facebook post, “[I]f we inspire a little well reasoned talk about gun violence then we did our jobs.”

Really? Your goal is well reasoned talk? Okay, then let’s start with this sentence from the book’s description on Amazon:

It’s not anti-gun, it’s pro-sanity.

Uh… so you want “well reasoned talk” but you’re a priori dismissing those who disagree with you as insane? I’m doing my best to be charitable, but I don’t see any other way to read that sentence. This is the equivalent of publishing an anthology on gay marriage, giving the proceeds to the Family Research Council, and saying, “Hey, don’t blame us. We’re just being reasonable.”

Doubling down on this point, the description goes on to say:

The writers are from both sides of the political aisle and many of the authors are gun owners themselves.

This is the gun grabber version of “some of my best friends are black”. It’s an attempt to inoculate those involved against charges of extremism by dragging in the one guy in the group who’s got a shotgun in his closet. Note that the description doesn’t say “the writers represent a wide spectrum of positions in the gun control debate,” undoubtedly because that would be untrue. It just refers to “both sides of the political aisle,” as if that were somehow relevant. The fact is, though, that nobody reading this description gives a shit about the authors’ positions on capital gains taxes or illegal immigration. The issue here is guns, and on that issue these authors are in lockstep unanimity. Why is that? Is it because there are no crime novelists out there who are gun rights advocates? Or did Beetner just not ask any of them to participate?

For some illumination, let’s look at a blog post by another contributor, Rob Hart. Hart says:

In New York chances are, if someone has a gun, they would like to shoot you with it.

Actually, in New York, chances are if someone has a gun, he’s a cop, because guns are virtually illegal for civilians. And if you see a civilian with a gun in New York, then he’s probably already committing a crime by having the gun, so yes, he’s likely to have some criminal inclinations. This fact has less to do with guns, however, than the legal climate in New York. Guns are not more deadly in New York than they are in Wyoming, and making guns even more illegal in New York is not going to have a significant effect on crime. The fact that people with guns in New York is a result of strict gun control laws, not an argument for stricter laws.

More revealing, however, is this paragraph:

So, I personally am not a great fan of guns. Clearly, there is a problem with our gun culture, which is something I think everyone except the NRA can agree on.

Yes, we can all agree on this fact except for the five million people who belong to the organization that provides nearly all the gun safety instruction in the U.S.–including to the police and military. So yeah, if you disregard those wackos, we’re all in agreement on this.

The impression I get reading this stuff is that there’s a clear line of demarcation in these authors’ minds between “sane” or “reasonable” positions and loonytunes NRA-type positions. I like to think I’m “reasonable” and “sane,” and yet I’ve spend ten minutes browsing States United’s website and still have absolutely no idea how they intend to actually do anything about gun violence. I can see that they want “stronger gun laws” and support “updating antiquated gun laws” and think we should have “common sense laws and safer communities” and “safer gun legislation” (as opposed to the dangerous legislation we have now, I guess?), but I don’t have the first clue what they are going to do to prevent some nutcase from stealing an AR-15 and bringing it into a high school. States United looks, frankly, like an organization that exists to ask for more money to run States United. If I wanted to prevent “gun violence,” I’d be more likely to give money to the NRA to promote gun safety training, because I know that gun safety programs work. I guess that makes me loony bin material. I’m certainly not going to get invited to contribute to Unloaded II: The Unloadening.

I don’t think Beetner intentionally excluded pro-gun rights authors. Frankly, I doubt he knows any pro-gun rights authors. I’ve been to a lot of author conventions, and let’s just say you aren’t going to run into many Ted Cruz fans at these events. At last year’s Bouchercon (the biggest crime writer conference in the U.S.) I made the mistake of saying in casual conversation that I thought Ben Carson seemed like a decent guy. You should have seen the horrified looks I got. At another conference a few years ago, I was on a panel with William Link, one of the creators of Columbo. The moderator asked Link what television programs he liked, and Link said he enjoyed watching FOX News, Sean Hannity’s show in particular. You would have thought he told her he liked to screw baby goats.

If you’re a writer at one of these things, you learn to shut up about any conservative political leanings you might have–unless you’re 80 years old and no longer give a shit or you’re the creator of Columbo (or, in Link’s case, both). I know two conservative crime writers who occasionally message me in support of a Facebook post I’ve made about some political issue. They don’t dare speak out in public, because they know they’ll be shunned by their tolerant progressive comrades. (And by the way, I’m familiar with the political leanings of about half of the authors in this book, and none of the ones I know are anywhere on the right side of that “political aisle.” If there are any Republicans in this book, they’re keeping pretty quiet about it. Feel free to stalk their websites and Twitter feeds yourself if you doubt me.)

Maybe the authors of this book really do want to have a “well reasoned talk” about guns. Maybe not including any gun rights advocates was an accidental oversight. Maybe they’re open to hearing about how there’s no correlation between stricter gun laws and homicide rates, and that gun crime has been falling for two decades while gun ownership has been skyrocketing. Maybe they can tell me what States United’s real-world plan is for reducing “gun violence.” And maybe I won’t get dirty looks from these authors at this year’s Bouchercon in New Orleans.

But I doubt it.

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23 Comments on Unloaded: Crime writers pushing an agenda

  1. Why would crime writers support policies that experience has shown leads to less crime? That would be bad for business.

  2. I live in upstate NY, closer to Canada than Manhattan, and unfortunately for the downstaters, guns aren’t virtually illegal except in NYC. Cuomo would *love* guns to be illegal up here, but so far he hasn’t been completely successful. He’s getting a lot of pushback from the state police and the local sheriffs about their willingness to enforce his so-called “SAFE-ACT” which was nothing more than another example of his standard, blowhard political grandstanding. As far as someone in NY having a gun and wanting to shoot you with it, maybe the author is, as you say, talking about the “gun-toting criminal element.” Or maybe he just doesn’t know wtf he’s talking about. I can tell you that where I live, he won’t get shot unless he is breaking into someone’s house.

    I’ve also learned to keep my mouth shut in polite company. I just nod and smile and know that it’s better to have a gun and not need it than need it an not have it. I ass-dialed 911 one time and it took the state police 40 minutes to get to my house. It doesn’t really bolster my confidence in their ability to protect me if things go south. Anyway, I enjoyed your article. Logical to a fault, as always.

  3. I’ve seen a similar concept before and the stories were bad, with or without guns. I’d also like to know the gun credentials of the writers. Which ones are gun owners and their experience with guns.

  4. As with most things gun legislation is not pro and anti gun. When I lived in a rural area every one had a gun. You needed it to keep the critters out of your garden. When I lived in a city people owned them out of fear. We had gangs a few blocks away. I did not own one because I did not think challenging a gang member with a gun would turn out well for me.
    I think city folk want gun legislation more then rural folk is because in rural areas your crazy neighbor would have to aim at you to hurt you with his gun. In the city he just has to accidentally fire it to shoot you through your apartment wall. Hence the differing view points.

  5. I’ve written thirteen crime thrillers, including a couple of NY Times best sellers, that all feature guns, knives and that most deadly of weapons, the human mind. The people included in this anthology sound like back-slapping propagandists. Given the current environment, its probably a good career move.

  6. When someone says they want to “updat(e) antiquated gun laws” they are referring to the Second Amendment in the US Constitution. They want it repealed, not updated. These are the same people who want to update the First Amendment to exclude that freedom of speech with which they personally disagree. Or those religions with which they personally disagree. I.E., to gut the very meaning of free speech and freedom of religion.
    Keep that in mind. Your freedom as defined by your betters.

  7. These supposedly “big-name authors” can’t be any great shakes as fiction writers. A good storyteller learns early on that promoting a message to the expense of entertainment ruins the story — and it doesn’t matter a farthing what the message is.

  8. If you want crime without guns, just go read (and watch) all the British crime stories. It is amazing how well these guys and gals talk down the serial killers (every story has to have at least two deaths to ferret out more clues) they come in contact with who have guns (where did they get all those pistols in a gun free country?).

  9. Why would you be surprised at that kind of reaction at an event called Douchercon?
    OH.
    Oh.
    Sorry, nevermind.

  10. I don’t know why you recommend it. If these writers don’t know anything about guns except the current politically correct cliches, then why would I think they have any skill or ability to attract my interest in any field, fiction or non fiction?

  11. I am an American expat working in Australia. The Australian’s confiscated almost all handguns and severely restrict rifle and shotgun ownership. The murder rate in the town I live in is about the same as Chicago, but none of the victims were killed with guns!

  12. “Clearly, there is a problem with gun culture…” blah, blah, blah, NRA.

    This is what they are really talking about. Not guns, but those Icky People who like them. This is not about crime, or violence, or statistics; it’s about culture war. The 2A people are their competitors in the battle for cultural dominance. That competitor culture must be undermined, insulted, and deligitimised whenever possible. The early comments about being reasonable or pro-sanity provide similar evidence. It’s not about guns, it’s about you. They hate you.

  13. Have any of you keyboard warriors actually read this book? I didn’t think so. You should be ashamed of yourselves for having an entirely uninformed opinion on the matter. You are precisely what’s wrong with America.

    • _Entirely_ uninformed? Given the sales description and its use of loaded words and bias, as amply noted? If you want to say “Hey, I’ve read it, and only a few of the stories fit that. Most of them aren’t like the description and are pretty good,” that would be reasonable – because that would go against what we do already know. We don’t actually know the quality of the stories, sure. That’s not what’s being addressed here, is it? The obvious bias of the writers, especially the editors, is what was noted. I have seen people try to set up your artificial standard for years, and this is nearly always a part: a sly change of subject, as you did here.

      • There’s no change of subject, village idiot, but nice try in attempting to make it seem so. You’re attacking a book you haven’t read. You’re no better than an SJW.

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