A 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.