Living with Guns: A Liberal’s Case for the Second Amendment

By Craig R.Whitney

(Public Affairs, $28.99, 304 pages)

Who is this author?

Craig R. Whitney, who lives in New York City, is now retired from The New York Times, where he was a reporter, foreign correspondent, editor and most recently assistant managing editor in charge of standards and ethics. He is a political liberal, but his new book, on the currently hottest of all hot-button issues, gun control, is winning praise for its even-handedness.

If you are interested in hearing him speak, he will give a free talk at the Mark Twain House & Museum Visitors’ Center on Thursday, Feb. 28, at 7 p.m. The program will be moderated by Bob Margolis of The Alliance for Nonprofit Growth & Opportunity (TANGO), who is a politically conservative pistol permit instructor and member of the Metacon Gun Club in Simsbury. Information: 860-247-0998 or

What is this book about?

The recent horrific slaughter by gunshots of children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown has exacerbated the already wide breach between those who want unfettered access to guns and those who want them and their users to be regulated in hopes of reducing gun violence. Whitney’s book, which offers a balanced look at the history of guns in America, the ongoing debate over the intent of the Second Amendment to the Constitution and the arguments advanced by gun control advocates on one side and the NRA on the other, could not be more timely. Is there a way to square the right to own and use guns with the fervent desire to protect against their misuse? Or is America so deeply polarized by this political and cultural issue that attempts to resolve it are futile? Whitney says guns are here to stay, and the way forward to controlling gun violence begins with understanding why it happens.

“Instead of fighting chimerical battles,” he writes, “American gun-rights and gun-control enthusiasts should be talking to each other about what can be done…to reduce gun violence, particularly by addressing the criminal and psychopathological behavior patterns that cause it.”

Why you’ll like it:

It’s hard to have a reasoned discussion about controlling gun violence in America without understanding how we got to this perilous place in our history. Whitney’s book goes a long way to explain how and why we find ourselves in this dilemma. He’s not preaching, but rather making sensible recommendations that take into consideration the beliefs, no matter how inflamed, on both sides of the issue. By marshaling history, statistics and research, he offers facts that can be the basis for a rational discussion of a  national problem that seems to be growing worse and has infected our public discourse. If you find yourself getting tangled in heated discussions of this issue, here is a book that will, at the very least, give you a better understanding of its complexities.

What others are saying:

Publisher’s Weekly says: “….[Whitney] writes as a concerned citizen. His primer on gun law history sometimes gets bogged down in minutiae, but also produces fascinating tidbits like the decidedly nonprogressive bent of some early gun control legislation, namely toward African Americans. Less scholarly but still valuable are his memories of when firearms did not divide right and left, and when the NRA was mostly associated with safety training. The book’s subtitle does its argument a disservice by implying that Whitney’s concern is with defending the Second Amendment, when instead he is against liberals’ common resort to the “well-regulated militia” language to claim a constitutional lack of protection for individual gun use. Opposed to arbitrary restrictions, reckless loopholes, NRA fear-mongering, and liberal intolerance of gun culture’s law-abiding side, Whitney’s presentation of firearm ownership as a protected area of U.S. common, if not Constitutional, law, strikes a conciliatory note that sadly stands
little chance of being heeded.”

Library Journal says: “Whitney … argues that neither side’s positions are completely correct. The Left seems to want to tighten gun-control laws including for law-abiding citizens, which he argues becomes burdensome and in some locations highly arbitrary. The Right has the powerful NRA lobby, which objects to the slightest mention of new laws with dire warnings of government disarming citizens. The book is filled with much detail, which can occasionally bog down the reader. … Nonetheless, it provides a moderate viewpoint that is often missing in this discussion. VERDICT: This book will be attractive to readers who fall in the middle of this issue and may give pause to others. It is not a scholarly work, but provides some solutions worthy of consideration.”

“Even for doubters of Mr. Whitney’s hopeful message [“Living with Guns”] has much to offer. Of particular interest is his brief and readable history of the role of guns (and their regulation) in the colonial era. This history provides the context for understanding what was on the minds of the founding fathers in drafting the Second Amendment, and for deciphering its rather abstruse wording,” says The New York Times.

When is it available?

“Living With Guns” is now at the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Albany branch.

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