Reviewed by Patricia Selinger, Head, Preservation
This book demonstrates investigative journalism at its finest. I'm sure I'll read other books by this author. His research is thorough, well documented, and easy to read and understand. I am one who verifies references and follows up on statistics. This author has credibility. Lethal Passage is about gun control legislation, gun culture, and the industry. I wanted to learn more about the issues and why they evoke such knee-jerk reactions, especially in Virginia. This book answered many questions for me.
Larson makes the issues understandable by tracing the life history of a gun, a Cobray M-11/9, used by a 16-year-old to kill a teacher, injure and terrorize others in 1988 at a school in Virginia Beach. Following the progress of a single gun from design to homicide, the gaps in existing firearms regulations, standards, and responsibility become painfully obvious. I was amazed how cheap and easy it is to get a license to sell guns and that the gun industry has no standards governing licenses. It is much harder and more expensive to get a boat or car license, to become a substitute teacher, or even to get a license to carry a gun. Federal regulations, such as the McClure-Volkmar Act (1986) and the Gun Control Act of 1968, are so full of loopholes they are ineffective. The lack of a uniform system of federal regulations allows buyers and sellers to go where they can find the closest unregulated market. In many cases, it's right across town or the county line.
As Larson states on page 214, "it is always important, however, to read anything on the gun debate carefully with an eye to capturing distortion and undisclosed bias." He clearly shows his bias but makes a compelling case and offers a sensible five-part omnibus federal law he calls the "Life and Liberty Preservation Act", which he knows doesn't have a chance of being passed. Yet, the author cites surveys by the Louis Harris organization which indicate a majority of people favor registration of handguns or limiting their purchase. In this case, pro-gun lobbyists are more persuasive than public opinion, a situation Larson calls "The New Tyranny". Like the author, I am left wondering what will break our tolerance of gun violence. The history of federal gun legislation clearly shows that laws will be made only in the wake of some stunning event. How many people do you know who have been affected by gun violence? Whichever side of the debate you're on, this book will test your opinions.