Ever since the first time he fired a rifle (at summer camp in 1961), Dan Baum has been fascinated with guns. It's an interest he shares with those who lean more to the political right than Baum, a self-proclaimed liberal Democrat. In 2011, the former staff writer for the New Yorker decided to grab his reporter's notebook, along with his licensed concealed-carry gun, and hit the road for an in-depth look at Americans' relationship with guns.
The result is his book Gun Guys: A Road Trip. Baum explains he was on a quest for something visceral, "the essential quality that, like anchovies on pizza, impassioned some people and disgusted others. Guns were beyond reason; either you loved them or hated them. But why?"
On May 22, Baum will visit St. Petersburg College's Seminole campus to participate in "Shooting Straight: Unmasking America's Love Affair with Guns,'' a panel discussion that also includes Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute. Joni James, deputy editor of editorials for the Tampa Bay Times, will serve as moderator. Tickets are $30-$40; call (727) 394-6942.
What's on your nightstand?
The Beekeeper's Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America by Hannah Nordhaus; Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, which is fiction; and The New Mind of the South by Tracy Thompson.
Are you familiar with beekeeping?
No, but I've always been interested. The book is great, modern nonfiction. It's got a great character at the center of it. It's a good story that also teaches the reader about an important environmental issue. It does everything good nonfiction should do.
Are you liking Matterhorn?
I'm not liking it as well as I had hoped. It came highly recommended. I think he's got too many characters who are not strongly enough differentiated.
Is Thompson's book a sound perception of today's Southern way of life?
I liked it very much. First of all, she's a hilarious writer, and what I like about her is she's very bold in saying difficult and complicated things about the South. She does it not simplistically but in a very direct way. She comments on it all very intelligently. I wouldn't call her irreverent.
What was the biggest revelation to come out of your research for Gun Guys?
First, I didn't realize how popular the AR-15 is (the type of semi-automatic rifle used by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School), but I think probably the greatest revelation for me overall was how central firearms are to a lot of people's self image and self-esteem, and how a lot of people interpret the gun control debate not being about controlling guns but instead being directed against them personally. Rightly or wrongly, that's how a lot of gun owners think.
Piper Castillo, Times staff writer