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As a reporter who did not grow up amidst America’s gun culture but who is a member of the race that suffers the most from gun violence here, reporter Gary Younge asks some hard questions that other reporters duck: Why are the deaths of poor or minority children all but ignored by society – as the 10 profiled in the book?
Why is justice seldom served, as half of the killers in these stories are not even identified and others barely punished? Why does discussion of U.S gun violence always center on human factors like bad parenting when other countries with the same problems have a fraction of this country’s gun violence?
Mr. Younge chronicles the lives and deaths of 10 males ranging in age from 9 to 19, who were shot and killed on Nov. 23, 2013 – 53 years to the day after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy by a perpetrator who bought a mail order carbine rifle for $19.95.
This was not easy reporting. Requesting an interview with bereaved and vigilant families is hard for any reporter, but people were especially suspicious of a black man “with an English accent,” Mr. Younge recounts.
Still, Mr. Younge fleshes together his stories from interviews with friends and families, police reports, social media, and a reporter’s eye for location and detail: seven black, one white, two Hispanic males all shot on that day in the big cities of Chicago, Houston, Dallas, Newark, and in smaller towns across the United States. In one neighborhood, there is so much gunfire, the dogs do not even bark anymore, he writes.
The stories are unsettling and eerily similar. In several, families hold their loved ones while they die, sometimes awaiting paramedics. In several, there is no clear reason for the shooting or victims die from mistaken identities. In all the stories, friends and family are tormented and mobilized for further violence; they receive little support from authorities; and they blame themselves, others, bad parenting, gangs, poverty, drugs – everything but the guns themselves.
Mr. Younge cautions at the beginning of “Another Day,” that the book is not about “gun control” but is about “what happens when you don’t have gun control,” and when potential laws are blocked by the gun lobby. For example, when Smith & Wesson inked a “smart gun technology” deal in 2000, the National Rifle Association demonized the company as “the first gun maker to run up the white flag of surrender” and blocked smart-gun legislation. Smart-gun technology could open “the door to a ban on all guns,” warns the NRA; and sellers of smart guns have been threatened with death.
And consider what happened to the father of a young man who provided the gun that caused one death reported in the book. Though the father was a convicted felon and drug dealer legally barred from owning guns – including the one his son used to kill a playmate – he was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and released on $2,500 bail.
Mr. Younge correctly pinpoints the self-defense, “frontier” narratives that fuel the gun-rights movements. “Pick up a rifle, a pistol, a shotgun, and you’re handling a piece of American history,” he quotes Chris Kyle, the “American Sniper,” saying. Mr. Kyle boasted of 160 confirmed “combat kills” in Iraq. “Take the gun up now, and the smell of black powder and saltpeter sting the air. Raise the rifle to your shoulder and look into the distance. You are not a target but a whole continent of potential, of great things to come, a promising future,” Mr. Kyle rhapsodized.
Yet the 10 deaths in “Another Day” and the 30,000 other U.S. gun deaths each year have nothing to do with self-defense, a continent under siege, or a promising future. They reflect a nation awash in guns and gun deaths and a gun lobby that ensures both will continue by blocking gun laws.
These searing stories take on one of the most polarizing topics in this country – the private ownership of guns. And maybe a black man, born across the pond but familiar with this country, is the one to do it.
Mr. Younge served as the U.S. correspondent for the Guardian for several years and is now its editor-at-large. He is also a regular columnist for The Nation. He received the 2017 Anthony Lukas Book Award from Columbia University and the Nieman Foundation. He also won the Harvard Kennedy School’s David Nayan prize for political journalism.