Lethal Passage: The Story of a Gun, by Erik Larson

Nine stars

I have decided to embark on a mission to read a number of books on subjects that will be of great importance to the upcoming 2020 US Presidential Election. Many of these will focus on actors intricately involved in the process, in hopes that I can understand them better and, perhaps, educate others with the power to cast a ballot. I am, as always, open to serious recommendations from anyone who has a book I might like to include in the process.

This is Book #2 in my 2020 US Election Preparation Challenge.

While the gun debate in the United States Has long been making headlines, it takes on new dimensions when Erik Larson is at the helm. Larson uses his strengths in pulling history together and offering intense analysis to provide the reader with something about which to think before making a decision on a matter. Using a little known school shooting in December 1988 as a launching point, Larson looks at some of the factors Around how Nicolas Elliot could bring a gun to school and end up killing a teacher. However, it is so much more than this, as Larson explores the history of guns in America and how they became ‘the cool thing to have’ as well as being so readily accessible. Larson discusses how guns made their way into American Western literature and movies, as well as many television shows from as far back as the medium was an option. As Larson posits, guns have become something society is so accustomed with that it is hard to see a United States without them. Even toy commercials marking something as seemingly innocent as ‘the super soaker water gun’ as being a weapon to permit retribution for a committed wrong.


Larson also explores the politics of guns, which is itself a murky venture. From a discussion of the many pieces of legislation—both state and federal—to the emergence of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), much has been done create an apparent government presence in the discussion of gun ownership. Larson effectively argues that laws about the sale of guns are still flimsy and ATF agents are not ‘gun police’ but rather enforcement after a violation has taken place. Issues around straw purchasers (people who purchase guns for others) prove the central issue and tie in directly with the aforementioned Elliot school shooting, where the boy’s cousin purchased the gun for him, in front of a dealer who feigned ignorance. All while the National Rifle Association (NRA) stood by and used their pithy catchphrases to point the blame elsewhere, a stance that came into effect when the group politicised themselves in the latter part of the 20th century. At present, politics is surely not on the side of protecting the citizenry, but rather keeping guns in the hands of those who want them (even if they are not entitled to them, under the law). Larson offers the reader some great ideas about how one might help create a buffer to ensure rules are tightened to protect the victim, while not impeding the rightful owner of guns from exercising their inherent ‘right to bear arms’. While Larson does not discuss this, it is clear that many who beat the drum on their 2nd Amendment right are as deluded as the politicians who cite their hands are tied while funnelling NRA monies into their own coffers. An eye-opening look into the world of guns for the curious reader and surely another winner by Erik Larson. Recommend to those who enjoy learning about some of the controversial topics floating around the American political world these days, as well as the reader who enjoys Larson’s in-depth exploration of history and tragic events.

I always come away with something stellar when I finish an Erik Larson tome, feeling myself better educated on the subject and ready to engage in a thorough discussion. This was a different type of Larson book for me, seeking not to retell the intricate details of a single historical event, but rather to offer a ‘soap box’ presentation of an issue as a whole. I applaud Larson for his detailed research on the matter and found that the presentation was done in such a way as to make it highly impactful. Layering facts about gun sales and violence between portions of the Nicholas Elliot story was masterful, permitting the reader to see the parallels where they do exist, as well as using a single event to tie the discussion together. This frank discussion of events offers a sobering look at the issue while also forcing the reader to take a side, or at least pushing them to feel something related to the matter at hand. The other books penned by Larson that I have enjoyed were more focussed on a single historical event, making this one quite unique. I learned as much, if not more, as I traversed the world of guns and their role in the American psyche. While the book may be somewhat dated, its information is still relevant and offers the needed ‘call to arms’ (if you pardon the poor pun) to make a difference. While perhaps not a key presidential issue in 2020, one ought to understand where the two candidates stand on gun control and how their leadership will shape the approach to control and violence over the next four years. Think about it and choose wisely!

Kudos, Mr. Larson, for another great piece of historical analysis. I can always count on something that gets to the heart of the matter.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons