#REVIEW: The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment, by Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann’s The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment is the second of two books that I was sort of randomly offered ARCs of in the last couple of months. They asked me to have it read and the review ready today, and I’m happy to announce that unlike the last time I’m actually managing to successfully fulfill that request.

To put it mildly, the gun issue is one place where I am pretty consistently far to the left of anyone I ever talk to about it. I want guns banned, period. I want the Second Amendment repealed. When you hear “moderate, reasonable” gun control advocates say things like no one is coming for your guns to the gun nuts? That’s not true, because I’m totally coming for your guns. I’m sick to death of people thinking the Constitution enshrines a right to murder other people, guns don’t ever make anyone or anything safer, and there is no such thing as a “good guy with a gun.” There is only a dangerous idiot who hasn’t killed anyone or shot his own dick off yet.

So now that I’ve pissed everyone off, this is actually a pretty interesting little book. I used to listen to Hartmann’s radio show back when I was commuting to the South Side and back every day in Chicago, so I’m familiar with how he works– and the fact that he kept me listening to a liberal talk show when I have learned over the years that listening to talk radio from people who mostly agree with me is actually not something that will keep me awake during a drive is a good sign for him. Despite the pull quote on the cover, this is actually a history book and not a polemic about gun control, although it does have a few chapters at the end about what people call “sensible” gun control measures, like registering them similarly to the way we register cars, insisting that gun owners carry insurance, and regulating semiautomatic weapons the same way we regulate automatic weapons.

(Wanna fight about technicalities over what a “semiautomatic weapon” is? No problem; I’ll start pushing to ban anything that uses a controlled explosion to fire a projectile faster than a human being can throw it.)

At any rate, Hartmann traces America’s gun culture back to– surprise!– slavery and Native American displacement and genocide, and discusses the history of (and some interesting looks at early drafts of) the Second Amendment in particular, and probably spends 80% of the book’s text discussing why America is different about guns than damn near the entire rest of the world and how our history affects the gun fetishism that infects our culture today.

(Deletes a rant)

This is at all times a clear and readable book; if anything, my sole major criticism of it is that it could be a bit more in-depth. The book itself is less than 200 pages long and most of the chapters are less than five pages, and while there are several pages of endnotes at the end most of them are to websites, meaning that the index and the sources are mostly going to be useless a few years down the road. I went back and forth on whether this was a fair criticism; after all, it’s not like Hartmann wrote a short book accidentally, and the fact that there’s a companion volume of similar length coming in October called The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America indicates that he’s thinking of this as a series and not a one-off. There is certainly a place for cursory looks at American history, but given how … well, revisionist is the wrong word, but certainly nontraditional this look at history is, I wanted a bit more meat on the book’s bones than I got. For example, he devotes a single intriguing sentence to saying that Texas’ declaration of independence from Mexico was over Mexico outlawing slavery. That’s interesting! I want to know more about it, and I hadn’t heard that before! But it’s literally a single throwaway sentence.

(Note that I am far from an expert on Texan history.)

At any rate: The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment is available now at all the places you might buy books. Those of you with an interest in modern politics and American history should check it out; anytime my only criticism of a book is I want more, that’s probably a sign of something that I can honestly recommend. Check it out.

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