A Frustrated Yet Still Somewhat Hopeful Update on My Book on American Gun Culture

Among the reasons for my recent hiatus from online activity in connection with my research on guns is frustration at my literary agent’s inability to find a publisher for my book, Gun Curious: Inside America’s Evolving Culture of Firearms. This is not due at all to his effort and expertise. He is annually one of the most successful sellers of non-fiction works in the US.

Last summer (2022), he began sending my proposal to editors at trade publishers like Crown, Random House, Scribner, St. Martin’s, Bloomsbury, Sentinal, and others. In three rounds totaling 19 submissions, all but one passed or did not respond (effectively passing).

Of course, I have to accept the possibility that the book I am writing is just not interesting or that I’m not the right person to carry the project. But there was a pattern in the editors’ responses that I could not help but notice:

Thanks for this, Don. The author is really impressive and this is a timely and important issue. That said, I have too many concerns about the size of the audience for a book on this subject, as well done as this is.

I think this is a pretty difficult sell. While Yamane’s approach to guns, gun laws, and gun culture is in a unique kind of thoughtful middle ground, I think we’ll be hard pressed to get people on any side of the gun issue (pro, anti, curious, etc.) excited enough to lay down money for the book.

I think it’s going to be a pass. It’s a smart proposal and we enjoyed reading it, but looking at the sales track for the comps, we’re concerned that none of them have broken out—even with some of the authors having bigger public-facing platforms than David.

“No audience for this book” is certainly an easy answer for an editor to fall back on, though perhaps too easy an answer because I recall hearing somewhere that the vast majority of books published do not sell out their advances. The idea that other books on American gun culture have not sold well (“broken out”) is certainly a reality I am fighting against.

But more discouraging to me is the idea that occupying “a unique kind of thoughtful middle ground” in the gun debates is a dead end. As much as I believe in my project, I have to admit that a book on Guns and the Demise of American Democracy OR Guns and the Salvation of American Democracy would be easier to sell.

Indeed, in my frustration last fall, I mocked up two competing book covers and developed a plan to release the same book under both titles and use sales figures as data on where Americans stand on the issue.

And, yet, I am still somewhat hopeful about this book project because the issue of guns remains essential and no one is approaching it in the way I do in Gun Curious. Before my last meeting with my agent, I re-read the entire 60+ page proposal and found almost nothing I wanted to change.

The proposal is now in the email inboxes of another group of editors, and as Sandy always reminds me (citing often rejected authors like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and John Grisham), it only takes one. So, please send your positive energy to Manhattan for me.

For those interested in the longer story of this effort, read on.

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Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going; New Year Update on Gun Curious

New Year Greetings, faithful readers. Prior to this post, my last entry here was on 16 November 2022. This 10-week break was the longest in the nearly 4 years I have blogged here at Gun Curious (as well as 10+ years blogging at Gun Culture 2.0).

I took a break both because I was overwhelmed by personal and family obligations and also because I have been rethinking my online and social media presence.

I was forced to do this reevaluation by my experiences over the years as well as reading Sherry Turkle’s book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, and two essays by Jonathan Haidt in The Atlantic last year, “Why the Past 10 Years of Amerian Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid” and “Yes, Social Media Really is Undermining Democracy.”

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My Overview of a Workshop on Firearms and Self-Defense (Light Over Heat #47)

This video offers an overview of the 14 papers presented at a workshop on “The Ethics, Law, and Social Science of Firearms and Self-Defense” convened by the Center for Ethics in Society at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH.

Out of respect for the privacy of the participants in this closed workshop, I did not give their names or affiliations in this video. But the organizers are supposed to be putting together a web page highlighting the works presented, and when they do I will come back here and add a link.

Also at this workshop I presented a rough draft of my paper systematizing the dominant academic approach to understanding Gun Culture 2.0, what I call “The Standard Model of Explaining the Irrationality of Defensive Gun Ownership” (see my “Light Over Heat” YouTube video playlist on the topic).

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Show and Tell in Sociology of Guns Class

In my Sociology of Guns class yesterday, we de-briefed our field trip to the gun range the previous week. Some of the students’ written reflections are forthcoming – always some of the most read posts on this blog.

In the meantime, pictured below are 4 ammunition cartridges I brought with me to show the class. Three of them the students shot at the range: .22LR, 9mm, and .223 Remington. I highlighted how the diameter of the .22 and .223 bullets are almost the same, though their size and the amount of gunpowder used to propel them are dramatically different.

Although ballistics are well outside of my areas of expertise, students did have questions about calibers designed for hunting, the difference between rifle rounds and shotgun shells, and the legality of fragmenting bullets.

.22LR, 9mm, .223, and .50 BMG cartridges
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Light Over Heat #23: The Benefits of Intellectual Diversity and the Challenge of Achieving It

In my last video (Light Over Heat #22), I reflected on the value of diversity (political, cultural, social, intellectual) in exposing us to people different from us and ideas different from our own. From these differences can come greater understanding. I applied this idea to some of the ways I have come to see the issues raised by the Buffalo mass murder differently.

This week, I reflect on how intellectual diversity has challenged me to think better in my scholarly work on guns. Drawing on Jonathan Haidt’s work in THE RIGHTEOUS MIND (about which I have written before), I highlight the importance of people with different views working together in a spirit of trust to make scholarship about guns, but also (potentially) the world, better.

New “Light Over Heat” videos are released on YouTube every Wednesday, so please surf over to my YouTube channel and SUBSCRIBE to follow, RING THE BELL to receive notifications, and SHARE so others can learn about this work.

Light Over Heat #20: A Light Take in Celebration of This Milestone – Shooting Guns in Texas

Wow, this is the 20th episode of “Light Over Heat” that I recorded! I can’t believe it. It seems like I was just recording my 10th episode not long ago. This second set of videos (Season 2) was supposed to be organized thematically around t-shirts I own. It mostly was, but on a few occasions I couldn’t pull that off. Oh, well. The world is too chaotic to be organized thematically around seasons, anyway.

Speaking of chaos, this video is also appearing way out of order since I had to pre-empt it in order to reflect on guns and race in the wake of the Buffalo mass murder.

Although I do not do the typical internet/social media “hot takes” on my chosen topic, I did think it was appropriate for this milestone video to do a “Light Take” (h/t John Correia). So, this video shows me shooting a single-action revolver, a lever-action rifle, a double-action revolver, and a fully-automatic and suppressed submachine gun. Of course, lessons can be learned from this exercise, but for now I will just let the videos speak for themselves.

Enjoy!

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Light Over Heat #22: Further Thoughts Post-Buffalo Thanks to Intellectual Diversity

In my last video (Light Over Heat #21), I commented on guns and race, racism, and white supremacy in the wake of the Buffalo mass murder. The comments I received, even the critical ones, were generally very respectful and constructive. Given the name and mission of my YouTube channel — “Light Over Heat” — I appreciate this very much.

The comments also got me thinking about the value of diversity (political, cultural, social, intellectual) in exposing us to people and ideas different from our own. From these differences can come greater understanding.

Getting into gun culture has exposed me to more intellectual diversity than if I had just stayed in my bright blue sociology bubble. In this week’s video, I talk about some of the ways I have come to see the issues raised by the Buffalo mass murder differently.

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“Be a Bridge”

Graduation ceremonies always lift my spirits, so after a tough weekend confronting the reality of white supremacist hate in America, I was glad to be able to set that aside and recognize the achievements of over 1,000 Wake Forest University undergraduates (including my youngest son) who completed their final two years of college under extraordinary circumstances.

As I told my own students on the final day of class this semester, I hope that the challenges they face make them stronger, more resilient, more creative, and more compassionate people.

Wake Forest 2022 Commencement. Photo by David Yamane

The commencement speaker this year was Van Jones, who is best known as a CNN political commentator. His address hit all the right notes for me. Here I want to highlight just a couple, but you can watch the entire address on YouTube or read it at the Wake Forest University commencement site.

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Light Over Heat #19: Presentation on Gun Culture 2.0 at UCONN-Hartford Authors Workshop

In Light Over Heat videos #15 (on gun research and gun policy) and #16 (on finding common ground on gun violence), I shared my thoughts on a workshop I attended in March at UCONN-Hartford. The workshop brought together authors contributing to an issue of The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science on gun violence prevention.

Of course, GVP is not my area of expertise, but I was asked to contribute something on the evolution of gun culture. So, in Hartford I presented a summary of my contribution, “Gun Culture 2.0: Evolution, Contours, and Consequences of Defensive Gun Ownership in America.”

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Mistakes Were Made: TSA Checkpoint Edition

As I am working on my book proposal, I have been reviewing my career as a gun owner. Over the past 11 years, mistakes have been made. None fatal or physically injurious, thankfully. But mistakes nonetheless.

It’s easy for me to dismiss Madison Cawthorn for so many reasons, including for being caught twice going through TSA checkpoints with a firearm. But it’s also true that in 2013 I had a loaded pistol magazine in my murse as I went through the TSA checkpoint at Piedmont Triad International Airport (GSO).

Coincidentally, I was on a research trip to Houston for my first ever National Rifle Association Annual Meetings and Exhibits. I put my murse on the belt and walked through the metal detector. Once on the other side, they pulled my murse and me to the side. They politely asked if I had anything in my murse that they should know about. No, I said confidently. Any e-cigarettes or anything like that? No, I said, racking my brain for what it might be. Finally, they pulled out of the side pocket a loaded Beretta Nano magazine.

As I never murse-carried that pistol, I didn’t (and don’t) recall how the magazine got in there. But there it was. The TSA agents didn’t make a big deal of it. Just told me they would be keeping the magazine and I would be hearing from the TSA by mail. Sometime later, I received a warning letter from the TSA and that was it.

Of course, I never did it again, unlike some people (I also didn’t get to keep the magazine, unlike some people and their guns), but this blog post by George Mason law professor Robert Leider on “Guns at the Airport” is a thorough consideration of ways we might reduce the growing number of guns being found at airport checkpoints.

Someone recently pointed me to the “Standing His Ground” blog and this is the first post I have read. I’ll be looking forward to reading more.