BOOK REVIEW: Encyclopedia of Gun Control & Gun Rights, 2nd edition
by Chad D. Baus
Recently, Grey House Publishing, based in Amenia, NY, sent me a copy of the Second Edition of Encyclopedia of Gun Control & Gun Rights. According to an accompanying press release, the first edition was published by Greenwood Press in 1999.
Reviewing an encyclopedia may seem a bit of a tall order, especially since, I will freely admit, I have not read the 550 page volume cover to cover. But encyclopedias aren't meant to be read page for page, but rather are to be used as a reference guide. I will also admit that, in this age of the Internet, I honestly hadn't realized encyclopedias were still being published. (Indeed, in the preface the authors credit the Internet as an "extremely valuable source of information [used] in preparing this book.") Judging by the press release, Grey House Publishing's primary target market for the volume is libraries.
The authors of the Second Edition of Encyclopedia of Gun Control & Gun Rights are Glenn H. Utter and Robert J. Spitzer. Despite the extensiveness of the volume, I had to go to the Internet to determine just who these men are.
Glenn H. Utter, Ph.D. is Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Lamar University, Texas. Utter was the sole author of the first edition of the encyclopedia in 1999. He has also written other articles and books, including The Evolving Gun Culture In America and Religion and Politics, which features a cover photo of the late Osama bin Laden.
Robert J. Spitzer is a political science professor at the State University of New York at Cortland. His other books include Gun Control: A Documentary and Reference Guide and The Politics of Gun Control. In the Chicago-Kent Law Review's Symposium on the Second Amendment in 2000, Spitzer argued against the notion that the Constitution recognizes an individual right to bear arms. Spitzer has also published an article at The Huffington Post in 2011 criticizing Students For Concealed Carry On Campus. (Note: SCCC isn't deemed worthy of an entry in the encyclopedia, but does get one mention in a lengthy entry about the Virginia Tech shooting. That entry concludes that a better way to have contained the violence at VT than concealed carry on campus would have been a better adherence to federal "requirements that educational institutions...publish a yearly report of campus security policies and crime data, and provide prompt warnings to the campus community about crime threads.")
Spitzer appears the encyclopedia he co-wrote, in an entry on Gary Kleck - the University of Florida professor of criminology and criminal justice whose research in the 1990's famously concluded that firearms are used defensively as many as 2.5 million times each year. Spitzer is listed in the encyclopedia entry as a critic of Kleck's, and citations to his book The Politics of Gun Control are listed in the Kleck entry as well as in a later entry on Suicide.
So now that we have established a better idea of who the authors are, let us consider what type of information they deem worthy of being included in the encyclopedia.
Setting the Stage
In the Introductory Essay, the authors give a fairly balanced look at the two sides of the argument, taking a "gun rights supporters say...gun control supporters counter" approach to different facets of the ongoing debate. The authors, perhaps tipping their hand a bit, claim at one point that "in the political struggle over gun control, gun control groups are at a definite disadvantage, given the large membership in gun rights organizations and the many publications dealing with firearms." While they mention the attempt by gun control advocates to reach the public by "enlisting the support of public relations firms," and through movies such as "Bowling for Columbine," the vast influence of gun control extremists in the pop culture and media are ignored entirely. There is also no mention anywhere in the volume of the Joyce Foundation, which funnels literally hundreds of millions of dollars to anti-gun groups, many of which have their own entries in the book.
The authors also make a curious argument, when trying to contrast the point often make by Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership that restrictions on firearms ownership have often accompanied genocide, that the "readily available" supply of guns to black youth is in itself a "limited form of genocide."
At the conclusion of the Introductory Essay, the authors admit that "given the successes of pro-gun individuals and organizations over the last decade, the probability of enacting additional gun control measures in the foreseeable future appears to be slight." Additionally, they note that "if the Tea Party movement, which gained electoral strength in the 2010 elections, continues to attract adherents, the prospect for government action in the area of firearms would be even less likely."
Following the Introductory Essay is a Chronology, which dates back to Colonial times and which the publisher's press release says "details significant events, court cases, and acts passed by Congress to give readers a background of how current laws and court decisions came to be."
The main body of the text consists of this edition's 338 entries. Each of the entries are supported by cross references as well as supplemental material. The press release says the original entries have been updated to include details on events of the last 12 years since the previous edition. The Guide to Selected Topics arranges all the entries into 16 main categories, some falling into more than one category:
There are many entries for Second Amendment-related court cases, and I found the entry for McDonald v. Chicago of particular interest. Four sentences are devoted to the majority opinion, which concluded that the individual right to keep and bear arms recognized in District of Columbia v. Heller for D.C. residents would apply in the same manner to the states. Twice as much space is devoted to the dissenters' opinions.
The Devil is in the Details
Perhaps as interesting to me than what is included among the 338 entries was what isn't included.
As noted above, there is no mention of the Joyce Foundation, although several of the many gun control extremist groups it supports with millions of dollars in grants are included (Brady, IACP, LCAV, MAIG, VPC).
An entry on the Ku Klux Klan correctly points out that "gun rights supporters refer to the American experience with the Ku Klux Klan to illustrate the fundamental advantages of gun ownership to maintaining rights of self-protection," but strangely conclude the entry by stating that "the example of the Ku Klux Klan suggests that individual resistance may produce complex consequences that limit the possibility of success, or even increase the probability of violence and death."
Among the more random entries I came across are for groups such as "Amendment II Democrats," a group whose website is no longer functional, and which sports a total of 274 friends on Facebook (Buckeye Firearms Association has over 11,600.). Another group whose website is no longer functional is SWARM (Safety for Woman and Responsible Motherhood). It appears as though some of the entries for the more obscure groups from the 90's were not validated before the latest edition was published.
Meanwhile, there is very little mention of state-level groups such as Buckeye Firearms Association. This criticism isn't raised due to pride, but the simple fact is that BuckeyeFirearms.org is the second-most visited gun rights website in the nation (surpassed only by the NRA-ILA). The volume does seem more focused on listing national groups, no matter how obscure. But at the very least, it is safe to say the volume is incomplete without addressing some of the more influential state-level organizations. Disappointingly, two of the very few state-level groups mentioned as being supportive of gun rights are associated with a negative perception in the general public - the Michigan Militia and the Militia of Montana.
Also revealing was the treatment of individuals supporting gun rights vs. individuals supporting gun control. Any scandal of any kind that could be tied to a pro-gun individual was mentioned. With the latter, no such mentions were made. For example, in the entry for Alan Gottleib, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, the authors couldn't resist mentioning his having once pled guilty of having failed to report income from his direct mail consulting firm in 1977 and 1978. However, there is no mention of the fact that, according to the data from the group Gun Owners Against Illegal Mayors (also not mentioned in the volume), 2.2% of the members of Mayor Against Illegal Guns have been arrested, charged, and convicted of criminal activities.
The authors take time to mention pro-gun economist and author John Lott's act of defending his work in online forums under a pseudonym several years ago. However, no mention is made under gun control extremist Sarah Brady's entry, or the the entry on Straw Purchases, for having admitted in her book to have engaged in a straw purchase in 2000 when she bought a .30-06 rifle in Delaware on her son's behalf, allowing him to avoid the required criminal background check.
Curiously missing from Senator Diane Feinstein's entry is mention of her infamous 1995 quote on CBS-TV's 60 Minutes during a discussion of the infamous Clinton Gun Ban that "if I could have gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them...Mr. and Mrs. America, turn 'em all in, I would have done it. I could not do that. The votes weren't here."
Finally, in the entry for the Fraternal Order of Police, the organization's support for gun control is mentioned prominently, but there is no mention of the FOP's support for the Tiahrt Amendment, which protects firearm trace data from public release. The FOP is mentioned in the Tiahrt Amendment entry, but only with a dismissive mention that "the NRA claims that the ATF and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) oppose the release of trace data."
Although the book cites events that happened as late as February 2011, the same month that details of the Obama Justice Department/ BATFE "Fast and Furious" debacle broke wide open, entries for the "ATF," "Mexico" and "United States-Mexico Gun Trade" make no mention of the burgeoning scandal. Instead, the entry on Mexico makes the case that that country's problems are a result of "lax American gun laws" and the "gun show loophole." The entry also mentions an Obama administration claim that "80 percent of guns founds at Mexican crime scenes that could be traced came from America," with no mention of the fact that the statistic has been thoroughly debunked.
The book lists 47 groups which support gun control, and 38 groups which support gun rights. It also lists 21 individuals on each side of the debate. Among the groups which support gun rights, the authors takes time to mention "far-right fringe and paramilitary survivalist groups" and their leaders, such as the Hutaree and Michigan Militias, while failing to mention any violent groups on the far-left, such as eco-terrorist fanatics who have advocated for the murder of hunters and trappers.
At the conclusion of the alphabetical listing of entries, the volume contains a Primary Documents section, which is new for the Second Addition. It contains 26 original documents that include The Federalist Papers 24 and 25, Second Amendment Debate Excerpts from the U.S. House of Representatives, 1789, court cases, Acts of Law and contemporary articles on gun control and gun rights.
Appendix 1 contains a listing of 45 states' constitutional provisions dealing with the right to keep and bear arms. Appendix 2 provides information compiled by the NRA-ILA, which lists the main provisions of state firearms laws. Appendix 3 contains List of Organizations mentioned in the book, and a Bibliography & Cumulative Index round out the text, which the press release says are given "to provide the reader with further places to search for topics and information."
My overall impression is that this volume was written by two anti-gun guys who did their best to make it balanced. When you have a particular position on an issue, total objectivity is difficult. As a person who is staunchly pro-gun rights, I am certain had I tried to compile such a volume my own bias would show through. Perhaps a better approach to alleviate this problem would have been to have one author on each side of the debate work together. Something to consider for the third edition...
Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman.