Gun violence is complicated. There are myriad ways to explore the issue, from sociology and history to criminology and public health. That’s why we weren’t surprised when a reader reached out with this question: “I’m looking for some good books that survey the whole gun violence issue in the United States. Recommendations?”
We asked the reporters and editors at The Trace, the only team of journalists dedicated to covering gun violence in America, to recommend the books that shaped their understanding of this critical issue. You can find the full list below.
Books on history, gun policy, gun culture, and the gun industry
Start at the beginning — and read about how the past influences the present.
- Gunfight by Adam Winkler
An argument that guns are central to our country’s cultural divide, from its early days through 2008’s D.C. v. Heller.
- The Gun Dilemma: How History Is Against Expanded Gun Rights by Robert Spitzer
Many arguments for expanding gun rights rest on the historic nature of such policies, but this book argues that much of the history invoked is “unknown, ignored, or distorted.”
- The Second Amendment: A Biography by Michael Waldman
In this history of one of the most controversial provisions in the Bill of Rights, the author brings to light how political advocacy influences its public perception.
- The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America by Carol Anderson This book examines the ways the Second Amendment was designed — and has continued — to keep Black Americans “powerless and vulnerable.”
- The Gunning of America by Pamela Haag
Focusing mostly on the rise of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, a historian turns basic assumptions about the development of American gun culture on their head.
- Gunfighter Nation by Richard Slotkin
The final installment in a trilogy on the myths of the American frontier, this book addresses how Theodore Roosevelt’s ideas on the subject influenced expansionism in the rest of the 20th century.
- Gun Guys: A Road Trip by Dan Baum
A self-described gun fanatic explores what draws Americans to firearms, taking readers to ranges, gun shows, and auctions along the way.
- Glock by Paul M. Barrett
Through the history of “America’s gun” — the Glock pistol — the book is a journey through changes in gun culture from the ‘80s on.
Books on the intertwined history of guns and racial oppression
We’ve covered the history of Black gun ownership, how guns have fueled white supremacist violence, and the way each of these factors resonates today. The books below have influenced our reporters’ work.
- Negroes and the Gun: A Black Tradition in Arms by Nicholas Johnson
Black Americans’ history of arming themselves against white supremacist violence goes underreported, the law professor argues, sharing many examples from throughout history.
- This Non-violent Stuff’ll Get You Killed by Charles E. Cobb
A firsthand account of the role firearms played in the Civil Rights movement.
- All God’s Children: The Bosket Family and the American Tradition of Violence by Fox Butterfield
Willie Boskett’s high-profile act of violence led to the first U.S. law allowing minors to be tried as adults. In this book, a journalist traces back through five generations of Boskett’s family, examining America’s legacy of violence and racism.
- Best Intention: The Education and Killing of Edmund Perry by Robert Sam Anson
An exploration of race in America in the 1980s, told through the story of Edmund Perry, a high-achieving Black student from Harlem who was shot and killed by a police officer when he was 17.
Books on community gun violence
Experts have studied for decades why some neighborhoods experience significantly higher rates of gun violence, and what it means for the people who live there. These books explore the complex answers.
- Peace in the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence by Aquil Basheer and Christina Hoag
Documenting 40 years of lessons from Basheer’s work in violence intervention, the book is written to provide insight into the culture of gangs and break down the process of peacemaking. Through a mix of personal anecdotes and practical advice, the authors aim to teach anyone to be an interventionist.
- Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence by Geoffrey Canada
Growing up in the South Bronx, Canada often felt small and scared, living in a world where “sidewalk boys” were expected to learn the codes of the block, to compete with each other in escalating violence. The raw, first-person narrative features artwork from comics creator Jamar Nicholas.
- Bleeding Out: The Devastating Consequences of Urban Violence — and a Bold New Plan for Peace in the Streets by Thomas Abt
Reducing gun violence is possible, the scholar and former government official argues — and the the smart-on-crime strategies he argues for could bridge larger economic and social divides.
- Ghettoside by Jill Leovy
Through the investigation of a murder in South Los Angeles, a journalist provides insight into not just how violent crime is investigated, but also why it happens and what might stop it.
- Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City by Elijah Anderson
The violence that occurs every day in specific majority Black and brown neighborhoods is not random — even if it’s often stereotyped as such, a sociologist argues in this book that lays out the code of the streets that regulates that violence, and explains it as a response to the conditions people in those neighborhoods face.
- Don’t Shoot by David M. Kennedy
A prominent criminologist, Kennedy is known for his work reducing gun violence in Boston in the 1990s. His first-person book tells the story of what became known as the “Boston Miracle,” and reveals the “commonsense yet revolutionary” strategy his team followed.
- Uneasy Peace by Patrick Sharkey
Violent crime is down in many American cities since the 1990s, the scholar of crime and poverty writes, but in many places, it has come with increasing mass incarceration and aggressive policing.
- View From The Streets: The Transformation of Gangs and Violence on Chicago’s South Side by Roberto R. Aspholm
Drawing on in-depth interviews and years of community work, a social work professor explains the the dramatic changes that took place among Chicago’s Black street gangs in the early 21st century — and what they reveal about how to address persistent violence.
Books on gun violence as a public health issue
Many experts argue that treating gun violence like a threat to public health — as we might an infectious disease — could help to reduce suicides and homicides across the U.S.
- Private Guns, Public Health by David Hemenway
Treating gun violence as a consumer safety and public health problem could reduce gun-related injury and death, a professor argues, as the U.S. has already accomplished with car crashes and smoking.
- Reducing Gun Violence in America by Daniel W. Webster and Jon S. Vernick
Johns Hopkins University brought together 20+ experts on gun violence policy to recommend research-based policies to address the issue that also have broad public support.
Books on policing, crime, and the legal system
“Firearms shape every encounter between police officers and civilians,” my colleague Champe Barton wrote in 2020. These books address this relationship, how it interacts with race in America, and the issue of firearms trafficking.
- The End of Policing by Alex Vitale
The role of police in American society has expanded dramatically over the past 40 years — when alternative strategies could reduce crime and racial injustice, the sociologist argues.
- Policing the Second Amendment by Jennifer Carlson
You can’t understand the politics of guns — or change them, the sociologist argues — without considering how police think and talk about race, crime, and guns.
- Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color by Andrea J. Ritchie
Putting names you may have heard like Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Dajerria Becton, Monica Jones, and Mya Hall in a national context, a lawyer and organizer examines how police violence and mass incarceration specifically harm women of color.
- Crook County: Racism and Injustice in America’s Largest Criminal Court by Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve
Based on 1,000+ hours of observation in Chicago’s county courthouse, the sociologist’s book demonstrates how racism shows up throughout the court system, often in plain sight.
- Blood Gun Money by Ioan Grillo
In an investigation into the black market for firearms, the journalist connects the drug trade to American gun violence, arguing that seeing guns as an accessory to the addiction epidemic could motivate passing policies that would reduce their trafficking.
Want more? Try these recommendations:
- “5 books that try to help explain the unexplainable: the U.S. gun violence epidemic” (via NPR)
- Stand Your Ground by Caroline Light
- Misfire by Tim Mak
- Glimmer of Hope from March for Our Lives
- From a Taller Tower: The Rise of The American Mass Shooter by Seamus McGraw
- Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge
- “Everything about America’s gun debate is wrong – here’s why” (via The Guardian)
- “Would NOT demanding gun control be more effective?” (via Vox’s Today Explained)
Thanks to Greg Jackson for sending in suggestions included on our list.