As The Trace’s engagement editor, I see firsthand that many of our readers feel overwhelmed by gun violence in America, and come to our work as a way to better understand the issue.
Nowhere is that clearer than our Ask The Trace series, which tackles reader questions via explanatory reporting. The most recent entry takes on this request: “I’m looking for some good books that survey the whole gun violence issue in the United States. Recommendations?”
So I asked my colleagues, and this week, we published a full list of 25 recommendations. But just for you, newsletter readers, we’ve asked three Trace reporters to share a little more about why they suggested these books. — Gracie McKenzie, engagement editor
Private Guns, Public Health by David Hemenway: You may have heard calls to address gun violence as a public health issue, but what does that actually mean? Private Guns, Public Health provides a framework: Hemenway outlines that it would be less about banning guns and more about creating policies grounded in research that prevent violence, which he emphasizes are more effective than punishment. Originally published in 2003, many points throughout the book are still relevant today. From highlighting deficiencies in data collection to looking at policies that have worked in other countries, it’s been essential in my understanding of the issue and how to report on it. — Fairriona Magee, public health reporter
Crook County: Racism and Injustice in America’s Largest Criminal Court by Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve: U.S. courts are often portrayed as impartial institutions that follow the law and deliver justice. But as Gonzalez Van Cleve’s more than 1,000 hours of observation show, a culture of racism affects how Black and brown people are treated within the criminal legal system. Especially in Illinois, where members of the public do not have access to court records, this book provides much-needed insight, helping readers reimagine how we look at justice and urging us to hold those in power accountable. — Rita Oceguera, Chicago reporter
Ghettoside by Jill Leovy: In this book, Leovy examines the epidemic of American homicide, introducing you to the often-forgotten individuals who bear the brunt of its effects. Chronicling detective John Skaggs’s tenacious investigation into the murder of a young, Black man in South Los Angeles, this work of literary journalism captures how rippling grief and anger transform entire communities. It opened my eyes to the generational trauma that stems from violence, the enormous role that systemic inequality plays in the justice system, and the long road ahead to remedy these issues. — Laura Esposito, audience engagement intern
From Our Team
25 Books to Help You Understand Gun Violence: Reporters and editors from The Trace recommend the books that shaped their understanding of this critical issue.
Marijuana, Guns, and the Silver Lining Some Progressives See in Bruen: Federal law has long barred people who use cannabis from owning guns. Bruen could change that.
Family of Slain College Baseball Star Sues SIG Sauer Over Alleged Pistol Defect: A new lawsuit claims he was killed by a friend’s P938 when it was dropped on the ground.
All Eyes Are On Chicago Mayor’s First Move on Violence Prevention: Voters want to make sure Brandon Johnson follows through on campaign promises.
What to Know This Week
ICYMI: Americans bought an estimated 1.36 million guns last month, according to an analysis of FBI data. That seasonally adjusted figure includes about 820,000 handguns and 540,000 long guns (rifles and shotguns). [The Trace]
A significant portion of Gen Z and millennial Republicans support firearm restrictions, recent polls show. What does that mean for a party that’s already struggling to attract younger voters? [Politico]
A New York Police Department unit tasked with preventing gun violence conducts illegal stops at high rates, a federal monitor reported. More than 97 percent of the people encountered in the stops reviewed by the monitor were Black or Hispanic. [Gothamist]
Demonstrators with the advocacy group Here 4 the Kids have been holding sit-ins at the Colorado Capitol this week, demanding that Governor Jared Polis sign an unconstitutional executive order banning all guns. Organizers know their radical request will almost certainly go unmet, but that might not be the central point of the protests. [The Colorado Sun]
Gun deaths in the U.S. reached an all-time high in 2021 for the second year in a row, with an average of one gun death taking place every 11 minutes, according to a new Johns Hopkins study based on CDC data. [NPR/Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions]
Vincent Schiraldi, head of Maryland’s juvenile services agency, is a veteran reformer who embraces evidence-informed approaches to rehabilitate young people involved in crimes. Now, he’s focused on helping kids with firearm charges break the cycle of violence that made them pick up a gun in the first place. [The Baltimore Banner]
Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signed an expansive gun violence prevention package, the most sweeping since the state’s 2013 response to the Sandy Hook shooting, into law. Gun rights advocates immediately filed suit in an effort to block the new restrictions. [Hartford Courant/Associated Press]
Is the murder rate falling? Crime analyst Jeff Asher says initial evidence looks promising. [The Atlantic]
Internal documents reveal how 4chan moderators responded to last year’s mass shooting by a white supremacist in Buffalo, New York — and how the moderation team enables the website’s culture of violence and racism. [WIRED]
Hawaii has new gun regulations on the books. Governor Josh Green signed legislation — passed in response to Bruen — easing concealed carry permitting requirements and, at the same time, prohibiting people from carrying guns in a wide array of places, including beaches. [Associated Press] Context: Hawaii has long had some of the strictest gun safety measures in the country.
A white woman who allegedly shot and killed her neighbor Ajike Owens, a Black woman who was beloved in her community, in front of Owens’s children last week in Florida was arrested days after the incident, following mounting calls for the woman to face charges. Police said they delayed the arrest to investigate whether the shooter was abiding by the state’s “stand your ground” laws. [Complex/The 19th] Context: A 2023 RAND report found that “stand your ground” laws increase levels of violence.
A federal judge declined to block Washington state’s new ban on some semiautomatic rifles, ruling that the restriction had precedent in the U.S.’s history of firearm regulation, including Colonial-era prohibitions on “trap guns.” [Associated Press]
Bre’Asia Powell, 16, wanted to become a coach. The star athlete — a cheerleader as well as a basketball and volleyball player — hoped to use her skills in the future to mentor young people, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. She was killed outside of her Atlanta high school over Memorial Day weekend; another teen was injured in the shooting. Powell “wanted to do everything,” her grandfather told 11Alive, and put passion into all of her hobbies. A rising junior and a young leader in her Atlanta community, Powell was getting ready to start a job through a city program to employ young people over the summer. “She had dreams in her eyes,” said her grandfather. “She used to always say, ‘Grandad, I’m going to be the star.’”
We’re All Bad Neighbors Now: “Trying to make sense of this senseless and ubiquitous violence, whether on the national news or in your nearest NextDoor group, inevitably leads to a handful of rote explanations: There are too many guns, Fox News profits off paranoia, structural racism and impoverishment breeds ‘random violence.’ Or, something is wrong in the minds of Americans, ‘a mental health crisis grips the city,’ people need opportunities to safely express their inner anger. Or both. All we know for certain is that you either die young or you live to become the bad neighbor.” [The New Republic]
“I can relate to some of the youth here. I’ve been in their shoes. I’ve been there, done that. So it’s like, why not come back and spread my words?”
— J.O., a young person in Maryland’s juvenile system who purchased his first gun at age 12, on what he plans to do when he returns home, to The Baltimore Banner