rusq: Vol. 52 Issue 3: p. 268
Sources: Guns in American Society: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, Culture, and the Law
Michael F. Bemis

independent reference book reviewer

Well received by reviewers as a two-volume set at its initial appearance in 2002, this examination of American gun culture has now been expanded to three volumes, with an additional 300 or so pages or so of new and/or updated material. The subtitle gives the researcher a good idea of its contents; among the approximately 500 articles may be found such topics as Congressional legislation (“Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act [Brady Bill]”); United States Supreme Court decisions (“District of Columbia v. Heller [2008]”); various aspects of gun-related crimes (“Drive-by Shootings,” “Crime and Gun Use”); interest groups, both pro and anti-gun (“Stop Handgun Violence,” “National Rifle Association”); and a plethora of other subjects. Not surprisingly, firearms themselves are featured prominently, not only in the guise of the products per se, such as the AK-47 assault rifle, but biographical sketches of those who brought these into existence, such as Samuel Colt, Eliphalet Remington, and Oliver Winchester. Each article is signed by the writer responsible for its creation and concludes with a list of further reading resources. The entire set is well illustrated with crisp black and white photographs, charts, tables, and other graphic material.

Additionally, a number of special features make this set particularly valuable from a research standpoint. An introductory essay sets the stage for the entries that follow, in an attempt to put the debate surrounding gun ownership and use in its historical and sociological context. A detailed chronology “presents the long and broad range of watershed events that have shaped the contemporary gun debate in American society” (“Chronology,” xxiii). Three appendixes list key federal gun laws, key state gun laws, and major gun-related organizations, listing full contact information. Lastly, an extensive bibliography of scholarly literature lists important books, journal articles, and websites representative of this field of study.

Gregg Lee Carter holds a doctoral degree from Columbia University. He is currently a Professor of Sociology and Chair of the Department of History and Social Sciences at Bryant University, located in Smithfield, Rhode Island. He has published widely in the field of firearms studies; among the twenty-two works he has either authored or edited are The Gun Control Movement (1997) and Gun Control in the United States: A Reference Handbook (2006), in addition to the first edition of the current title. Carter and five other academics comprise the editorial board that oversaw the creation of this set. The 102 listed contributors include college professors, lawyers, and members of various think tanks and public policy organizations.

This is an excellent introduction to the contentious debate revolving around the ownership, use, and misuse of firearms within the United States. The articles are objective and evenhanded in their examination of the myriad issues involving guns, gunpowder, and bullets. In his preface, Carter states that the goal of this set is to “help the reader navigate the research and become educated enough on any particular aspect of the gun issue to make an informed decision” (xv). In this reviewer’s opinion, his objective has been well met, and this second edition surpasses in quality the already solid initial attempt. Therefore, this title is highly recommended for purchase by all public and academic libraries.

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