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5 books that try to help explain the unexplainable: the U.S. gun violence epidemic


As of May 31, there have already been 233 mass shootings in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive, an independent organization that collects data from over 7,500 sources. That includes the massacre at Robb Elementary School last week in Uvalde, Texas, which killed 19 children and two adults and injured many others.

More than 45,000 people in the U.S. were killed by guns in 2020, the Centers for Disease Control reported recently. That year, firearms became the leading cause of death for American children. On average, gun violence kills nine children every day.

While these statistics are startling, they can dull the senses, at the same time that solutions seem increasingly hard to come by. Here are five books that help us go beyond the numbers: telling the stories of victims of American gun violence, and explaining how we got here and how we might get out.

Another Day in the Death Of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives by Gary Younge

/ PublicAffairs

Tyler, 11, loved catching fish in the creek behind his house . He was accidentally shot by his best friend during a sleepover. Gary Anderson was an 18-year-old who loved to fix things – especially bikes. He was killed while walking to his mother's apartment, in what his father says was a case of mistaken identity. The baseball coaches for his team all called 9-year-old Jaiden "Smiley." He was murdered by his mom's ex-boyfriend.

Another Day in the Death of America documents the lives and deaths of 10 boys – ages 9 to 19 – killed by guns over the course of a single day: Nov. 23, 2013. The randomly chosen date reflects troubling statistics of American life.

But these children aren't just data points. With meticulous research, interviews with family members, and reports of gun violence around the country, Younge pieces together devastating memorials for each of the victims as he explains the circumstances that lead to their deaths.

From a Taller Tower: The Rise of the American Mass Shooter by Seamus McGraw

/ University of Texas Press
University of Texas Press

In 1966, after murdering his wife and his mother, a student climbed a tower at the University of Texas and began firing. In the end, he killed 17 people. At the time, it was the deadliest mass shooting in modern United States history. Now, it's the 10th.

From a Taller Tower traces the history of the American mass shooter — at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland — without giving in to the notoriety that so many of them seek. With few exceptions, the murderers are never named. Instead, the book examines the beliefs many Americans hold onto about guns, mass shootings and mental illness, and confronts the circumstances that allow these catastrophes to continue.

Glimmer of Hope: How Tragedy Sparked a Movement by The March for Our Lives Founders

/ Penguin Young Readers Group
Penguin Young Readers Group

In the wake of one of the United States' deadliest school shootings, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., organized. Now, the March for Our Lives movement and nonprofit are working to end gun violence through civic engagement, education and direct action.

This anthology chronicles the stories of 25 student founders through poetry, personal essays, conversations and excerpts from speeches. It details the fear they felt on Feb. 14, 2018, the countless hours required to make a movement successful, and the trauma that continues to impact survivors long after the news cameras have moved on. While it can be easy to forget how young these activists are, this look into their extraordinary work is also a reminder that they should never have needed to take on this work in the first place.

All net proceeds from the book go to the March For Our Lives Action Fund.

Misfire: Inside the Downfall of the NRA by Tim Mak

<em>Misfire</em> by Tim Mak.
/ Dutton
Misfire by Tim Mak.

With confidential files, depositions and over 100 interviews with NRA staff and associates, NPR investigative correspondent Tim Mak chronicles the incompetence, corruption and wanton embezzlement that has marked Wayne LaPierre's (continued) oversight of the organization, and outlines how the NRA went from teaching marksmanship to sabotaging bipartisan legislation supporting background checks after the Sandy Hook massacre.

Stand Your Ground: A History Of America's Love Affair With Lethal Self-Defense by Caroline Light

/ Beacon Press
Beacon Press

With keen legal analysis, Caroline Light examines the history of violence rooted in stand-your-ground laws and the ideology of "DIY-security" citizenship in the United States from the 17th century to today. Despite the theoretical right of any American to stand their ground, Light argues that, in practice, these laws are rooted in the need to protect white men's honor.

Looking at influential court cases and crucial moments in America's history, she shows how, time and time again, these laws fail to protect women, the poor, gender-nonconforming people and racial minority groups – and frequently targets them when they do try and stand their ground.

A sobering read, Light illuminates how America's debates about gun control are deeply rooted in the inequality that has marked our country's history.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Fi O'Reilly Sánchez
Fi O'Reilly is a production assistant for Alt.Latino.