Books Books & Justice Guns

Talking about Guns in America with two stellar authors, and the California Attorney General

2024 LA Times Festival of Books panel - The Never-Ending Plague: Guns, in America, via WLA
Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

This past weekend, the LA Times Festival of Books took over most of the USC campus with row-after-row of book-related stalls, plus a spectacular variety of author readings, and panel discussions about new works of fiction and non-fiction

I was the moderator of a panel entitled, The Never-Ending Plague: Guns in America, which featured the authors of two remarkable books—and California’s Attorney General.

The first of the panelist/authors was Wall Street Journal reporter Cameron McWhirter who, together with co-author Zusha Elinson, wrote American Gun: The True Story of the AR-15.

(Elinson, also with the WSJ, had to bow-out of panel participation at the last minute due to the arrival of a new baby.)

McWhirter and Elinson’s book describes the birth and development of the AR-15, created by a self-taught and incredibly gifted engineer/inventor named Eugene Stoner, who simply wanted to design a better and more reliable gun for the nation’s infantry.

He succeeded. And, hell followed after.

The full story is, of course, is far more complicated, and McWhirter and Elinson explore these often shattering complexities without flinching, and without taking an obvious side, which makes the book a unique starting point for discussion.

Panelist number two was Ieva Jusionyte, the author of the newly-released Exit Wounds: How America’s Guns Fuel Violence Across the Border, another book that is a conversation starter.

An Associate Professor of International Security and Anthropology at Brown University, Jusionyte writes of the many ways that gun traffic from the US has a deeply wounding effect on the culture of Mexico, a nation that, to date, has only two gun stores.

(Yes, you read that correctly: two gun stores in all of Mexico.)

Jusionyte illuminates the situation through a series of stories of individual people. Among these portraits you’ll find a Mexican businessman who smuggles guns for protection, a teenage girl turned trained assassin, two US federal agents trying to stop gun traffickers, and a journalist who risks his life to report on organized crime.

In reading the product of Jusionyte’s multiple investigations within her larger investigation, it is clear that her own years of reporting this important material features a scary level of risk.

In short, both books are deeply researched works of narrative journalism that expand the debate on guns in the U.S. 

They also make for riveting reading.

Guns and the California AG

As mentioned above, our special guest panelist was California’s Attorney General Rob Bonta, who has, through his office, authored not a book, but a list of inventive strategies aimed at reducing gun violence and its devastating effect on California’s families and communities.

For example there’s the Office of Gun Violence Prevention, the first such office in the nation, it’s mission to support “data and impact-driven efforts to effectively and equitably prevent gun violence and related traumas.”

With this in mind, in August of 2023, the OGVP produced a data report on the effect of gun violence in California, which you can find here.

There is lots more going on in the AG’s office when it comes to guns and gun violence, such as work pertaining to red flag laws, the matter of guns and domestic violence, and a newly-formed collaboration with local community violence intervention and prevention experts, with the goal of disrupting cycles of gun violence in the communities most affected.

These and similar topics came up in the hour that the LAT panels were allotted, as the three panelists engaged in a captivating and informative conversation that appeared to grab the attention of audience members from both ends of the firearms debate.

When the hour was up, neither the panelists nor the audience-members seemed to want to leave, which was a good problem to have.

One more thing

The LA Times Festival of Books weekend actually began Friday night, when the winners of the LA Times Book Awards were announced at a jam-packed event at Bovard Auditorium.

If you’re looking for new items to put on your reading list, whether you lean toward mystery-thrillers, history, graphic novels, science & technology, sci-fi/fantasy, poetry, memoir, non-fiction/current interest, or maybe a young adult novel that you can give to a teenager in your family, chances are that Friday night’s list of winners and finalists will have something that calls out to you.

(I was one of the judges for the Non-Fiction Current Interest category. Our winner was We Were Once A Family: A Story of Love, Death, and Child Removal in America, a brilliant and devastating work by Roxanna Asgarian. Asgarian’s astonishing piece of reporting, along with our four finalists, which included American Gun, are all terrific books that are well worth your attention. So be sure to check them out as you peruse the lists of winners and finalists, which you can find here.)

On Saturday, the panels and performances began at 10 p.m. and didn’t wrap up until nearly 7 p.m. Sunday. 

In between the campus was jammed with happy-looking book lovers of all ages, enjoying the once-a-year event that is free to all those attending.

Bottom line: If you’ve never been to the LATFOB, or if you haven’t been for a while, put it on your calendar for next April. You won’t be sorry. I promise.

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