Review of Dr. Jonathan M. Metzl's "What We've Become"
By GunSense Board Member Bob Williamson

Dr. Jonathan M. Metzl delivers a knockout blow to Second Amendment absolutists in WHAT WE’VE BECOME: LIVING AND DYING IN A COUNTRY OF ARMS (W. W. Norton, 2024). Dr. Metzl uses the 2018 Waffle House massacre in Tennessee as his frame and Exhibit A of weak gun laws: Four African Americans were slaughtered in a hail of bullets by a naked white man with an AR-15 who’d had several run-ins with police, including an attempt to breach security at the White House. The shooter, Travis Reinking, was prohibited from having guns in Illinois (his home), but his father took custody of the weapons; then later on, when Travis was moving to Tennessee (a lax gun state), his father returned those guns to Travis.

Dr. Metzl shows the cracks in our legal system that enable tragedies like this one in Tennessee and others, with solid supporting data. Moreover, America’s gun rights law skews to favor white gun owners, regarding them as patriotic guardians of freedom, while judging Black Americans as predatory criminals. In addition, Dr. Metzl opines that a fact-based public health approach alone is inadequate to move the needle in the gun debate: we need to build coalition with all sectors of society, to garner the political clout to affect life-saving change.

The Epilogue is a must read: Dr. Metzl eviscerates the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision as a solution looking for a problem, a dangerous solution grasping at a non-existent problem.

No false Cassandra, Dr. Metzl is eminently qualified to examine gun policy: he’s a professor of sociology and psychiatry and a director of the Dept. of Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University. We’d do well to heed his warnings.


Public Health approach:

“The public health approach involves (1) defining and measuring the problem, (2) determining the cause or risk factors for the problem, (3) determining how to prevent or ameliorate the problem, and (4) implementing effective strategies on a larger scale and (5) evaluating the impact.”