Gun Baby Gun by Iain Overton - book review: Plenty of ammunition

A detailed analysis of the relationship between humans and guns with a blend of statistics, reportage, and personal insight

Click to follow

The facts in this riveting book are enough to make your jaw drop.

There are over a billion guns in the world today. Last year, 12 billion bullets were produced. Half a million people are killed by guns each year. And that’s just for starters.

Iain Overton is well placed to examine the role of guns in today’s society. Currently Director of Investigations for Action on Armed Violence, he was formerly a well-respected investigative reporter, and he brings to this book a balance and veracity that make it a startling and often depressing read.

After some strangely florid opening passages, Overton settles into a groove, looking at all angles of the relationship between humans and guns with a blend of statistics, reportage, and personal insight. Most importantly, he does so without judgement, refusing to descend into anti-gun rhetoric, something he might well have done given the shocking revelations throughout.

Gun Baby Gun by Iain Overton

The book is separated into sections that each examines a different facet of gun culture, from the victims of crime and suicide all the way to lobbyists and manufacturers who seem to have a stranglehold on international policy. Along the way he visits effectively lawless states including Honduras and El Salvador, war zones such as Palestine and Iraq, gun shows in Vegas, shooting clubs in Iceland, and military fairs in New York.

He looks at police use of firearms, and examines the insidious corruption that links police forces, governments, paramilitary organisations, smugglers, and manufacturers to create areas of the planet where it seems impossible for people to escape the carnage that guns create.

Most poignant are visits to Utoya in Norway and Sandy Hook in the United States, both sites of terrible mass shootings by lone gunmen. Overton is especially good here at conveying the impenetrable loss, hurt, and confusion of such incidents, and it’s to his credit that he never attempts to come up with glib answers.

It’s that methodical journalistic feel that lends Gun Baby Gun its authority. Overton admits at one point that he used to run a small shooting club. He also discusses being held up at gunpoint three times. He goes hunting for game in South Africa, but elsewhere takes the National Rifle Association to task for their extreme pro-gun lobbying.

But it’s the pieces of reportage that live longest in the memory. American tourists in an Israeli camp on the Palestinian West Bank shooting at targets with Arabs printed on them. The mix of dignity and shame amongst a group of former child soldiers in Liberia. The body bags piled outside a morgue in Honduras. This book is more than just facts, it’s insight and revelation on a very human level.

Canongate £18.99