5 Must-Read Gun Violence Books

Make sense of senseless violence.

gun violence books

While debates about gun violence and gun rights continue to polarize voters, there is no denying that America is suffering a veritable epidemic of mass shootings. According to CBS News, there were 263 mass shootings in the first 150 days of 2023 – nearly two mass shootings per day. Those led to nearly 300 deaths, while gun violence overall has accounted for almost 20,000 deaths so far in 2023, around half of which were suicides.

Whatever your opinion about the causes of gun violence in America or how to solve the problem, it remains an important topic of discussion; an almost uniquely American problem that needs to be examined carefully and critically, with a clear-eyed approach that takes the facts into account. However, facts alone can’t address the harm that these many deaths have caused, and we also have to grapple with the very real emotional trauma that is left behind by living in the shadow of such violence.

These five books examine not only the problems and potential solutions of gun violence, but the facts and the intense emotions that surround the topic, both for victims of gun violence and for those who believe that gun rights are at once vital and constantly under threat. From the earliest American mass shooters to the recent spate of school shootings, from personal accounts to data-driven studies, these gun violence books will change the way you look at guns.

from a taller tower, a gun violence book

From a Taller Tower

By Seamus McGraw

In 1966, Charles Whitman became arguably the first American mass shooter, when he began firing indiscriminately from the observation deck of the tower of the so-called “Main Building” at the University of Texas at Austin. For approximately 96 minutes, he rained death down on the heads of 14 people and one unborn child, injuring 31 others before he himself was killed by two police officers.

In many ways, Whitman’s rampage set the template for mass shooters that would follow over the subsequent half-century, and in this “memorable, necessary contribution to the national conversation on gun violence” (Kirkus Reviews), veteran journalist Seamus McGraw traces the history of mass shootings from Whitman to the present day, and explores how American media, society, and survivors make sense of senseless violence.

regulating gun sales, a gun violence book

Regulating Gun Sales

By Daniel W Webster, Jon S Vernick, Emma E McGinty and Ted Alcorn

Even among those who agree that gun violence is a major problem in America, the question of how to solve it remains a largely unanswered one. Enter a sweeping, “masterful, timely, data-driven” (Choice) study called Reducing Gun Violence in America, which examined and compiled considerable evidence relating to what actually works when it comes to reducing gun violence, and what doesn’t.

In this compelling excerpt from the larger study, the authors examine the arguments surrounding stronger purchasing laws and better enforcement for existing laws relating to gun sales, and show compelling evidence that such laws – among the most favored when it comes to potential gun reforms in the United States – would go a long way toward reducing violence. Rather than an appeal to policy or emotion, however, Regulating Gun Sales presents the data so that readers can make up their own minds.

do guns make us free, a gun violence book

Do Guns Make Us Free?

By Firmin DeBrabander

At the heart of much of the debate around gun violence in America is a central assumption – propped up by the existence of the Second Amendment of the Constitution – that guns are a necessity for freedom. In this “timely examination of the politics of the pro-gun movement and our gun culture,” however, “this sharply written book challenges prevailing arguments about the relationship between guns and freedom, answering its titular inquiry – Do Guns Make Us Free? – with a resounding ‘no’” (Harvard Law Review).

In fact, “DeBrabander convincingly argues that guns are restricting freedom rather than expanding it” (The National Catholic Review), in a “lucid and engaging” (Journal of Applied Philosophy) look at both the politics and the philosophy behind the pro-gun movement, and its backers and architects at the National Rifle Association.

let it bang, a gun violence book

Let It Bang

By RJ Young

Subtitled “A Young Black Man’s Reluctant Odyssey into Guns,” Let It Bang is a combination of reporting and memoir that takes readers inside America’s gun culture, while also examining a point of tension that too-often goes unexplored in discussions of gun violence – the fact that many people carry guns ostensibly for self-protection, while the police shoot Black men they even suspect of carrying guns

“We need more books like this: personal, emotional mediations on gun ownership,” writes the Pacific Standard, “showing us all the ways in which guns take on meaning for people, and what happens when those meanings collide.” 

Through a combination of his own personal journey, which begins when his white father-in-law gives him a Glock as a gift, and original reporting on everything from the rise in gun ownership among black women to “shadow industries” such as US Law Shield, which helps to defend people who have shot someone in what they claim is self-defense, Young paints an indelible – and personal – portrait of a country that is in love with guns, and menaced by them.

school shootings, a book about gun violence

School Shootings

By Joseph A. Lieberman

While mass shootings have reached epidemic levels in America, perhaps the most horrifying aspect of them is how many have taken place in schools. In the days since Columbine, school shootings have become so matter-of-fact that most schools now practice active shooter drills just as schools once held fire drills.

In this “tragically relevant” book (Publishers Weekly), Joseph A. Lieberman examines not only what these shootings have in common, but what may be driving the rise in school shootings and what, if anything, can be done to reduce their numbers. Subtitled “What Every Parent and Educator Needs to Know to Protect Our Children,” this “riveting” book (Madalyn Tower, Oregon School Counselors Association) is designed to provide must-read facts and guidance for teachers and parents to help navigate this often-terrifying new reality.