Kernel Morgan reviews GUN BABY GUN, a look into humanity’s relationship with guns around the world. Author Iain Overton has the skills to do so; Director of Investigations at the London-based charity Action on Armed Violence and an award-winning investigative journalist who has worked in over eighty countries around the world. Reporting from the killing zones of Columbia, Iraq and Somalia, as a filmmaker he directed documentaries for the BBC, ITN and Al Jazeera, as well as working with the Guardian, the Independent and the Sunday Times. His journalism has won a Peabody Award, two Amnesty Awards and a BAFTA Scotland, among others. He was also founding editor of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. GUN BABY GUN is his first book.
But have the many years of journalism made him too objective to be compelling in a book of this nature? GUN BABY GUN is out now from Allen and Unwin and is available in all bookstores or you can track it down from HERE.
Read on and find out Morgan’s thoughts on the book at hand……..all the best………JK.
GUN BABY GUN is a narrative non-fiction novel by investigative journalist Iain Overton. The tag line is ‘A Bloody Journey Into The World Of The Gun’. An incredible amount of research and travel went into making this book, but unfortunately it is a bit like an essay with no conclusion. Given the lack of internal structure within the chapters, it is not much of a reference book either. What you really have is like a behind-the-scenes story of the ‘making of’ the documentary, but without the finished product.
Politically, I expected to like GUN BABY GUN. I was expecting the book equivalent of Michael Moore’s BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE or Lourdes Portillo’s MISSING YOUNG WOMEN, where the culture of violence is tied to systematic exploitation. In an effort to appear objective, Overton has depicted gun violence as a pervasive global issue. He fails to identify the USA as being unique when it comes to civilian gun violence and gun ownership, and fails to delve into the effects of the war on drugs on developing nations. At the end of GUN BABY GUN, Overton just reaches a dead end with access to manufacturers and throws his hands up postulating about a future gun-free utopia.
Overton works for the charity Action on Armed Violence. He is known as a ‘nice guy’ journalist. GUN BABY GUN feels like someone torn between wanting to change the world but not wanting to furrow a brow to do it. Some language choices, like referring to sex workers as ‘whores’ and mentioning transsexuals for the sole purpose of depicting a neighbourhood as rough, seem like a nice guy doing his best impression of a hard-boiled detective. The tone can be exhausting.
When talking about the dark net he mentions seeing websites for paedophiles and counterfeit money and drug experiments on homeless people. What this kind of shock-value detail does is separate the issue of gun violence from regular people. It is made to seem like it is some seedy underbelly that is only relevant to the impoverished or unfortunate. Many of the locations, like South Africa, Hondurus, Soloman Islands, Israel, Cambodia, Liberia etc, are places that could easily be written off by middle-class white Americans as places they would never visit anyway.
Yet the target audience of the book must be an incredibly sheltered and privileged person. Someone who has never even seen LAW & ORDER or CSI. There are four Parts in this book, and two slim multi-page glossy greyscale photo inserts that add no real value – office buildings, gun promotions, crime scenes, all stuff we have seen before, nothing salient. In Part 1: Pain – with chapters on victims called 1. The Dead, 2. The Wounded, and 3. The Suicidal – the concepts are so basic and obvious that it is condescending. They present no new information. The examples are things we see every night on the news. Guns and violence are not new issues. There is no new angle.
The saving grace is that the writing can be spectacular. Overton is a seasoned wordsmith and his talent as a writer is shown in graceful passages like this:
“Orlin walked back to his vehicle. I caught a glimpse of his face lit in the reflection of his phone. He was looking to see if any more murders had been called in that night. And so it goes, I thought. The endless hunger for death in these streets never sated – one that totally consumed this slight, sad-faced man. I climbed back in the car and we drove away.
The low barbed-wire-rimmed walls of the district flickered beyond the window. And the silent homes of the people of San Pedro, with their contained patches of blue electricity, began to thin out, until all that was left were the spotlights of the car and the silence, and yellow streets in the rear window diminished into the night.”
If you just want to follow Iain Overton around as he beautifully describes tiny details of unpleasant places around the world, while casting no judgement and ruffling no feathers, then this is the book for you. Each chapter is simply an explanation of how he got to the next chapter. It is being marketed as urgent and an expose, it is neither of those things.
Kernel Morgan is an author of short fiction, an anthology editor, and a technical writer. Her debut collection was SNIGGERLESS BOUNDULATIONS. She enjoys scowling at children and bursting bubbles. She can be tweeted and stalked at @queenboxi.