Gary Younge is a black British journalist who moved to New York in 2003, met and married an American woman, moved again to Chicago in 2011, and eventually came back to the UK in 2015. I mention the colour of his skin because it became a key part of his life in the USA. While in America he had children, and as those children grew older they became part of the race that is most at risk from incarceration and death by firearm in their home country. But Younge says this is not a book about race. In some ways that is true, but in many ways race becomes integral to this story of 10 lives that were taken from us at ages far too young.
Younge also says that this isn’t a book about gun control. But by choosing to pick an arbitrary day, November 23 2013, out of a hat and document each young life lost to gun violence on that day, he makes gun control as inevitable a factor as race. Younge may tell us that this book isn’t about gun control, but he also tells us this:
“On the same day (as the Sandy Hook Massacre in which twenty children aged 6-7 were shot dead by Adam Lanza), in China, Min Yongjun, a mentally ill thirty-six-year-old, took a knife into Chenpeng primary school in Henan province and stabbed twenty-three children and an elderly woman. No one died. Whatever one makes of the NRA axiom that ‘Guns don’t kill people, people kill people’, it couldn’t be clearer that people can kill more people more efficiently with guns than with almost anything else that is commercially available in the United States.”
What becomes clear when reading of the 10 lost lives in this book, is that many of them could’ve been avoided if greater gun control was in operation in America. Two of the deaths were accidental, both occurring when young friends decided to treat the guns in their houses like toys. More than a couple of the shootings were down to mistaken identity. Others were arbitrary and unexplained. Some, if they’d happened somewhere it was more difficult to get a gun, would have probably led to fist fights that both parties could have walked away from. One, in which a nine-year-old was shot by his stepfather, could surely have been prevented if it wasn’t so easy for a known-to-be-violent man to get his hands on a firearm.
But when Younge says this isn’t a book about gun control, he means that it isn’t only a book about gun control. It is also a book that advocates for improvements in other areas. Younge posits that stereotypes, laws, prejudices, and history are as much too blame for the current shooting epidemic as gun laws are. That the circumstances many Americans are born into mean that they often can’t even imagine a path other than a life of crime and violence:
Race and class excuse nothing…But they can explain a great deal. The circumstances into which people are born and the range of opportunities to which they are exposed shape both the choices available to them and the process by which they make those choices even if they, ultimately, still make the choice. I have yet to meet anyone who denies that individuals have free will. But I have also yet to meet anyone who makes a convincing argument that circumstances don’t shape what you can do with that will.
It is especially striking that only one of the young people who died on that day was white, and that he was one of the two accidental shootings. He was possibly also one of the few that weren’t living in poverty. And yet, of the other nine, only one or two were actively involved in gang warfare. Many were just caught in the crossfire.
The main message of Younge’s book, though, is that even those who would consider themselves gangsters did not deserve what they got. They were still children. Who didn’t make mistakes at their age? Luckily, a lot of our mistakes weren’t made when we were surrounded by guns. By telling their stories Younge does what the media never does, makes us see them as a person with hopes and dreams rather than just another statistic.
Any Cop?: Younge’s message is a powerful one, and it’s powerfully told. His empathy will make you cringe at moments in your life when you’ve gone along with media stereotypes, and the bravery in his interviews will bring you closer to the families of victims of gun crime than books and newspapers usually take us. There are many moments in Another Day in the Death of America that you will have to read through tears. This should be compulsory reading in schools everywhere, and particularly in the country it focuses on.