It took me a week to read this book. Brilliantly written, the stories Younge tells are so heartbreaking that I could only bear to read a chapter or two at a time. The premise is simple. Younge picked one day (Saturday 23 November 2013) and has reported on all the cases of young people shot dead in the US he could find. This book focused on the lives of those boys and young men. Rather than becoming a lengthy lament on the lack of gun control in the US, the focus is on taking each victim individually and examining their separate circumstances. Younge writes in his introduction: ‘…it is not a book about gun control; it is a book made possible by the absence of gun control.’
Ten young lives are shared, aged from nine to nineteen, of different races, and all male. A few were gang related, several were shot by people they knew, either deliberately or accidentally. Most lived in neighbourhoods where gun crime was expected, but not all. As a person who has rarely even seen a gun, to read that in Chicago ‘it is estimated that between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of children in public schools have witnessed a shooting’ is shocking. It was interesting to read that although several of the deaths that occurred have been linked to gangs, either through the victim’s participation or via mistaken identity, none of them were known to own their own gun. Neither would having owned a gun have saved them. Two deaths were caused by friends who ‘borrowed’ a gun from a relative and accidentally discharged them.
Sandy Hook was supposed to be a watershed moment, the massacre that finally made the gun lobby relent and allow for some tighter legislation around gun control. It is referred to several times throughout the book because, where few of these boys’ deaths made the news, Sandy Hook was different because of the numbers and because of the victims’ ages (mostly only six or seven years old). Even then, with such media attention, the NRA were triumphant (Younge also flags up how they blocked the sale of smart guns – those that have locking mechanisms such as fingerprint ID to stop them from being fired by any other than the owner – by organising boycotts). The parents of these ten boys are resigned to the fact that little will change, and in fact had harboured worries that their children could be shot. I found the following paragraph shocking:
Herein lies one of the most tragic elements to emerge from my research: that every black parent of a teenage child I spoke to had factored in the possibility that this might happen to their kid. Indeed, most of them had channelled their parenting skills into trying to stop precisely that from happening. While others are exerting themselves to get their kids into a decent college, through their SATs, or to excel at sports or music, these parents (who love their offspring no less) are devoting their energies to keeping their kids alive long enough for them to transition either out of the neighbourhood, out of adolescence, or both. It dictates who they think their children should socialise with, where they can go, and when they have to be home. So when you ask them if they imagined that their sons’ lives could be so abruptly ended in this way, they give a knowing shrug. ‘You wouldn’t really be doing your job as a parent here if you didn’t think it could happen,’ one father in Newark, whose son was shot dead just a couple of hours later, told me.
While this is not an easy read because of the subject matter, it is an important insight into the faceless stats that we have become oblivious to. These were ten real boys with real families who grieve, and Younge has given them a face.