I wanted to thank Abigail Kohn for her delightfully refreshing exposé of the "gun culture" ("Their Aim Is True," May). Though I was not technically raised in the gun culture, I was exposed to shooting and hunting by my grandfather. I'm fascinated by the clever mechanical engineering of today's firearms, and also with the wisdom of our founding fathers in crafting the Second Amendment.
I'm not really a hunter—I feed the deer in my backyard about 150 pounds of corn a week—but I take considerable pleasure in developing the skills involved in shooting accurately. Though I've yet to explore Cowboy Action Shooting, I have been dabbling in International Defensive Pistol Association activities, which provide definite skill-building and camaraderie.
In my experience, those involved in shooting sports are as heterogeneous a group as can be imagined. I've tried to explain my interests to my more liberal friends. But they've managed to so thoroughly demonize lumps of metal and wood that they just can't begin to understand. I intend to share your piece with those skeptics, and see if your eloquent and—forgive me—disarming approach might work where mine failed.
Peter P. Henry
Abigail Kohn's article is the most well-written discussion of the "gun culture" that I have ever read. I am a second-year student at the University of Virginia School of Law, and I wish I could get my classmates to read it. I was in the military for almost eight years and attended an undergraduate institution in Kansas, so I was quite surprised at the open hostility I faced in law school once it was discovered that I owned guns.
To make matters worse, my fellow students seemed disgusted that I was a National Rifle Association member and taught firearms instruction at the local range. I had a very difficult time going from an environment where all of my closest friends were fellow gun enthusiasts to one where guns were thought to be inherently evil. Kohn's article confirmed that my friends and I aren't as abnormal as the up-and-coming lawyers at my school believe. I look forward to reading her book on American gun enthusiasts.
I read Abigail Kohn's article with interest, surprise, and enjoyment. I got out of a highly specialized Navy unit in 1971, convinced that, having survived the Vietnam war, I wasn't ever going to need a weapon again. Unfortunately, the United States was a more dangerous place for me than Vietnam. It is a perfect irony that the only time I've ever been hit by a bullet was in Aspen, Colorado—the Mecca of rich Berkeley refugees.
I promptly rethought my distaste for weaponry, and got into combat pistol shooting, which I've now been practicing for about 25 years. Among other things, I found it to be a great diversion from the stress involved in surviving law school. In terms of stress reduction, I found it to be slightly better than martial arts and not quite as good as distance swimming.
Recently I've become hooked on "clay" shooting—trap, skeet, and sporting clays. There's something completely satisfying about blowing a clay frisbee out of the sky, knowing you have been able to get out into the sun and fresh air, generate some noise, exercise a skill, and harm no living thing.
There are a large number of subcultures within the larger "gun culture" the author describes. There are the folks who shoot race guns, combat shooters, extreme-accuracy riflemen, black-powder enthusiasts, full-auto people, and hunters, among others. I am grateful that Kohn's essay informed non-shooting readers of the attractiveness of at least one element of this community, along with the fact that its participants are more-or-less sane people.
Los Angeles, CA
"Their Aim Is True" discusses a segment of gun enthusiasts who are perfectly good citizens. But what of the irresponsible segment, consisting of thieves, kids, and others who feel that guns give them power and control over everyone else? What of the mentally ill who kill without social consciousness?
Handguns have no place in a civilized society. Rifles and shotguns can be justified for pleasure and hunting, but handguns only have one purpose—to kill people—and for that reason should be banned or at least regulated. The government through the Second Amendment should not be sanctifying murder.
Hernando de Soto's interpretation of frontier America ("Citadels of Dead Capital," May) would be admirable for its simplicity if it did not also distort the record. The capital that was "created" was the untapped, readily exploitable natural wealth of a continent whose previous "owners" were subdued by military force.
The 19th-century laws that evolved to codify extra-legal settlement in the United States arose less from accommodation than from the machinations, philosophies, economic competition, and protectionism of political factions in the developed regions—particularly the North-South schism.
Even the improvised mining laws that the author praises were notoriously deficient. They allowed speculators to tie up resources, novices to squander them, and lawyers to prosper from a tsunami of litigation that was only partially tamed by subsequent federal legislation. Finally, after laws and surveys made possible the acquisition of title, the frontier experience hovered at a Third World subsistence level until massive infusions of capital, much of it federal and foreign, provided expensive infrastructure and market access.
In order to be useful, historical lessons must be carefully crafted.
What a wonderful essay by Brian Doherty ("Comics Tragedy," May). And how ironic: a literary commentary on meta-commentaries on a literary form that has long been regarded with scorn.
I once read a book about science fiction as a literary genre called Science Fiction, Today and Tomorrow. It pointed out that few novels have been acknowledged as both genuine science fiction and serious literature. Yet it also argued that science fiction serves as the morality play of our time. It gives us a safe distance from which to view ourselves, often as a culture.
Superheroes can do that, but they can also provide us with insight into ourselves as individuals. What better way to examine what values should guide us if we could remove all of the fears and needs of survival?
I greatly enjoyed Brian Doherty's article. I've read comics since my mid-teens, when I was re-introduced to them through non-mainstream titles like Elfquest and Mage. Along with Watchmen, there were other titles coming out in the early '80s that started breaking the rules about superheroes. These include the first dozen installments of Elementals, which gradually lost its originality as it grew more mainstream, and The Tick, which was devilishly good at making fun of the superhero genre.
But Doherty didn't mention The Sandman—perhaps the greatest mainstream attempt to break with the standard comic book and push into the realm of literature. I consider it one of the grandest fantasy stories written since The Lord of the Rings. It has the largest following of non-comic book readers ever.
As a reader of comic books who went on to graduate Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in English literature, I stand up as an example of someone who didn't become illiterate from reading the stuff.
That said, I don't read U.S. comics anymore. I still like graphic storytelling but resent the focus on superhero stories that strangles the genre here. Fortunately, we're not the only country in the world that produces comics. The United States is not even close to being the industry leader, in terms of dollar value of the product, number of readers, diversity of subject material, or any other metric you care to name.
Japan leads. If you yearn for comics but find the U.S. industry stagnant, look to the land of the rising sun. The Japanese manga industry is immensely profitable, diverse, and enthusiastic. Regrettably, a lot of manga is unavailable in translation. Producing English versions isn't easy and the market isn't huge.
A few companies do it anyway. Viz Communications is currently doing Akimi Yoshida's Banana Fish, a shoujo (for girls) manga with gangs, drugs, guns, assassination, the Corsican Mafia, the Chinese Mafia, and assorted other girlish topics. It's a mystery with a sprawling plot, huge cast, shifting alliances—an engaging read.
Jessica U. Gothie
"Comics Tragedy" is a very thoughtful essay on the cultural implications of American comics, but I must differ with Doherty on a peripheral point, which happens to be in my field. He writes, "Look at the fate of another form of pop entertainment-radio drama. There was no unique thing that it provided better than any other art form, and it died."
Radio drama is unique in that it is a theater of the mind's eye. The imagination of the listener is an important component of the art form: "I saw it on radio." Radio drama is still thriving in many parts of the world. It is the people's theater. Everyone has a radio.
Why radio drama in America died is open to numerous interpretations. Talent and money went to the more glamorous and remunerative media—TV and films. At that time, radio drama was fairly expensive to produce.
New technologies have made production inexpensive and easy. Experienced senior actors would be thrilled to perform on radio. The radio industry, which is currently very profitable, owes it to the American public to broadcast drama. The Writers Guild of America East is leading a campaign to make short radio drama a regular feature on commercial and public dials in the United States. Please stay tuned.
Short Radio Drama Committee