Robert VerBruggen's dad, a cop with 20 years' experience on Wisconsin's State Patrol, relies on armed self-defense to get him through the workday. That gives the younger VerBruggen an extra reason to be outraged at the case of Hale DeMar, a father of two who defended his kids by shooting an intruder–and then was slapped with a fine for violating a local handgun ban. A journalism student at Northwestern University, VerBruggen decided to follow DeMar's story; he unraveled a tale that became more absurd at every turn. "The case," VerBruggen says, "shows how difficult it can be to assert a right to armed self-defense in America." He explains why in "Self-Defense vs. Municipal Gun Bans" (page 40).

Former Reason Editor Virginia Postrel has experienced the "option overload" that some critics decry as a flaw in free markets. "I was picking out a watch," she explains, "and I freaked out." Nevertheless, the author of The Substance of Style isn't ready to do away with our ever-increasing quantity of choices. In "Consumer Vertigo" (page 48), she argues that a world of variety, while sometimes overwhelming, represents economic progress–and that it's producing the very tools that let us learn to live with it. "Since different people care intensely about different things," she writes, "only a society where choice is abundant everywhere can truly accommodate the variety of human beings."

Before settling in Illinois as a freelance writer, Stephen J. Lyons spent time as a tree planter in Washington state, a tofu maker in Northern California, and a hop picker in Oregon (where he was fired for telling the foreman he had "bad karma"). Having lived in eight states and held many more jobs over 30 years, Lyons brings an expansive knowledge of American life to his work. In "The Fog of War" (page 59), he delves into two books that offer starkly different portraits of post-9/11 America. Navigating between Richard Miniter's Shadow War and Matthew Brzezinski's Fortress America, Lyons asks how vulnerable America really is.