Editor's Note — May 16, 2013, 1:43 pm

Introducing the June Issue of Harper’s Magazine

Why the AR-15 rifle is here to stay, the conspiracy theories of Room 237, and more

Harper’s Magazine, June 2013

Growing up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan as a middle-class, private-schooled girl in the 1960s, I didn’t think much about guns. Nor did I become interested in gun violence even during the city’s turbulent 1970s. My only experience handling a gun came in my senior year in high school when a boyfriend took me out to rural Long Island to shoot a .22 at targets, which I have to admit was fun.

But now Dan Baum, the author of Gun Guys, tells me, in the June issue of Harper’s Magazine, that 300 million (!) guns are in circulation at this moment in the U.S., and for those people they must also be fun to use. The AR-15 rifle — now the most popular rifle in America — was used in both the Aurora, Colorado, and Newtown, Connecticut, shootings. Twenty percent of all guns sold in the U.S. in 2011, and over 50 percent of all rifles, were AR-15s. Baum attributes the popularity of the AR-15 to the fact that hunters, sport shooters, and home defenders can buy a host of accessories for it. The rifle has so many interchangeable parts that it has been nicknamed “Lego for grownups” and “Barbie for men.”

Any legislation to control assault rifles will be meaningless because there are so many of these guns in circulation and they’re so easy to assemble: only one central part of the rifle has a serial number, and all of its other parts can be ordered by mail. In his highly informative and provocative report, Baum tells us why reasonable people must begin to think differently about the gun problem in America: the smart question we should be posing, he says, is not “How can we ban more guns?” but “How can we live more safely among the millions of guns already floating around?” He offers answers to both questions.

Rebecca Solnit’s sympathetic history of leprosy, an illness that I and millions of others shuddered to imagine when we were learning about the Middle Ages, brings us up to date on the enormous progress that’s been made treating what is more accurately called Hansen’s disease, which is now largely curable, though the stigma attached to it persists. Leprosy, explains Solnit in “The Separating Sickness,” is actually two diseases: “the physical effects and the social response to them.” And, contrary to what most of us believe, it is not contagious — it is an infection caused by a bacterium, Mycobacterium leprae, which 95 percent of us are naturally immune to. Moreover, it does not cause people’s skin to just fall off: because the disease affects the nervous system, those few who contract it are unable to feel irritation or pain and are therefore prone to unknowingly hurt themselves.

In his letter from Mato Grasso, Brazil, “Promised Land,” Glenn Cheney chronicles the failure of agrarian land reform in the Amazon basin. Brazil is unique in that the country’s constitution mandates the redistribution of public lands to any landless citizen who applies. But absentee landowners, brutal military police, and a level of graft so endemic as to constitute a national sport mean that peasants rarely receive the property pledged to them. Their main champion, whom Cheney observes on her daily rounds, is a 67-year-old nun named Sister Leonora Brunetto, who stands up for the peasants despite constant death threats.

Jay Kirk writes on Room 237a documentary about the multiple conspiracy theories attached to Stanley Kubrick’s popular movie The Shining. As Kirk investigates the film, which was produced by his cousin Tim, he begins recalling dark bits of his family’s past. The result is a hybrid of memoir and criticism that resembles the theories put forth by the obsessives interviewed in the documentary. Some of these theories: the movie is really about the genocide of Native Americans; the movie is really about the Holocaust; the movie is not really the story of a possessed hotel keeper but a series of erotic gags. “The Shining acts like a kind of cultural black hole,” Kirk writes, “or maybe a bottomless elevator shaft, sucking everything in — myth, meaning, pattern, parody, context, irony, interpretation — until it’s all crushed and flattened to where one no longer needs to connect the dots because there is only one dot.”

In the Readings lead essay this month, former Democratic senator Jim Webb is sharply critical of a passive Congress that should have asserted itself — as is its historical obligation — to prevent both George Bush and Barack Obama from engaging the country in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. Also in the section: the Montana State Legislature proposes a bill to allow drivers to take home with them animals they’ve killed with their cars; notes from Virginia Woolf’s 1927 “bulletin” of household events; a short story by Diane Williams; and a transcript from a 1983 recording of the legendary Orson Welles pitching an idea for a film to HBO.

Share
Single Page

More from Ellen Rosenbush:

Editor's Note October 19, 2014, 7:51 pm

Introducing the November 2014 Issue

Doug Henwood on stopping Hillary Clinton, fighters and potential recruits discuss the rise of the Islamic State, the inevitability of factory farming, and more

Editor's Note September 12, 2014, 12:41 pm

Introducing the October 2014 Issue

Rebecca Solnit on silencing women, a Marine commander returns to Iraq, the decline of PBS, and more

Editor's Note August 13, 2014, 6:28 pm

Introducing the September 2014 Issue

Where Israel and Palestine can go from here, Washington D.C.’s enduring legacy of racial strife, Edward O. Wilson on free will, and more

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

  • Doug

    Please don’t mention that a AR 15 was used in newtown shooting, it was hand guns that were used. You must not include this until you have proof that it was. Both rifles were in the trunk of the car. They had a security system in the school with camera’s, we still have not seen one image as of yet! Journalism is dead, you must clarify your statements before you write this article! You must remove this from you article!

    DA

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

November 2014

Stop Hillary!

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

How the Islamic State was Won

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Cage Wars

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Everyday Grace

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Stop Hillary!·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"What Hillary will deliver, then, is more of the same. And that shouldn’t surprise us."
Photograph by Joe Raedle
Article
Cage Wars·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"In the 1970s, “Chickens’ Lib” was a handful of women in flower-print dresses holding signs, but in the past decade farm hens have become almost a national preoccupation."
Photograph by Adam Dickerson/Big Dutchman USA, courtesy Vande Bunte Farms
Article
Paradise Lost·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Suffering Sappho! Here we still are, marching right into yet another century with our glass ceilings, unequal pay, unresolved work and child-care balance, and still marrying, forever marrying, men."
Illustration by Anthony Lister
Article
Off the Land·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Nearly half the reservation lives below the poverty line, with unemployment as high as 60 percent, little to no infrastructure, few entitlements, a safety net that never was, no industry to speak of, and a housing crisis that has been dire not for five years but since the reservation’s founding in 1855."
Illustration by Stan Fellows
Post
Introducing the November 2014 Issue·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Doug Henwood on stopping Hillary Clinton, fighters and potential recruits discuss the rise of the Islamic State, the inevitability of factory farming, and more

Cover photo by Reuters/Jonathan Ernst

Average number of days an oiled seabird survives in the wild after cleaning and release:

6

Epilepsy drugs can extend the life of worms by 50 percent.

A deaf dog belonging to a deaf owner was shot and killed in Alabama, and an Indiana dog’s skin troubles were found to be caused by an allergy to humans. “It’s just not his fault,” said the owner of Lucky Dog Retreat.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today