"Lethal Passage: How the Travels of a Single Handgun Expose the Roots of America’s Gun Crisis", by Erik Larson - Book Review

Lethal Passage is equally one of the most fascinating and terrifying books I have ever read. As the title indicates, author Erik Larson follows a specific gun, a Cobray M-11/9, from manufacture to its penultimate ending point, in the hands of sixteen year old Nicholas Elliot, who took it to school for a shooting spree that resulted in the death of one teacher and serious injury of another.

Throughout the gun’s journey, Larson takes a hard look into the "gun problem" that exists in this country. The most shocking part about this book is that it was written over twenty years ago and, despite the stark realities he presents, if anything, things have only gotten worse.

Nicholas’ gun of choice, the Cobray, is a dangerously made gun that is good for nothing. Experts espouse that it is too clumsy for target practice and unfit for hunting. But it is black, ugly, and heavy – a Darth Vader among guns – and became a favorite of the criminal element because of its looks and a curious marketing campaign pitching it as “the gun that made the 80's roar.”

How Nicholas got the gun, who went to prison because of the transaction, and how the law treats dealers more leniently than individuals is all part of what makes this book so incredible.

Larson posits that getting a Federal Firearms License should be AT LEAST as hard as getting a driver’s license. When Larson wrote the book in 1993, all that was required to get the license was a brief application and $30 fee. I checked and now, in 2016, the price has gone up to a whopping $200 and you can check that you intend to sell your firearms from your “single family dwelling, condominium/apartment, hotel/motel, or public housing.”

The research that Larson put into this book was exhaustive. He became a federally licensed arms dealer himself so that he could see how the process worked and to gain entry into gun shows where public and private sellers hawk their firearm wares, anything from guns to silencers to limitless rounds of ammo.

He delves into the language of the Second Amendment, the American gun culture, the creation of the ATF out of the IRS, the founding of the NRA and the evolution of its leadership and growth, how guns so quickly get into the wrong hands through “migration,” and how almost all guns have managed to skirt product safety requirements. He even distinguishes between “safe” guns (the Glock 9mm, carried by most law officers) vs. the Cobray (carried by no law officers).

Everyone from NRA card-carrying gun enthusiasts to those who believe all guns should be permanently banned should read this book. It is a history lesson and eye opener all in one, and it is hard to argue with Larson’s premise that even the most cautious of gun owners should not be threatened by increased regulations on gun production, licensing and ownership.

Published: 1995
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Elizabeth's rating: 5 stars