An excerpt from Gun Guys


In Gun Guys, Dan Baum writes about attending the funeral of T.B.C. Brass Band saxophonist Brandon Franklin, a friend Baum had made when he was living in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and filing dispatches for The New Yorker.

As I'd discovered a few months earlier at Brandon's funeral, everything about wearing a gun in New Orleans was complicated. I loved the city, but hideous things happened to people even in "good" parts of town. It was one of the few places on my gun-guy walkabout where I was glad I was licensed to carry a gun.

  At the same time, carrying made me feel guilty. Perhaps because of the violence in their streets and the levee disaster in their recent past, New Orleanians had developed a culture of sweetness and tenderness toward one another that was unlike anything I'd seen elsewhere. It was a kind of hippie aesthetic — the easygoing, huggy closeness of a big mourning family. A musician friend, Paul Sanchez, had painted on the front of his guitar This machine surrounds sadness and forces it to surrender. When I saw that, all I could think was: The machine under my jacket creates sadness. To be carrying around the device that had wreaked so much horror on the people of New Orleans felt like betrayal. Even if it made me feel safer, it made me lonely. The gun had lowered a screen between me and the people I loved. It made me careful how I hugged. It made it hard to take off my jacket in a hot restaurant. It made me feel like a traitor to all that New Orleanians were trying to accomplish. The thought of having to send more bullets whizzing through its fragrant, damp air was almost unbearable.

  I left Peter Benoit in the early evening and wandered over to listen to the Jazz Vipers at the Spotted Cat. Standing outside with some friends was Tommy Malone, lead guitarist of the subdudes. We talked awhile, and when I said I was headed to a bar in an especially rough neighborhood, Malone said, "Whoa. Got a pistol?"

  "I do," I replied, and everybody laughed.

— From Gun Guys (Alfred A. Knopf; 316 pp.; $26.95). © 2013 Dan Baum.

Add a comment