Who are the real gun owners?

A lawyer by training, John Grisham has penned some of the most popular thriller novels of recent years, most of which have become successful feature films.

Many of Grisham's stories involve courtroom drama and the legal battles. In "Runaway Jury," 12 jurors who have been investigated, manipulated and harassed by lawyers and consultants trying to secure a verdict must render a decision in a precedent-setting lawsuit against a giant tobacco company.

Juror No. 2, with the help of a beautiful woman on the outside, aims to make sure that the plaintiff wins big and the bad guys are hit hard.

When Hollywood buys rights to a novel, the screen adaptation can have significant changes. In Robin Cook's novel "Outbreak," for example, the bad guys try to put HMOs out of business by releasing flesh-eating bacteria. When "Outbreak" was adapted for the big screen, the military became the bad guy, breeding a killer bug for a weapon that got out of control and nearly devastated the nation.

When "Runaway Jury" was adapted into a feature film starring John Cusack, Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, and Rachel Weisz, the "bad guys" on trial were changed to a firearms manufacturer and a gun store that sold assault weapons.

Could such a scenario happen? Yes, but why change the story to make the gun industry the target? It would be nice to know.

The late actor Robert Stack was right on target when he said, "You meet the nicest people at a shooting range."

But the general public doesn't know that because many people have never touched a real gun, let alone shot one or been to a range. And as John Lott Jr. points out in his most important book "The Bias Against Guns," the media have a heavy negative bias against gun owners and firearms manufacturers.

People need to understand who gun owners and manufacturers really are in order to make reasonable decisions about gun issues and see through the anti-gun hysteria.

The sporting media portray firearms in a positive light, but, let's face it, the general public seldom sees or reads the outdoor press. The non-shooting, non-gun-owning public needs to be told the real story about guns, gun owners and gun manufacturers.

I am glad to call attention to a new book and a DVD about firearms and their owners that can help reach the general public in ways that previously have not been possible.

In "Shooters: Myths and Realities of America's Gun Culture," (Oxford University Press; $29.95) anthropologist Abigail A. Kohn uses ethnographic research with recreational shooters to shed light on America's gun culture.

Kohn paints accurate portrayals of those who she interviews and demonstrates that the core values of gun owners are freedom, independence, individualism and equality.

The book is well-written and can be easily grasped by the average reader, yet it is meticulously documented to satisfy the questioning academic.

Perhaps the only shortcoming is the small size of her sample; Kohn interviewed in-depth only 37 people — not a representative sample — but she does a good job of using these people to create a foundation to discuss considerable additional research on guns and their users.

To Kohn's credit, she admits she was not a shooter when she began her research and she expected to find people fitting the popular negative stereotypes. However, when she met so many friendly, safe and sane people as you tend to find at shooting ranges, she was transformed.

Kohn has not only has written a much-needed study about who firearms owners really are, she has ended up becoming a cowboy-action shooter herself.

This is a thoughtful book that will shoot down false demonizing stereotypes of the "gun culture" and help gun owners better understand how to change their image.

Her final chapter, offering advice for both gun owners and anti-gun activists offers some good advice for both sides on how to shed light on firearms laws and policy rather than just heat.

Targeting the UN

The United Nations has been actively pursuing the international control of small arms, including firearms, for more than a decade, and numerous governments around the world are seeking to regulate or ban firearms ownership and use.

Academics and scholars who understand the positive values of firearms have seldom been represented in the popular press or given easy access to the UN, adding to the problem of making reasonable policy.

In May 2003, the World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities sought to fill this vacuum by hosting an international firearms scholars' symposium dubbed "The Legal, Economic and Human Rights Implications of Civilian Firearms Ownership and Regulation." The program was held at the Tower Of London in England, surrounded by one of the great arms collections of the world.

There were some eight hours of presentations with speakers who included Simon Fraser University professor Gary Mauser, Independence Institute attorney and author David Kopel, Imperial War Museum curator David Penn, Robert Glock of Glock Arms Co., constitutional attorney and author Don Kates, author and attorney Stephen P. Halbrook, Skidmore College professor and author Mary Stange and yours truly, who still has a research academic appointment as a psychologist.

Forgive me for promoting my own work, but my production company, Snow Goose Productions, has distilled the WFSA program into the new 56-minute DVD "A Question of Balance."

Hosted by Guy Wilson, former director of the Royal Armouries, the DVD features numerous graphics, video footage and photos from around the world as speakers address such topics as gun registration and why it doesn't work; Switzerland's national obsession with shooting; and what the firearms industry is doing to try to help control illegal sales.

It also includes a special 13-minute overview of major topics covered so decision-makers cannot say that they didn't have time to watch the whole program.

"A Question of Balance" is being distributed to UN governments and non-government organizations alike in hopes of stimulating responsible firearms policy discussions.

Individual copies cost $16.95 , including shipping and handling (California residents add 7.5 percent tax) and are available from Snow Goose Productions, P.O. Box 2460, Mill Valley, CA 94942.

James Swan — who has appeared in more than a dozen feature films, including "Murder in the First" and "Star Trek: First Contact," as well as the television series "Nash Bridges," "Midnight Caller" and "Modern Marvels" — is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting." Click here to purchase a copy.

To learn more about Swan, visit his Web site.