Jonathan M. Metzl

What We’ve Become

Living and Dying in a Country of Arms


A penetrating look at our failed attempts to curb gun violence….Metzl’s argument is consistently persuasive….A powerful, convincing effort to reframe the discussion around gun control and its discontents.”

✰ Named a New York Times Editor’s Choice Pick ✰

A searing reflection on the broken promise of safety in America.

When a naked, mentally ill white man with an AR-15 killed four young adults of color at a nearby Waffle House, Nashville-based physician and gun policy scholar Dr. Jonathan M. Metzl once again advocated for commonsense gun reform. But as he peeled back evidence surrounding the racially charged mass shooting, a shocking question emerged: Did the approach he championed have it all wrong?

Long a leading expert at the forefront of a movement advocating for gun reform as a matter of public health, Dr. Metzl has been on constant media call in the aftermath of fatal shootings. But the 2018 Nashville killings led him on a path toward recognizing the limitations of biomedical frameworks for fully diagnosing or treating the impassioned complexities of American gun politics. Increasingly, as Dr. Metzl came to understand it, public health is a harder sell in a nation that fundamentally disagrees about what it means to be safe, healthy, or free. This brilliant, piercing analysis shows mass shootings as a symptom of our most unresolved national conflicts. What We’ve Become ultimately sets us on the path of alliance-forging, racial-reckoning, and political power-brokering we must take to put things right.

Praise for What We’ve Become

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  • I know of few other thinkers who so consistently diagnoses what ails America. Jonathan Metzl has once again identified a cultural fault line in how we process care in this country and shown us its racialized dimensions. This is the clarion call everyone who professes concern about the state of guns in this country. As Metzl shows, the NRA has long known what the left has not — the gun debate is won through hearts and minds and not statistics. If we stand a chance in hell of fighting back and remaking America in the image of gun safety, we need this book, now!”

    — Michael Eric Dyson, New York Times bestselling author of Tears We Cannot Stop
  • In What We’ve Become, leading gun policy scholar Jonathan Metzl probes the question many of us ask each time another mass shooting occurs: how can lawmakers allow the slaughter to continue unabated despite its obvious toll on human lives? Metzl compellingly rejects the public health approach he once promoted, which frames gun violence as a biomedical problem and fails to grapple with the racism that shapes both its causes and proposed solutions. His call to see gun safety instead as a political issue in need of a social justice response makes an essential contribution to the raging national debate.”

    — Dorothy Roberts, author of Killing the Black Body
  • Jonathan Metzl has done it again. This genre-changing book tells the story of a harrowing, racially charged mass shooting in Nashville, Tennessee — powerfully rethinking many of the core assumptions that public health has traditionally tied to gun violence in this country. The implications of this vital work are immense, far reaching, and necessarily disruptive.

    — Aletha Maybank, MDMPH
  • This extraordinary book takes a deep dive into an act of racialized aggression in Nashville to show how our collective failure to stop mass shootings betrays the democracy envisaged by the framers of our Constitution: a democracy where people with differing viewpoints solve common problems by peaceful means.”

    — Callie Kouri, Academy Award winning screenwriter, producer, and director; creator of the series Nashville
  • We Americans find ourselves, quite literally and too often, staring down the barrel of a gun. The question now is how are we going to react, not just to protect our families but also our democracy. Through his analysis of the Waffle House shooting and a requisite examination of race, governance, imagination, and social interaction, Jonathan Metzl challenges all conventional notions of how we should respond to this fully loaded threat to our republic. What We’ve Become is must-read material for policymakers, changemakers and advocates.”

    — Rep. John Ray Clemmons, Chairman, Tennessee House Democratic Caucus
  • Jonathan Metzl has his finger on the pulse of another critical blind spot in American culture. This time he turns his attention to how the gun control movement has misunderstood the ideological significance of firearms and mass shootings, over-investing in public health, and ignoring the underlying motivations of race. This book will change the way we think about guns in America, and about the America armed and defined by guns.”

    — Brittney Cooper, New York Times bestselling author of Eloquent Rage
  • What We’ve Become” is a lamentation for the senseless epidemic of gun violence that punctuates our everyday lives in the United States, killing loved ones, injuring families, destroying communities, and traumatizing society. It’s also a revelation. Compelled by the immensity of this national tragedy to question dearly held theories and his own medical expertise, Jonathan Metzl, puts forth an unflinching diagnosis of the origins of this rampant violence. Dr. Metzl uncovers an epidemic with both a social and political etiology, the remedy for which will require an honest accounting of American society’s racial fissures and courageous policy solutions. A brave book from a visionary thinker that will save lives and should fundamentally change the way policymakers think about how to protect them.”

    — Alondra Nelson, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University