Through poetry and prose, parents, poets, politicians, social and political activists, and survivors of indiscriminate individual and mass shootings, express their thoughts and feelings about gun violence in the United States. The writing is presented in a call and response format: first a poem and then a prose commentary. In the introduction, novelist Colum McCann states why poetry is a good place to begin, "The poems assert the possibility of language rather than bullets to open our veins.” He emphasizes why discussion is invaluable by quoting the Algerian poet and journalist Tahar Djaout, who was killed in Algiers in 1993 for writing and speaking about progress, secularism and support of open-minded thoughts and ideas, “If you speak, you die. If you keep quiet, you die. So, speak and die." McCann reminds us that no one wants to die, but it is better to have a conversation about unacceptable acts of violence than ignore them. If one man, Tahar Djaout, was willing to risk his life by writing about freedom of expression, then it is important to continue our discussion about ending gratuitous killings caused by gun violence in the United States.
With comments from people who have lost family and friends, the book opens up the conversation about the ongoing grief, pain and anger caused by both random and deliberate gun assaults. The collection was not intended as a polemic, with good or bad guys or good or bad guns, but as guidance in begining and continuing a very difficult exchange of thoughts and feelings.
In the foreword to the poems and prose, former Congresswoman Gabrielle (Gabby) Giffords, a victim of gun violence, and her husband, Captain Mark Kelly, present a definitive statement about their commitment to ending gun violence.