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This is the history- the life-of one gun. It is ingenious in its conception, understated in its unfolding, horrifying in its implications. It is a tale of convenience., excuses, rationalizations: of the scores of people, all of them innocents, who put a Mannlicher Carcano rifle into the hand of a young man in Dallas.

Henry S. Bloomgarden begins at the beginning: the manufacture of this rifle in a small Italian city in 1940. Produced for war, the gun sees war; retired by the post-liberation Italian government, it rests in uneasy repose in a warehouse. Then, it is refurbished, brokered, sold, transported, warehoused again, sold again, and again; finally, in its twenty-third year, the gun reaches Dallas.

Here is the Ministry of Defense in Rome, liquidating an old investment; here is a provincial Italian gunsmith, cheered by the prospect of rehabilitating a store of forgotten weapons; here are truckers unconcerned with their cargo, underwriters unaware of the nature of their investment, lawyers operating within the law.

Here is a financially distressed New York hat manufacturer, looking to the arms trade to save itself from bankruptcy; here are warehousers, loaders, wholesalers, a mail-order firm. In the background, incidental figures - congressmen debating gun laws, lobbyists serving sportsmen, police officials perplexed by soaring murder rates.