I’ve previously written two posts on the history of concealed weapons laws in the United States based on Brian Anse Patrick’s book, Rise of the Anti-Media: In-Forming America’s Concealed Weapon Carry Movement. In the first post, I noted that this book was “unfortunately named.” The main title suggests a focus on “anti-media” and the subtitle uses an unfamiliar formulation, “in-forming.” But the most interesting parts of the book are a history of the concealed carry movement, especially the rise of shall-issue concealed carry laws, which a lot of people who are potentially interested would never see due to the title.
Attending a film screening and discussion on gun violence recently moved me to revisit Patrick’s work on this topic. In the post-film discussion, a local representative from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (MDA) talked about their legislative strategy to fight the NRA. She gave the examples of a Connecticut legislator post-Sandy Hook who received hundreds of calls against further gun control and only a handful of calls in favor. So, MDA – and now Everytown for Gun Safety – has taken to the grassroots to fight legislative fire with fire.
So, even though the NRA was criticized for being funded by the gun industry and not its members and for advocating policy positions not in line with its members, at the end of the day when the NRA Institute for Legislative Action says “jump,” a certain portion of the membership says “how high?” At the same time, we don’t want to naively conclude that just because the NRA is pro-gun and the concealed carry legislation is pro-gun, that the one causes the other.
In light of this discussion about the NRAs lobbying power, I went back to Patrick’s book to look at his explanations for the success of the concealed carry movement in pressing for shall-issue carry laws in the United States, arguably the greatest liberalization of gun laws in the history of the country.
PATRICK EXPLAINS SUCCESS
Patrick offers 4 major explanations for the success of the concealed weapon carry movement:
(1) The use of what he calls the “anti-media.” Proponents of concealed carry bypass the traditional news media and use horizontal media and communication strategies instead. The diffusion of shall-issue concealed carry and of the World Wide Web from the 1990s on is not a mere coincidence by this argument.
(2) Gun culture is stronger than anti-gun culture. In his words, “gun culture is more robustly concrete-organic, if you will, than anti-gun culture” (p. xvi). He elaborates, “saying that American gun culture is organic means it is a true group, or set of true groups, with members quite often in direct interpersonal contact with one another, and the association is based largely on mutual interests in guns and gun politics” (pp. xvi-xvii).
Anti-gun groups, by contrast, are more purposive and issue-oriented, the members don’t have relationships beyond their advocacy, and there are no behavioral correlates to it. In this sense, anti-gun culture is not really even a culture. It is a collection of people with a common attitude toward guns. Hence, the mobilization problem historically faced by gun control advocates.
Patrick characterizes the groups that constitute the new gun culture as “horizontal interpretive communities,” which are “relatively small groups of people connected to one another as equals, practicing the living democracy of the small group” (p. 63), which is facilitated by anti-media. “Modern anti-gun advocates,” by contrast, “have functioned mainly as professionally administered vertical bureaucracies, sometimes temporarily exciting mass attitudes or simulating mass support, but essentially lacking meaningful horizontal mobilization” (p. 64).
This is not just Patrick being critical of the anti-gun movement, either. The MDA representative’s comments noted above affirm that this is a challenge they are trying to address.
(3) A bridge to Gun Culture 2.0. In addition to being rooted in gun culture, the concealed carry movement has been seen and used as a mechanism of recruitment of new members into gun culture. Patrick describes these people as “previously unavailable or unaligned with the traditional gun culture. While traditional gun culture has tended to replicate through generations — the sons and daughters of gun owners and shooters carry on its practices and beliefs — the concealed carry movement represents something new and different. It propagates. Many women, minorities, and professionals, a collection of persons with no direct ties to any family tradition of gun ownership, have come into the fold of shall issue concealed carry” (p. xvii). Here we see both the distinction and connection between Gun Culture 1.0 and Gun Culture 2.0.
(4) Last, and most broadly, Patrick argues that the concealed carry movement represents a successful new social construction of reality. Specifically, the social construction of the reality that owning and carrying a personal sidearm is an individual, not a collective, right (p. xviii). This reality motivates the political involvement of pro-gun communities, and also becomes a reality against which anti-gun culture must fight.
To return to my thought at the outset: it is interesting to note that none of Patrick’s explanations for the rise of shall-issue concealed carry center on the importance of the National Rifle Association. In fact, he argues that the diffusion of concealed carry was the result of a bottom-up social movement not a centrally coordinated effort.
Because shall-issue concealed carry is enacted at the state level, the movement became more organized at the state level, in the form of groups like the United Sportsmen of Florida, Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners, Buckeye Firearms Association, the CalGuns Foundation, Grass Roots North Carolina, and so on. In fact, in many places state and local gun activists have been none too pleased at the NRA coming in and claiming credit for the victories they won at the state level. Patrick observes, when the Florida shall-issue law was signed by Bob Martinez, “there was no fanfare over a great gun movement victory. … If anyone at the NRA headquarters understood what was happening, they certainly weren’t officially talking about it” (p. 83).