Rolling Stone’s Coverage of Guns in America: With Friends Like These. . .

I really have more important things to be doing right now, but in my morning check of social media I saw some references to a big to-do on Rolling Stone magazine’s website about “America’s Gun Violence Epidemic.”

I don’t read Rolling Stone, but I did not have high expectations for a series on guns based on the experience of writer Dan Baum, who has published in Rolling Stone. In his book Gun Guys, which I have previously reviewed, Baum recalls writing an article for Men’s Journal magazine about the Wikieup machine gun shoot, but “for the first time in my twenty-five-year career had an article killed for explicitly political reasons.” What was the reason? “It’s not anti-gun enough,” the editor told him, to satisfy Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, who also publishes Men’s Journal (p. 90).

In the little I have read, Rolling Stone has managed to underwhelm even my low expectations. Perhaps the rest of the series is better, but the only usefulness of the photo essay on “The 5 Most Dangerous Guns in America” is humor. Except that people take this seriously, so it’s not really that funny. It’s actually so bad that, for people who favor greater gun restrictions in America, with friends like these, who needs enemies?

Screen capture from
Screen capture from

To begin with, the text on the landing page seen above declares: “Contrary to what those who defend the right to own high-powered assault rifles believe, not all guns are created equal. Due to a combination of availability, portability and criminal usage the following five types of guns are the country’s most dangerous.” In an attempt to be witty, the writer here simply confuses things. In the first place, if anyone knows that not all guns are the same, it is “gun nuts.” It is people who are anti-gun who think that all guns are created equal — equally bad.

It is the people who are anti-gun who have no real understanding of what different types of guns are and how they work. To wit: in the story taking down women and gun culture, the caption for the first picture say that Julianna Crowder is holding a “concealed handgun.” Huh? She is holding a pistol in front of her in this picture, so in what sense is it “concealed”? Or does the captioner mean that she is holding the handgun that she uses when she carries concealed? Well, any handgun can potentially be concealed, so again, this is just a demonstration of the weakness of the journalism here.

Screen capture from
Screen capture from

OK, back to the main point: “Contrary to what those who defend the right to own high-powered assault rifles believe, not all guns are created equal.” Looking through the slide show we come to find that, in fact, “high-powered assault rifles” (a subcategory of all rifles) are responsible for comparatively little criminal harm. I’ve made this point before on this blog. So, this language of “high-powered assault rifles” is simply journalistic muckraking meant to stoke the culture of fear around firearms.

“Due to a combination of availability, portability and criminal usage the following five types of guns are the country’s most dangerous”:
  1. pistols
  2. revolvers
  3. rifles
  4. shotguns
  5. derringers
Seeing this list, I wonder what guns are excluded? Truck mounted machine guns? Cannons? RPGs? I suspect that 99.9% of all guns held by private citizens in the United States fall into one of these 5 categories.
Therefore, the list can actually be presented more succinctly.The most dangerous guns in America are:
  1. Handguns (pistols, revolvers, derringers)
  2. Long guns (rifles, shotguns)
To distill it down even further, according to Rolling Stone, the most dangerous guns in America are:
  1. All of them

That seems to be the point of this Rolling Stone series in an anti-gun-nut-shell.


  1. I read Patrick’s book and found it well-written and fairly obvious (I mean the idea that the internet has created an alternate, horizontal channel for spreading information is about as profound as the idea that if I drive my car long enough I’ll need to put more gas in the tank) but on a more fundamental level the book left me with one basic question; namely, what is the definition of ‘gun culture?’ Patrick uses the term hundreds of times and basically argues that CCW is the issue over which the ‘new’ gun culture has spread. But he never defines the word ‘culture.’ From the way he tosses the term around you might think that anyone who owns a gun is somehow connected to ‘gun culture.’ But if he’s going to argue that ‘gun culture’ is growing, then he should explain why people decide to accept it, but what he does is he simply assumes that everyone who owns a gun is, by dint of gun ownership, sharing in gun culture. That’s a circular argument and I don’t buy it. Sorry, but I tend to read things closely.


    • Mike – I think it is a good question, what is “gun culture”? I can’t answer for myself comprehensively here and now because I am still working it out, but I think some preliminary points to consider are:

      1. There are gun cultureS (plural) not A gun culture (singular). I like Abigail Kohn’s book, *Shooters: Myths and Realities of America’s Gun Cultures* on this point.

      2. Cultures have different dimensions: implicit beliefs, knowledge, values, norms and how those are made explicit in material objects and practices. Understanding gun cultures means understanding these dimensions.

      3. Like all cultures, some gun cultures are very “thick” and some are “thin,” based on the extent of social interaction and commitment involved.

      4. And, of course, not everyone who owns a gun is part of any of these gun cultures.

      So, I do believe that there are gun cultures in America, and that there is an emerging gun culture that is centered on personal defense and concealed carry that is quite distinct from other gun cultures that have existed and continue to co-exist in American society. Of course, documenting that is a big part of what I am trying to do, so for now I will just assert it.


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