Continuing my thinking about recreational gun culture as serious leisure that began with hunting, target/sport shooting is the main reason for gun ownership for a nearly 1 in 10 gun owners, and is a primary reason for gun ownership for as many as 3 in 10 gun owners.
In 2004 her book, Shooters, Abigail Kohn uses the phrase “gun enthusiasm” to characterize the orientation of the sport shooters she studied ethnographically in the San Francisco Bay Area. Kohn (2004, p. 9) argues, “At its most basic, gun enthusiasm is an enjoyment of and enthusiasm for firearms. Gun enthusiasts, like enthusiasts of any kind, take pleasure in the handling and use of the object of their pleasure.” In other words, they approach shooting as a form of serious leisure.
Although it was little noticed by sociologists studying guns — perhaps because it was published in a 1990 book on popular culture and social deviance — sociologist Barbara Stenross interviewed shooters for a study of “gun avocationists.” One shooter explained his enjoyment of shooting to Stenross by comparing it to another popular but less stigmatized recreational pursuit, golfing. “It’s my day off, people might ask if I play golf. Well, I don’t play golf, I shoot. ‘Shoot what?’ That upsets their world. Shoot what! Most people don’t understand that it can be a sport” (p. 59).
In fact, the shotgun sport known as “sporting clays” is often called “golf with a shotgun.” In sporting clays, the participant moves from station to station and shoots at clay targets that are thrown from different locations and in different directions, much like a golfer move from hole to hole, each of which is different.
Treating target shooting like any other legitimate leisure pursuit, a recent online survey utilized a 35 item Leisure Motivation Scale (LMS) and a 34 item Leisure Satisfaction Scale (LSS) to understand what gets and keeps target shooters involved in the activity. Articles based on this survey have been published in World Leisure Journal in 2014 and Sociology in Sport in 2015.
In terms of motivations, the highest rated reasons were “because it is fun” (mean of 4.83 out of 5), “to improve my marksmanship” (mean = 4.78), and “to challenge my abilities” (4.50). Factor analysis of the responses to the LMS identified 6 underlying components: escapism (34% of explained variance), social interaction (9.6%), self-actualization (7.9%), physical activity (6.2%), efficacy/skill (5.2%), and family history (3.9%) (Martin et al. 2014, pp. 212-13). Escapism included such items as “to relax” and “to relieve stress and tension,” characterizations of shooting guns that could be very foreign to those outside gun culture.
In terms of the satisfaction target shooters derive from their activity, “it is fun” (mean of 4.83 out of 5) and “I like it” (mean = 4.66) are the two most widely embraced responses. Factor analysis of the LSS survey responses identified 8 components: self-actualization (37.3% of explained variance), social interaction (7.2%), respite (5.7%), physical benefit (5.2%), connection (4.5%), technical (4.1%), and hedonic pleasure (3.8%) (Murray et al. 2015, pp. 9-10).
These quantitative data reinforce Kohn and others’ qualitative data on the pleasure and enjoyment people get from their participation in this aspect of recreational gun culture.
But simply, why do some people own guns? Because they are fun.