“The Social Life of Guns” Conference at Amherst College

As my gun blogger friend John Richardson noted, I spent a couple of days this past weekend in Western Massachusetts, attending a conference associated with the Copeland Colloquium at Amherst College. Seven of us had been invited to write and present papers on “The Symbolic and Material Construction of Guns,” and we were joined by Copeland Colloquium fellows, Amherst College faculty, and a couple of members of the public.

Although advertised as a “conference,” what took place was more of a workshop on our various papers. Because the papers were circulated in advance to most attendees, we each took just 5 minutes to say something about our work and each paper also had one commentator who also had 5 minutes. This left most of the hour set aside for each paper for other attendees to offer further comments, questions, and criticisms. It was very productive in that way.

My contribution was titled, “The First Rule of Gunfighting is Have a Gun“: Technologies of Concealed Carry in Gun Culture 2.0.

Based on my observations at the United States Concealed Carry Association’s 2nd annual “Concealed Carry Expo” last spring in Atlanta, I explored how various gun and gear technologies being sold at the CCX were designed to help people reconcile competing demands of concealed carry so they can observe the first rule of gun fighting: to CARRY YOUR DAMN GUN (as Tom Givens has put it).

This paper will be a chapter in a book that is to be produced from the conference, provisionally titled The Social Life of Guns, and an expanded version will be a chapter in my own book on Gun Culture 2.0. Alas, neither will see the light of (published) day until at least 2018 or 2019.

Because they are still works in progress, I do not want to say too much about the other papers that were presented, since the authors may change their minds based on the feedback given at the conference. But you can see the other presenters and topics in the schedule below. More than the typical criminologies and epidemiologies of violence often found in gun studies, these papers really did capture the various ways in which guns are a part of social life, broadly understood and from a variety of disciplinary perspectives (sociology, political science/theory, history, rhetoric, criminal justice/law).





  1. I look forward to reading all of the pieces, Anker’s looks really interesting, but I -really- want to read Zimring’s paper. His stuff is uniformly sound.

    One of the high points of my educational career was being asked by a Prof to be a commentator on a Philosophy colloquium that involved papers selected from students from around the country who flew up to present them. The paper I commented on involved symbolism and Batman, as I recall, but the high moment for me was introducing the faculty to the military concept of “embracing the suck” during a discussion about Duty.


      • Added to my ever-growing list. It would be interesting to see how many police shootings are fatal versus civilian* SD shootings, mutatis mutandis.

        Though there may be too much “mutatis” to make a sound comparison between when and why police fire compared to civilians.

        * Yes, yes, police are not military and thus “civilian,” but I’ve yet find a better nutshell distinction word.


      • Not sure if it gets at your point, but I have a chart on police compared to civilian justifiable homicides here: https://gunculture2point0.wordpress.com/2014/12/05/darren-wilson-george-zimmerman-and-justifiable-homicide-and-stand-your-ground-laws/

        One point that Zimring made in his presentation (which is apparently in his book) is that police officers who are alone are some great multiple times (like 9 or 10, maybe more?) more likely to kill than those who are not alone.

        Liked by 2 people

      • “…police officers who are alone are some great multiple times (like 9 or 10, maybe more?) more likely to kill than those who are not alone.”
        H1: When a perp is outnumbered, he is less likely to behave in a way that results in him getting shot.
        H2: Cops with partners are less likely to feel the need to quickly shoot in self defense.
        H3: Cops with partners know someone is watching.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Embracing the suck. Had not thought about that lately. Its a good expression. Never used it explicitly but psychologically used it more than once during a Century ride “bonk”, or the time I finished the Red River Century ride by climbing the last 9,000 foot pass in a freezing rainstorm. Most recently, when I had to wait to get out of a cast on my foot to schedule shoulder surgery. Spent from August to the end of November with various body parts opened up and/or immobilized. Embrace the suck indeed.

      Liked by 1 person

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