While I’m at it with the media, I thought I would post comments on American gun culture I shared recently with a journalist from at the French daily newspaper Le Monde. The comments offer a summarize of some of my overarching views of American gun culture, for what they are worth. They are what I would tell anyone wondering about the place of guns in American society.
The journalist wrote me by email to say she is “writing an article regarding gun control and its’ role in American culture. I am looking specifically at the news bills, including HR 38 [national concealed carry reciprocity], introduced in the Senate after the Scalise shooting.” She posed two different questions:
- As an expert in the field, I was looking to get your perspective on why Americans, across party lines, hold onto the Second Amendment so adamantly despite ongoing shootings.
- From a sociological perspective, what fuels the American fascination with gun and how much of this culture is orchestrated by politicians and lobbyists?
My full email response is below. You will see I basically ignore the first question and focus on the second. To date, she has not published anything using my thoughts, and given that they are unlikely to fit her gun control after Scalise shooting storyline, I doubt she will.
Concealed carry reciprocity, the substance of HR 38, is not a new idea. Some pro-gun groups in the US have been advocating for it for several years now. So, rather than commenting on that issue specifically – though I could do that, also – I will focus on the bigger issues at stake raised by your questions.
You ask: From a sociological perspective, what fuels the American fascination with guns and how much of this culture is orchestrated by politicians and lobbyists?
Two part question, so two part answer.
First, it is important for anyone trying to understand the relationship of Americans to guns to recognize that for a large part of the population of the United States, guns are a perfectly normal part of life. A majority of the population currently lives with a gun in their house or has in the past. A sizeable minority have thought about or are actively considering acquiring a gun. 7 out of 10 American adults have actually fired a gun at some point in their lives. That is nearly 180 million people.
Looked at the other way around: A minority of American adults have never shot a gun.
For some Americans, there is a true fascination with guns – their history, their mechanical operation, what they can do, and what they stand for. These people are not unlike collectors or aficionados or obsessives in other areas of life like automobiles, trains, boats, or bicycles.
For some of these people, there is more of a practical or pragmatic approach to guns – their usefulness as tools to accomplish certain tasks like hunting, recreation, or self-defense.
For a sizeable minority of the US population, guns are a perfectly normal part of everyday life. Something kept around the house or in the car or on their person in the (more or less likely, depending on their circumstances) event that they need to defend themselves.
Although polls are imperfect, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center has recently reported that over 1 in 10 American adults claim to carry their handguns outside the home at least some of the time. If true, that is almost 30 million people. In the same survey, 7% of all adult respondents said they had used a gun to defend themselves or their possessions, whether they fired the gun or not. That is an estimated 17,461,810 adults in the US. That is alot of people. (See: https://gunculture2point0.wordpress.com/2017/07/12/exploring-americas-complex-relationship-with-guns-pew-research-center-part-3-gun-carrying-and-defensive-use/)
What I have argued about social scientists studying guns may apply to journalists as well. The strong, one might even say excessive, focus on the criminology and epidemiology of gun violence impedes the ability to understand the normality of legal use of guns by lawful gun owners in the United States. The vast majority of gun owners will never directly experience any major negative outcomes due to their ownership of guns. (See my recently published scholarly article: https://gunculture2point0.wordpress.com/2017/06/16/the-sociology-of-u-s-gun-culture-article-published-and-available-free-online/.)
Although the reasons for American’s attachment to guns are manifold, it is also true that the center of gravity of American gun culture is shifting away from the historic Gun Culture 1.0 emphasis on hunting, recreational shooting, and collecting to the contemporary Gun Culture 2.0 emphasis on armed self-defense. Which provides a point of transition to your second question.
Influential politicians and lobbyists are part of American gun culture and can influence gun culture by promoting or rejecting certain legislative initiatives. However, they do not determine (“orchestrate,” to use your term) American gun culture. As a part of American gun culture they exist in a symbiotic relationship with the broader culture, sometimes playing a more leading role and sometimes a more subordinate role.
Take the National Rifle Association, for example. It played an instrumental role in the “shall-issue” concealed carry revolution that swept the country in the 1980s and 1990s. However, the NRA was not always on the leading edge of promoting armed self-defense. In fact, it was only after an organizational coup – the “Revolt at Cincinnati” in 1977 – that the NRA took up a more aggressive legislative posture. Even after the concealed carry revolution, the NRA played a more supportive than leading role in developing the culture of concealed carry. There was much more dynamism and development at the grassroots level that the NRA took advantage of as opposed to orchestrating.
This last observation is a major focus of my work on Gun Culture 2.0.
I can say much more, and there is much more on my blog (http://www.gunculture2point0.com) if you care to follow up.