Understanding and Misunderstanding America’s Gun Culture

This past summer I was asked to write the concluding chapter for a book on Understanding American Gun Culture. The book was the product of a conference I wanted but was unable to attend and so I was happy to get involved after the fact. The book’s editors asked me to ponder the question, what’s next? It gave me an opportunity to reflect on my observation of and participation in American gun culture these past 6 plus years.

I submitted the manuscript at the end of August so I was surprised when I received the page proofs for my chapter last week. The turnaround time for academic books is usually counted in months (or years), not weeks. Clearly we have a motivated publisher here (Lexington Books, a division of the commercial academic publisher Rowman & Littlefield).

Forthcoming in Craig Hovey and Lisa Fisher, eds., Understanding America’s Gun Culture (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2017).

I don’t think it was an accident that the proofs were pushed out so quickly in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre. The topic of the book is timely. And what I say in this chapter about understanding and misunderstanding gun culture is similar, I think, to what I said in my NPR interview last week.

A PDF of the chapter is available here. Read and enjoy!

I am sharing the uncorrected page proofs here (as a PDF document) for anyone interested on my take. Get them while you can because once the book is published I will take them down.


  1. Bravo to you sir for your effort to move away from the partizan and partial study of our mutual interest. I want to share that but I wont without your express permission. I did save a copy for myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Please share with individuals who you think would benefit from reading it! There is a saying in academia that books chapters is where ideas go to die. Not many people will buy the book just to read my chapter, alas.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. End of first paragraph: “who is a gun trainer for the North Carolina State Police.” There is no NC State Police. It would could be the NC Highway Patrol, the State Bureau of Investigation, the State Capitol Police, or trainers from the Department of Public Safety.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. David – toward the end you state, “There are two zones of intersection between the legal culture of guns and criminal cultures that involve guns. The first is when “good guys with guns” become “bad guys with guns.” The second is a specific instance of the first, when legal gun owners provide guns to criminals’ in underground gun markets.” You are only talking about negative intersections with these two examples. Another zone of intersection is when the good guys use guns to stop the bad guys!

    Also, you state, “Although the bulk of trafficking in black market guns is done by individuals who have criminal backgrounds, some legal gun owners contribute to the black market through personal gun sales outside the criminal background check system.” I have not read the work by Cook referenced immediately prior to this passage. Does Cook give hard data supporting this conclusion, or is it just a possibility raised as a potential way guns might move to the black market? IOW, does Cook, or anyone else for that matter, actually know what % of guns move through the various channels to the black market?

    And like others, I wish that other social scientists of various favors were as objective and focussed on pursuing facts as you, instead of making data fit their agendas.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The somewhat sad takeaway is when people who have been left behind by the 21st Century economy try to find empowerment in carrying guns in what may well be a failing state. That is a poor substitute, at least in my opinion, for genuine economic and political empowerment. President Obama pissed people off when he talked about clinging to guns and bibles, but frankly, as a nation, we have divided into haves and have nots. Those most left behind voted for a president who used them maliciously to his own ends. Their guns and bibles may in fact be the most powerful things folks have in a world that increasingly values investment bankers and could care less about coal miners.

    Of course regardless of social standing, there is empowerment and enjoyment in being part of the gun culture, i.e., shooting ranges, hunting buddies, etc. Although I am a lifelong academic, I am often more relaxed at the range than when in the company of other snooty folks who, sometimes, seem to have a psychological stick up their ass. Now, pardon me while I do something about that stick…

    Liked by 1 person

    • This overlaps considerably with Jennifer Carlson’s argument about gun carriers in Michigan. They are both socially vulnerable due to economic changes and physically vulnerable due to the inability of the state to protect them.

      Liked by 2 people

    • The numbers in the Chicago study track with the old BJS study which helpfully surveyed both in 1991, pre-Brady, and in ’97, before NICs went into effect.

      One additional question not asked by BJS or Chicago, should be in the next such survey. If the respondent reports they bought their firearm from a licensed dealer or a private individual who is not a criminal associate aware of their status (the so-called gun show / private party loophole), then ask if they were they a prohibited person who would have been reported to NICs at the time. However that might be phrased to control for respondents unaware of the legal definition of such.

      That would capture the only possible subset that “expanded background checks” or “removal of denial after 3 days” could reasonably impact.

      Click to access fuo.pdf


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