Earlier this week I recorded segments for a future episode of Dr. Celine Gounder’s “In Sickness and In Health” podcast. Her third season in production is on gun violence as a public health problem. I made clear to her that my scholarly expertise is on American gun culture not gun violence, and she welcomed me on her show anyway. She was easily the most prepared podcaster I have spoken with — having read 3 of my papers on guns — and so challenged me to go beyond my usual talking points.
One issue we discussed was how to create opportunities for greater mutual understanding between those who lean pro-gun and those who lean pro-gun control (recognizing that those who are beyond just leaning in those directions may not be able to profit from these efforts). I told her I did not have any clear ideas for this and if I did I would probably win some humanitarian prize. But I suggested we could begin by focusing on areas of common ground — such as violence prevention, or especially suicide prevention.
No gun owners I know are in favor of criminal violence, and the gun community often feels the effects of suicide in large (Bob Owens) and small ways.
In fact, there have been some efforts at collaboration already, that that between the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, as well as between the Safer Homes Suicide Aware project and the Second Amendment Foundation (see Women & Guns magazine, March/April 2018 issue).
For my part, I look for opportunities to both listen and speak across boundaries that might otherwise divide us. As someone who came to gun culture later in life and from a blue bubble outside it, I feel well-situated to do this.
For example, I was recently asked by Wake Forest’s new chapter of College Students for the Brady Campaign to speak and answer questions at one of their meetings. We had a productive dialogue, including with four young men who showed up with ROTC haircuts and gun-themed (Grunt Style, molon labe) t-shirts. I think all the students were encouraged by the possibility of speaking across the lines that divide us with common goals in mind.
One of the questions raised at the Brady Campaign meeting was about “smart gun” technologies. I gave reasons why these should not be mandated, but said I would be interested in seeing them developed as an option. If I had small kids or a potentially suicidal family member at home I would consider a “smart gun” if the technology was sound, which is a long way off from what I can tell.
I was excited to roll my productive dialogue with the Brady Campaign and pro-2A students into my Sociology of Guns seminar the next day. The class also provides a model for reasoned discussion about guns, and coincidentally we were discussing the common ground issue of suicide.
One of three articles we read was a systematic review of research on the relationship between firearms and suicide published in 2016 the American Journal of Psychiatry.
The article, sadly, mimics too much of the scholarship on guns conducted from the public health perspective. It begins with a seemingly objective consideration of the data on the relationship between firearms availability and suicide, but then draws conclusions far beyond what the data allow.
In this case, concerning smart guns. As smart guns are not yet in common circulation, research on smart gun technologies are non-existent. Nonetheless, the authors conclude their paper by calling for “legislation requiring . . . smart-gun technology on all new firearms sold.”
Not promoting the development of smart gun technologies. Not the encouragement of using smart gun technologies. But LEGISLATION REQUIRING SMART GUN TECHNOLOGY ON ALL NEW FIREARMS SOLD. Argued for in a systematic review of the academic literature. Damn.
Productive dialogue on guns. One step forward. Two steps back.