It’s Time to Retire the NRA’s “Good Guy with a Gun” Slogan

NOTE: An earlier, abbreviated version of this text appeared as an opinion essay in the Charlotte Observer/Raleigh News & Observer on June 16, 2022.

I am a defensive gun owner and a sociologist who has been studying American gun culture for a decade now. One of the first significant gun events I attended for my research was the 142nd National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meetings and exhibits. Held in May 2013 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, the conference set a record with over 85,000 NRA members attending.

Looking back today at the many pictures I took to document the spectacle, one stands out: a t-shirt for sale in the NRA meeting store that reads on the front in all caps, “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is . . .” The now familiar slogan concludes on the back, “a good guy with a gun.”

Created by Ackerman McQueen – the advertising agency that, with Wayne LaPierre, bears significant responsibility for the downfall of the NRA – the phrase debuted in the infamous NRA press conference following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December 2012.

I did not like it then. I like it even less now. For my thoughts on why, read on or watch this week’s Light Over Heat Video on YouTube.

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Liberals Should Avoid These Arguments About Guns in America

Like many Americans, I reluctantly watched events unfolding recently at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, site of the NRA’s annual meeting. In our polarized gun debates, the two extremes were on full display, literally divided by Avenida De Las Americas. Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and other (mostly) conservatives planted the flag for gun rights inside the convention center. Outside on Discovery Green, David Hogg, Beto O’Rouke, and other (mostly) liberals rallied the crowd for gun control. Neither side could or cared to hear the other.

I am a “card-carrying” liberal sociologist who became a gun owner in my forties and have been studying American gun culture since then. I have a foot in both worlds that see guns very differently. This allows me to hear how things said from one side in America’s great gun debate are heard by the other.

I understand the desire to do something, anything, in the face of exceptional and everyday tragedies involving guns. I feel the urge to scream out in anger and lash out in pain at those who appear to be standing in the way of progress. But as someone who has gotten to know a great many normal American gun owners over the past decade, I want to encourage my fellow liberals to be mindful of what they say in response to mass shootings, especially if they want to improve our national conversation about guns and find a way forward.

Read on or watch this week’s Light Over Heat video for my thoughts and suggestions.

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Light Over Heat #24: My Thoughts on the Murder of Ahmaud Arbery

This week’s episode features audio of comments I made for the Liberal Gun Owners Lens Podcast series on the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

I try to recognize both the importance of understanding race/racism in American history, and hence gun culture historically, and also the importance of recognizing that this is not essential to American gun culture today.

I hope this subtlety comes through in this episode.

New “Light Over Heat” videos are released on YouTube every Wednesday, so please surf over to my YouTube channel and SUBSCRIBE to follow, RING THE BELL to receive notifications, and SHARE so others can learn about this work.

Shooting Guns is Normal

In his excellent book, The Gun Gap, political scientist Mark Joslyn highlights the ways in which gun owners and non-owners live in very different social worlds. For example, non-owners are much more likely than owners to say none of their friends own guns.

Unfortunately, one of the few times these different social worlds come together is in the wake of horrific mass murders. This is probably the worst possible time for people to try to grasp a reality with which they are unfamiliar.

One way to appreciate how common and unproblematic guns are for most Americans comes from the Pew Research Center’s 2017 report, America’s Complex Relationship With Guns.

Pew Question: “Regardless of whether or not you own a gun, have you ever fired a gun?”

Nearly three-quarters of respondents (72%) said YES.

In terms of population, nearly 180 million adults in America have fired a gun (72% of 250 million US population over 18). Even plus or minus 5%, that is a lot of people.

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At What Age Do Americans Get Their First Guns?

As the age at which American adults ought to be able to buy firearms is being discussed in the wake of Buffalo and Uvalde, I want to point to some data on the age at which Americans actually get their first guns.

TL:DR (1) For respondents who say they currently or have ever owned a gun, the average age is 22. (2) Men acquire their first gun at age 19 and women at age 27, on average. (3) 37 percent of those who currently or have ever owned guns first got their own gun when they were under 18 years of age.

The data comes from the Pew Research Center’s 2017 report, America’s Complex Relationship With Guns. I doubt these numbers have shifted much in the past 5 years, but if you know of more recent data on this point, please let me know in the comments or by using the contact form or email me.

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Light Over Heat #23: The Benefits of Intellectual Diversity and the Challenge of Achieving It

In my last video (Light Over Heat #22), I reflected on the value of diversity (political, cultural, social, intellectual) in exposing us to people different from us and ideas different from our own. From these differences can come greater understanding. I applied this idea to some of the ways I have come to see the issues raised by the Buffalo mass murder differently.

This week, I reflect on how intellectual diversity has challenged me to think better in my scholarly work on guns. Drawing on Jonathan Haidt’s work in THE RIGHTEOUS MIND (about which I have written before), I highlight the importance of people with different views working together in a spirit of trust to make scholarship about guns, but also (potentially) the world, better.

New “Light Over Heat” videos are released on YouTube every Wednesday, so please surf over to my YouTube channel and SUBSCRIBE to follow, RING THE BELL to receive notifications, and SHARE so others can learn about this work.

Talking About American Gun Culture, Mass Shootings, and Gun Control in the Wake of Uvalde on Newsy

I was invited on Newsy’s Morning Rush to talk about American gun culture, mass shootings, and gun control in the Wake of the Uvalde shootings.

As usual, I find myself trying to capture the complex reality of guns in the United States, and pointing out ways in which “things are not what they seem.” I can’t help it. I’m a sociologist.

They sent me the clip of my segment with them and I posted the 4-minute video to my “Light Over Heat” channel.

I wasn’t expecting it, but they mentioned my mini-book, Concealed Carry Revolution: Liberalizing the Right to Bear Arms in America (Updated Edition).

New “Light Over Heat” videos are released on YouTube every Wednesday, so please surf over to my YouTube channel and SUBSCRIBE to follow, RING THE BELL to receive notifications, and SHARE so others can learn about this work.

Light Over Heat #20: A Light Take in Celebration of This Milestone – Shooting Guns in Texas

Wow, this is the 20th episode of “Light Over Heat” that I recorded! I can’t believe it. It seems like I was just recording my 10th episode not long ago. This second set of videos (Season 2) was supposed to be organized thematically around t-shirts I own. It mostly was, but on a few occasions I couldn’t pull that off. Oh, well. The world is too chaotic to be organized thematically around seasons, anyway.

Speaking of chaos, this video is also appearing way out of order since I had to pre-empt it in order to reflect on guns and race in the wake of the Buffalo mass murder.

Although I do not do the typical internet/social media “hot takes” on my chosen topic, I did think it was appropriate for this milestone video to do a “Light Take” (h/t John Correia). So, this video shows me shooting a single-action revolver, a lever-action rifle, a double-action revolver, and a fully-automatic and suppressed submachine gun. Of course, lessons can be learned from this exercise, but for now I will just let the videos speak for themselves.

Enjoy!

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Light Over Heat #22: Further Thoughts Post-Buffalo Thanks to Intellectual Diversity

In my last video (Light Over Heat #21), I commented on guns and race, racism, and white supremacy in the wake of the Buffalo mass murder. The comments I received, even the critical ones, were generally very respectful and constructive. Given the name and mission of my YouTube channel — “Light Over Heat” — I appreciate this very much.

The comments also got me thinking about the value of diversity (political, cultural, social, intellectual) in exposing us to people and ideas different from our own. From these differences can come greater understanding.

Getting into gun culture has exposed me to more intellectual diversity than if I had just stayed in my bright blue sociology bubble. In this week’s video, I talk about some of the ways I have come to see the issues raised by the Buffalo mass murder differently.

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Light Over Heat #21: Talking Guns and Race Post-Buffalo

This week I was supposed to post a video commemorating the 20th consecutive weekly episode of “Light Over Heat”. But the dark side of life intervened in the form of a white supremacist mass murder in Buffalo, New York.

So I quickly recorded some thoughts on guns and race. This is a first word not a last word on the topic, but I felt compelled to put my thoughts out there as I have seen so many perspectives that I think miss the reality of guns in America (typically those on the left) AND the reality of racism in America (typically those on the right).

So, here I try to find the via media and bring some light over heat to an important and controversial issue.

New “Light Over Heat” videos are released on YouTube every Wednesday, so please surf over to my YouTube channel and SUBSCRIBE to follow, RING THE BELL to receive notifications, and SHARE so others can learn about this work.