A Frustrated Yet Still Somewhat Hopeful Update on My Book on American Gun Culture

Among the reasons for my recent hiatus from online activity in connection with my research on guns is frustration at my literary agent’s inability to find a publisher for my book, Gun Curious: Inside America’s Evolving Culture of Firearms. This is not due at all to his effort and expertise. He is annually one of the most successful sellers of non-fiction works in the US.

Last summer (2022), he began sending my proposal to editors at trade publishers like Crown, Random House, Scribner, St. Martin’s, Bloomsbury, Sentinal, and others. In three rounds totaling 19 submissions, all but one passed or did not respond (effectively passing).

Of course, I have to accept the possibility that the book I am writing is just not interesting or that I’m not the right person to carry the project. But there was a pattern in the editors’ responses that I could not help but notice:

Thanks for this, Don. The author is really impressive and this is a timely and important issue. That said, I have too many concerns about the size of the audience for a book on this subject, as well done as this is.

I think this is a pretty difficult sell. While Yamane’s approach to guns, gun laws, and gun culture is in a unique kind of thoughtful middle ground, I think we’ll be hard pressed to get people on any side of the gun issue (pro, anti, curious, etc.) excited enough to lay down money for the book.

I think it’s going to be a pass. It’s a smart proposal and we enjoyed reading it, but looking at the sales track for the comps, we’re concerned that none of them have broken out—even with some of the authors having bigger public-facing platforms than David.

“No audience for this book” is certainly an easy answer for an editor to fall back on, though perhaps too easy an answer because I recall hearing somewhere that the vast majority of books published do not sell out their advances. The idea that other books on American gun culture have not sold well (“broken out”) is certainly a reality I am fighting against.

But more discouraging to me is the idea that occupying “a unique kind of thoughtful middle ground” in the gun debates is a dead end. As much as I believe in my project, I have to admit that a book on Guns and the Demise of American Democracy OR Guns and the Salvation of American Democracy would be easier to sell.

Indeed, in my frustration last fall, I mocked up two competing book covers and developed a plan to release the same book under both titles and use sales figures as data on where Americans stand on the issue.

And, yet, I am still somewhat hopeful about this book project because the issue of guns remains essential and no one is approaching it in the way I do in Gun Curious. Before my last meeting with my agent, I re-read the entire 60+ page proposal and found almost nothing I wanted to change.

The proposal is now in the email inboxes of another group of editors, and as Sandy always reminds me (citing often rejected authors like Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and John Grisham), it only takes one. So, please send your positive energy to Manhattan for me.

For those interested in the longer story of this effort, read on.

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Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going; New Year Update on Gun Curious

New Year Greetings, faithful readers. Prior to this post, my last entry here was on 16 November 2022. This 10-week break was the longest in the nearly 4 years I have blogged here at Gun Curious (as well as 10+ years blogging at Gun Culture 2.0).

I took a break both because I was overwhelmed by personal and family obligations and also because I have been rethinking my online and social media presence.

I was forced to do this reevaluation by my experiences over the years as well as reading Sherry Turkle’s book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age, and two essays by Jonathan Haidt in The Atlantic last year, “Why the Past 10 Years of Amerian Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid” and “Yes, Social Media Really is Undermining Democracy.”

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My Overview of a Workshop on Firearms and Self-Defense (Light Over Heat #47)

This video offers an overview of the 14 papers presented at a workshop on “The Ethics, Law, and Social Science of Firearms and Self-Defense” convened by the Center for Ethics in Society at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH.

Out of respect for the privacy of the participants in this closed workshop, I did not give their names or affiliations in this video. But the organizers are supposed to be putting together a web page highlighting the works presented, and when they do I will come back here and add a link.

Also at this workshop I presented a rough draft of my paper systematizing the dominant academic approach to understanding Gun Culture 2.0, what I call “The Standard Model of Explaining the Irrationality of Defensive Gun Ownership” (see my “Light Over Heat” YouTube video playlist on the topic).

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Something Other Than Objective Risk Motivates Defensive Gun Ownership (Light Over Heat #46)

This video concludes my ongoing series systematizing the dominant academic approach to understanding Gun Culture 2.0, what I call “The Standard Model of Explaining the Irrationality of Defensive Gun Ownership.”

Here I engage the 5th of the model’s 5 points: That something other than objective risk motivates defensive gun ownership.

From a sociological perspective, that something else centers on the discipline’s Holy Trinity: class, gender, and race. From a psychological perspective, defensive gun ownership is a maladaptive coping mechanism.

Links to the first five videos in the series are below.

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Defensive Gun Ownership is Irrational – The Standard Model Part 4 (Light Over Heat #45)

This video continues my ongoing series systematizing the dominant academic approach to understanding Gun Culture 2.0, what I call “The Standard Model of Explaining the Irrationality of Defensive Gun Ownership.”

Here I engage the 4th of the model’s 5 points: Based on the first 3 points, defensive gun ownership is IRRATIONAL.

Links to the first four videos in the series are below.

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New Book on Gun Culture by Noah Schwartz, “On Target”

As my agent continues to try to find a publisher for my book on American gun culture, I feel bombarded by other people’s books on the topic.

Actually, most books published on guns in America today do not compete with mine because they approach guns from the perspective of what I have been calling The Standard Model of Explaining the Irrationality of Defensive Gun Ownership. This model is driven by criminological, epidemiological, and public health approaches, as well as social science animated by the “hermeneutics of suspicion.”

Enter Noah Schwartz, a Canadian political scientist who wrote his doctoral dissertation on why the National Rifle Association (NRA) is so influential in American gun debates. Spoiler alert: It is not because of their political lobbying and campaign donations.

Schwartz’s work now appears in print as On Target: Gun Culture, Storytelling, and the NRA. (Buy it at your local bookstore, or HERE to indirectly support local bookstores.)

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Racism Against the AAPI Community and Gun Ownership

As a gunologist, not to mention an Asian-American gun owner, a recent episode of the Red, Blue & Brady podcast on racism against the AAPI community and gun ownership caught my attention.

The episode focused on a recently published study by a group of public health scholars who fielded a national survey of 916 Asian Americans asking about their experiences of racial discrimination and their firearm-related behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There is a lot of anecdata floating around about how anti-Asian discrimination increased during the pandemic (think of people taking the “China virus” and “kung flu” language to the next outgroup level), and that this led to unprecedented gun buying among Asian Americans.

Of course, without historical data, we can’t really speak to “precedent,” but these scholars find that 6.0% of respondents said they purchased a gun during COVID and another 11.2% said they intended to purchase a gun. Of the 6% of COVID gun buyers, 54.6% were first-time gun buyers.

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Guns ADD Risk of Negative Outcomes – Part 2 (Light Over Heat #44)

This video continues last week’s video on how scholars, especially public health scholars, see guns as adding to the risk of negative outcomes.

This is part of my ongoing series systematizing the dominant academic approach to understanding Gun Culture 2.0, what I call “The Standard Model of Explaining the Irrationality of Defensive Gun Ownership.”

Here I engage the third of the model’s 6 points, offering my own take on guns as a risk factor that tries to navigate between the “YES THEY ARE” and “NO THEY’RE NOT” that too often characterizes discussion of the issue.

Links to videos 1 (Light Over Heat #41) and 2 (Light Over Heat #42) and 3 (Light Over Heat #43) are below.

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Studies Show Guns ADD Risk of Negative Outcomes – The Standard Model Part 3 of 5 (Light Over Heat #43)

This video continues my series systematizing the dominant academic approach to understanding Gun Culture 2.0, what I call “The Standard Model of Explaining the Irrationality of Defensive Gun Ownership.”

The model has 6 points, and in this 3rd video, I discuss point 3: how guns are seen to add risk of negative outcomes.

Links to videos 1 (Light Over Heat #41) and 2 (Light Over Heat #42) are below.

ACADEMIC TRIGGER WARNING: I got carried away discussing the methods employed in public health research on guns as a risk factor (I am a professor, after all), so this video is longer and more tedious than average. AND I also took the last third of the video in which I critique the public health research and put it in a separate video that will run next week.

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“Like Many Aspects of Life, You Actually Need to DO It” (Fall 2022 Student Range Visit Reflection #8)

This is the eighth of several student gun range field trip reflection essays from my fall 2022 Sociology of Guns seminar (see reflection #1 and reflection #2 and reflection #3 and reflection #4 and reflection #5 and reflection #6 and reflection #7). The assignment to which students are responding can be found here. I am grateful to these students for their willingness to have their thoughts shared publicly.

Sociology of Guns student at the range, Fall 2022. Photo by Sandra Stroud Yamane

By Connor Stanley

When I arrived at the gun range, I was oddly nervous for the next 45 minutes. Until this field trip, I had never touched a gun, let alone shot one. I watched all the training videos and took careful notes, but much like many aspects of life, you need to actually do it. I can watch as many videos as I want about gun safety, but actually shooting a gun is a very different experience.

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