Visiting the National Gun Owners Association of Kenya Range in Kiambu

One of the students in my Sociology of Guns seminar last fall grew up in Nairobi, Kenya and still has family there. She is what I would call an open-minded critic of guns, or perhaps a gun skeptic, as reflected in her class range field trip reflection, “The Gun Felt More Like a Dangerous Tool Instead of the Killing Machine I Thought It Was.

At the end of the semester, she said she was visiting family in Kenya over the break and was planning to visit the gun range with her Guka (Grandfather). I asked her to send me a report if she did and she did.

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“Americans F*&$a^# Love Guns”

I don’t post much about guns and electoral/party politics on my blogs because I find them frustrating and impediments to understanding gun culture. But I was visiting one of my best friends recently and talking about paths forward for my gun culture book. One path we discussed was engaging conventional gun politics more directly.

A fellow sociologist, my friend is a left-leaning centrist who has become a political junkie of sorts in recent years. This includes consuming a healthy diet not just of liberals like Alex Wagner and Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC but also the ideas of conservatives via media like the Michael Steele Podcast and Charlie Sykes’ The Bulwark.

He mentioned during our discussion that I should look at the brief bit about guns in Republican strategist Rick Wilson’s 2018 book, Everything Trump Touches Dies.

Wilson’s bottom line: “Americans fucking love guns” (p. 75).

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What If We Begin Discussions of Guns With Our Commonalities Rather Than Differences?

I wrote recently about the challenge of finding a publisher for my book on American gun culture, and my chagrin that some acquisition editors think there is not a market for a “calm, thoughtful approach to the charged topic of gun ownership” (to quote one rejection). Or, as another editor wrote, “it will be difficult to locate readers looking for a ‘tonic’-like approach such a heated issue.”

Although this is frustrating, I also had a number of experiences last year (2022) that convinced me of the possibility and importance of bringing “light over heat” to the issue of guns. I will post about each of these in turn.

Last fall I was invited to serve as a panelist for a discussion of gun violence organized by Deseret News as part of their “Elevate” initiative. The panel was held in conjunction with the publication of a symposium in Desert Magazine on “How to stop the next mass shooting” (which also looked at the issue of gun violence more broadly).

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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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