Societal Uncertainty + Social Unrest = Gun Sales

The fact that gun sales have been off the charts in 2020 is not news, but some were still surprised at the July sales numbers. The newsadvocacy organization The Trace has created an interesting data visualization drawing on NICS data as a proxy for gun sales.

I don’t have any commentary to add beyond things I have already said elsewhere on this blog (here and here) and in my chat with Jake Charles from the Duke Center for Firearms Law, but posting this as a resource for others to use.

Note also Professor Trent Steidley’s cautionary notes about interpreting NICS data, here, here, and here.)

COVID-Times Review of Land, God, and Guns by Levi Gahman and Related Thoughts

I have been very fortunate that my job has not been adversely affected in a major way by the COVID19 pandemic this year. Which is not to say that it has been completely unaffected. The already inadequate amount of funding I receive from Wake Forest to conduct my research is going away for the foreseeable future (much more on this in the coming months). And other responsibilities of my faculty job are squeezing out my research and writing time right now (hence so few posts here and on Gun Culture 2.0 lately, which is why I am cross-posting this to both blogs).

I have spent weeks this summer learning how to teach online, developing and teaching 2 sections of Introduction to Sociology online, and facilitating a Peer Learning Group on online education for my department colleagues.

Also, because my personal and family life has not been as disrupted by COVID19 as some of my professional peers, I have tried to say “yes” to every request to review manuscripts, books, and promotion dossiers I have received since March.

Among the assignments I have accepted is to review the book, Land, God and Guns: Settler Colonialism and Masculinity in the American Heartland (Zed, 2020), for Choice Reviews. (Choice Reviews is run by the Association of College and Research Libraries and is used by academic librarians to select materials for their collections.)

This book’s author, Dr. Levi Gahman of the University of Liverpool in England, is a white settler man from rural Kansas who approaches the issue of “settler colonialism” and masculinity by drawing not only on his academic training as a critical geographer but also as a product/survivor of the very heteropatriarchal/racist/colonialist American Heartland he analyzes.

Land, God and Guns combines extensive use of “a wide array of critical theories and political-intellectual perspectives (e.g., anti-racist, decolonial, feminist, poststructuralist, Marxist, anarchist, queer, socialist)” (p. 28) with interviews and (auto)ethnography in a densely written treatise that is intended to be not just an analysis of his chosen reality but a political intervention designed to undermine it.

Land here refers to colonial capitalism, God to patriarchal white supremacy, and guns to imperial war: “the three pillars upon which the United States of America (U.S.) was founded and rests” (p. 1). Two chapters (2 & 3) are given over primarily to theorizing, and three address the core themes more empirically, land in chapter 4, guns in chapter 5, and God in chapter 6.

Of course, I focused most of my attention on chapter 5 on guns. But even before I got there, Gahman gave some hints in the introductory chapter of what was to come. Of his relationship with his brother, Gahman writes, “We still watch Star Wars and football, as well as shoot guns together when I head back home, to Kansas, for Christmas. ‘Normal’ things that brothers and ‘guys’ do” (p. 12). The scare quotes here signaling that what is normal is going to be problematized in relation to (heteropatriarchal notions of) masculinity. So when he talks about “the normalization of gun culture in the Heartland” (p. 34), we know he don’t mean it in no nice way.

For Gahman, guns are normalized but not in the sense that gun owners actually experience. He’s not saying, as I do, that “guns are normal, and normal people use guns.” Because by chapter 5 he has exhaustively/exhaustingly established that “normal” in the context of his analysis is heteropatriarchal/racist/colonial-capitalist, being normalized means being all these things.

So, even when he makes a statement that on its face is unobjectionable, the critical glare of his theoretical perspective seems ever-present. He notes that the gun owners he spoke to highlighted the need for guns in rural areas where police are few and far between. Moreover, “guns were a farm/country tool.

That is, interviewees noted the necessity of having a firearm on ready given that outside threats include wild animals, stray vermin, or rabid predators may attack or spread disease amongst their livestock, garden, or crops. ‘They [guns] are a way to hold down the fort’ and ‘help rid the place [farm] of pests,’ as Everett, 54 years old, and Ricky, 48 years old shared; which are statements connoting that gun use makes men empowered and active agents (pp. 135-36).

Ignoring his quick pivot away from the idea of guns as a “farm/country tool,” even his notion that guns can facilitate empowerment and agency could be seen as a positive attribute (even if only in the hands of those other than white settler men).

But Gahman predictably slides straight from this statement to noting that “recent literature on gun use and manhood suggests the reasons men sometimes own guns are because of disillusionment, powerlessness, despair, and alienation they are experiencing as a result of their social standing, economic situation, and/or just ‘getting older’/less ‘able’” (p. 136). So, guns are not normal tools that people in the Heartland use to have fun (like he and his brother) and/or protect their lives and livelihoods (Everett and Ricky). They are a normalized way that men compensate for their loss of masculinity. If Gahman were a psychoanalyst rather than a critical geographer, he might just come out and say that they are penis substitutes.

The idea that guns compensate for lost white heteropatriarchal dominance is accepted as conventional wisdom in gun studies today (which I would challenge, but that is a story for another time). Although the “recent literature” Gahman cites to support this point ends in 2009 (recall his book was published in 2020), he could have cited many more recent proponents of versions of this argument: Carlson, Light, Melzer, Mencken and Froese, Metzl, Shapira, Stroud, and others.

Of course, these arguments register for me not just as a sociologist of guns, but as a human being as well. If I say, “I will do what it takes to ensure the safety of my family”—which I absolutely do say — am I adopting a heteropatriarchal/racist/colonial-capitalist perspective? Am I reproducing such a society? What if my wife says the same? Which she absolutely does. Is that her white settler cisgender heterosexuality speaking? What if it is a person (or community) who embodies every possible marginalized positionality?

More generally, who that has a family – especially children – would NOT say “I will do what it takes to ensure the safety of my family”? To me, THAT would be “abnormal.”

So, recognizing the profound inequalities of empowerment and agency that formed and continue to exist in this society, I favor extending the boundaries of normality to include as many people as possible.

To the extent that the protector role is easier for white settler men to enact, that is a problem. But I have an uneasy feeling that many want to problematize the protector role itself. Gahman included.

“My Student Jim” – Mark Joslyn on Emotions, Polarization, and Gun Politics

In these trying times, can we at least all agree that guns are politically polarizing in the United States? Not inherently, of course, but they get drawn up into our divisive political system and culture in a profound way.

I’m pleased to share political scientist Mark R. Joslyn’s reflection on how emotions drive reasoning and division on the gun issue, for better or worse.

These reflections are part of a broader project Joslyn has been working on concerning the politics of gun ownership (see more about the author at the end). Based on this essay, I am really looking forward to getting my hands on his just released book, The Gun Gap: The Influence of Gun Ownership on Political Behavior and Attitudes. See this flyer with more information on the book and order online from Oxford University Press with promo code ASFLYQ6 to save 30%.

My Student Jim

 By Mark R. Joslyn

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COVID-19 and Guns Video Series by Duke Center for Firearms Law

I was privileged to be invited recently to contribute to an ongoing series of videos produced by the Duke Center for Firearms Law on COVID-19 and guns.

I was asked to speak about my approach to studying guns, to speculate about why people are buying guns during the COVID-19 pandemic, what misconceptions people have about gun acquisition, and what advice I have for new guns owners.

Watch the YouTube video below:

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How Many Individuals and Households in the United States Own Guns?

Although I’ve addressed U.S. gun ownership levels previously, I realize that I have done so by looking at percentages of individuals and households rather than numbers. Given changing population sizes (the all important denominator), percentages are usually the relevant indicators.

But sometimes you want to know the actual number, so I am posting this to have these numbers handy when people ask. (How I calculated these numbers after the photo illustration.)

Minimum estimates for 2019 are:

# of Individuals in the United States who own guns: 76,414,161.

# of Households in the United States that have guns: 47,892,051

# of People in U.S. Households that have guns: 125,956,094

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Women, the NRA, and Gun Culture by Noah Schwartz

Although I was not a fan of NRATV generally, there were some programs I thought did a good job of trying to “build bridges, not walls.” Among these were shows aimed at incorporating more women in gun culture. So I was excited when I came across an academic article — “Called to Arms: The NRA, The Gun Culture & Women” in Critical Policy Studies — that analyzed some of these programs like Love at First Shot.

I was going to write a summary of the article, but then it occurred to me that the author himself might do a better job of sharing his ideas on the topic. I am pleased that Noah S. Schwartz (see about the author at the end) agreed, and his thoughts are below.

(If you cannot access the original article behind the paywall, send me an email and I can send you a copy for educational purposes.)

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“Live” Tweeting the Gangster Capitalism Podcast on the NRA

Following is a long Twitter thread I wrote while listening/reacting to a podcast series called Gangster Capitalism which focused this season on the current crisis of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

I went into it skeptically, since the NRA is often misunderstood and hatred toward it takes general biases toward guns in the media and turns them up to 11. But in the end I found the series largely accurate (to the extent that I know what is going on in the NRA) and only disappointing in a couple of places, notably in its final conclusion.


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On “The Political Weaponization of Gun Owners” by the National Rifle Association

The political power of the National Rifle Association (NRA) is both frustrating to and badly misunderstood by many of its critics (as I highlighted recently in response to PBS Frontline’s program on the NRA).

According to Barnard College political scientist Matthew Lacombe, much of the legislative strength of the NRA is due to its ability to politically mobilize guns owners on its behalf. And key to that political “weaponization” has been the cultivation of “gun owner” as a social identity in the first place. (An identity I reflected on from my own perspective in my previous post.)

Here I discuss his recently published article, “The Political Weaponization of Gun Owners: The National Rifle Association’s Cultivation, Dissemination, and Use of a Group Social Identity.” Unfortunately the article is not available open access, but if you would like a copy for educational purposes, let me know.

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Golfers, Gun Owners, and Social Identity

Whenever someone asks me, “Are you a golfer?” I offer a canned response: “No, but I play golf.” I resist the label golfer. To embrace it seems to heighten expectations in an uncomfortable way.

The same can be said of the label gun owner. Do I own guns? Yes. Is being a gun owner central to my identity? Not really.

In fact, the Pew Research Center’s 2017 report on “America’s Complex Relationship with Guns” highlights differences in the centrality of owning guns to people’s identities. About half of gun owners say being a gun owner is very (25%) or somewhat (25%) important to their overall identity, and half say it is not too important (30%) or not at all important (20%).

Source: Pew Research Center, “America’s Complex Relationship with Guns” (2017).

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Not So Hidden Humor in Gun Owners’ YouTube Videos by Connie Hassett-Walker

In my work on gun culture, I have systematically avoided collecting systematic data on gun culture online. True, I have spent time with and attended a seminar by YouTube star John Correia of Active Self Protection. But I just don’t have the stomach to wade into many online gun forums or follow too much gun social media.

Fortunately, other scholars are braver than I am. Among them is Connie Hassett-Walker. Following on her recent book, Guns on the Internet (Routledge, 2019), she offers some examples of and reflections on humor in gun owners’ YouTube video here.

In the conclusion to her book (and in an essay on The Conversation), she issues “The 100 YouTube Video Challenge.” Designed to inspire open-mindedness and empathy for those on the other side of the gun debate, the challenge entails watching 100 YouTube videos “showcasing something from the opposing side.” Not only that, “but identifying three things in the videos they watch to which they could relate” (p. 131).

Here she gives those on the gun control side 8 pro-gun videos to get them started toward their 100. Please suggest other videos from either side of the debate in the comments.

By Connie Hassett-Walker

I imagine what you’re thinking. ‘Gun videos’… ‘humor’… what?

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