I have presented my work dozens of times in the 30 years since my first academic conference presentation in 1992. I had never missed a scheduled presentation until this year, when I could not attend a session (organized by Nicholas Buttrick and including Tara Warner and Emmy Betz) at the annual meeting of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science due to my father’s death.
My topic was “Gun Culture 2.0 and the Changing Face of Gun Owners in America.” What I was going to talk about was not new to me, but I was excited to bring my ideas about guns and gun culture to a new audience.
If you are new to my work, if you want a refresher, or ICYMI, you can get an idea of my approach to this topic both in writing and video.
Two YouTube videos from my “Light Over Heat” channel follow. The first is a 15 minute presentation I made to the Outdoor Writers Association of American in October 2021, and the second is the third Light Over Heat video I posted in January 2022. A couple of links to my writing on the issue are included as well.
Can we use the social media echo chamber to escape the echo chambers we all live in? I try to do this by maintaining an ideologically diverse set of friends and followers on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA – the liberal Lutheran denomination in the US) is planning to issue considering [correction 2/26/23] a statement on gun violence and the LEN wants to inform that work. So I was invited to join them at their 31st annual gathering at the famous Palmer House in Chicago to discuss “Guns, Violence, and Security in the U.S.: What Might the ELCA Say Now?”
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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).