In my previous post about anti-gun biases that pop up all too frequently in scholarly studies of guns, I highlighted a passage that appeared for no good reason in a recent book I reviewed, Guns in Law:
A gun “makes a little man feel big, a stupid man feel clever, a frightened man brave, and an insecure man feel sure.”
I noted that the authors cite an article by Walter Menninger as the source of this passage. Alas, it appears nowhere in the Menninger article, though Menninger certainly agrees with its dismissive sentiment.
Rather, the passage comes from a story in the New York Journal-American newspaper from 1965, “Are You Gun Shy? . . . Read This and Be Happy.”
I was recently asked to review Guns in Law (University of Massachusetts Press, 2019), for CHOICE, a monthly publication of the Association of College & Research Libraries designed to help librarians decide which books to add to their collections.
I was excited to have the assignment because I know the first editor, Austin Sarat, from my participation in “The Social Life of Guns” symposium at Amherst College. Sarat was also one of the editors of the book that came from that symposium, The Lives of Guns, to which I contributed an essay on technologies of concealed carry in Gun Culture 2.0. I also saw that two of the seven chapters were written by sociologists, Jennifer Carlson writing about her work on police and the Second Amendment and Laura Beth Nielsen on “Good Moms with Guns.” Continue reading
There exists a law, not written down anywhere, but inborn in our hearts, a law which comes to us not by training or custom or reading, a law which has come to us not from theory but from practice, not by instruction but by natural intuition. I refer to the law which lays down that, if our lives are endangered by plots or violence or armed robbers or enemies, any and every method of protecting ourselves is morally right.
-Marcus Tullius Cicero, Murder Trials, trans. Michael Grant (New York: Penguin, 1975), p. 279. Quoted in: Guns in Law (University of Massachusetts Press, 2019), p. 1.
As someone who came from completely outside gun culture and became a gun owner later in life, I have tried often to find a middle ground between culture warriors on both sides of the Great American Gun Debates. That, in fact, is one of the purposes of this blog.
As I said earlier this year, one of my key discoveries in journeying through gun culture is that “guns are normal, and normal people use guns.”
Although this could be seen as simply stating the obvious, many gun control advocates go beyond wanting “common sense” gun laws to prevent gun violence. They are not just against gun violence, they are fundamentally against guns. A story in the New York Times on the recent debates over open carry in stores highlights this yet again.
***CORRECTION: A FACEBOOK READER noticed something in the Mother Jones data I presented recently that I had missed. Beginning in 2013, MJ changed their definition of a mass public shooting from 4 or more victims to 3 or more victims in 2013 (see more below), but did not retroactively update their database. Although not deceptive (they said plainly they were doing this, I simply missed it), this is methodologically problematic. So I eliminated those cases, which reduces the total number in the database from 114 incidents to 95, and re-did the chart here.***
Gun trainer Rob Pincus texted to ask me tonight if I had any source for data on the seasonality of mass shooting activity. I.e., mass shootings by month.
I did not, but I was intrigued enough by the idea to do a little work when I got home tonight. The fruit of that labor is below. Important notes and interpretive points follow the chart.
Whenever dramatic events happen in the US involving guns, I hear from the media. Not a ton of media, alas, since my overarching position that “guns are normal and normal people use guns” doesn’t fit most media narratives following dramatic events. And, to be clear, I am not an expert in gun violence or any other unlawful possession/use of firearms.
To the extent that I know anything in particular about guns, it is about what I have been calling “Gun Culture 2.0.” So, for those interested in a sweeping overview of American gun culture, here are my broad (not deep) thoughts.
The debate over civilian ownership of AR-15 platform rifles heats up every time there is a mass murder in the United States using one. Because I study gun culture, people often ask me, “Why does anyone need one of those weapons of war, anyway?”
I usually don’t have a good answer, since handguns are the gun of choice of Gun Culture 2.0, and most of my personal experience with firearms has been with handguns. In fact, about 5 years ago I bought an AR platform rifle with the intention of learning more about it, and it sat untouched for 4 years. Last fall someone shot 5 rounds through it and it has not been touched again since.
So I am happy to bring forth the writing of someone who has thought about this issue more than I have. Jon Stokes is a computer engineer who has two master’s degrees from Harvard Divinity School, co-founded Ars Technica, was an editor at Wired, and continues to be a progressive gun nut.
I appreciate his allowing me to re-print his essay, “Why I ‘Need’ an AR-15,” originally published on Medium in June 2016 following the mass murder at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.
Image courtesy of Oleg Volk