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.
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).
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?
In his third and final guest post in this series (see his first and second), Trent Steidley takes up the claim that the COVID-19 gun purchasing spree of March 2020 was driven by handgun purchases (a claim I made myself, which helped begin this dialogue).
Was March 2020 the best month for handgun sales ever?
Handguns for sale at Frisco Gun Club, Texas. Photo by David Yamane
By Trent Steidley
NARRATIVE #3: March 2020 was the best month for handgun sales ever.
This is technically correct (and if you watch Futurama you know this is the best kind of correct).
By MOODMAN from giphy.com
In his guest post yesterday, Trent Steidley challenged the simplistic use of data from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) as a measure of “gun sales.”
Today he critically engages the second of three common narratives emerging from the great gun buying spree of March 2020: that March 2020 saw the most guns sold in a single month in the history of NICS.
By Trent Steidley
NARRATIVE #2: March 2020 saw the most guns sold in a single month
This is true, at least for the numbers from NICS sales. But March 2020 is not a large increase considering the effect of population size and in relation to previous spikes.
My recent posts about the great COVID19 gun buying spree of March 2020 (especially handguns) elicited some helpful clarifying and corrective tweets from my colleague Trent Steidley (bio below). I don’t know any sociologist as familiar or adept with National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) data as he is.
I am grateful, therefore, that he has written up his thoughts on using caution and sense with NICS data and gun sale spikes. In three separate posts here, he offers some clarifications and alternative takes for those really trying to understand what happened last month.
Frisco Gun Club, Texas. Photo by David Yamane
By Trent Steidley
You will have heard that March 2020 was a gangbuster month for gun sales. To be sure, two things are certainly true.
One, a lot of people went to gun stores, got background checks, and likely bought guns in March 2020 (and the reason for this is certainly because of COVID19, but whether these are new gun buyers afraid of social unrest or current owners afraid of government actions will take time to tell). Two, the majority of these guns sold were handguns.
But there are some narratives in these news stories that we should be cautious about.
I don’t really want to keep talking about the National Rifle Association (NRA). I really don’t. As noted previously, when I sent a proposal for a book on Gun Culture 2.0 to Oxford University Press a couple of years ago, one of the peer reviewers took me to task for not talking about the NRA enough. In fact, as a correction to those who want to reduce guns and gun culture to the NRA, I am intentionally trying to write my book without putting the NRA in the center of the action.
Which is not to say the NRA is unimportant, but the common narrative of the NRA is too simplistic in a number of ways. In particular, it downplays too much both the NRA’s early political activity and its current activities beyond politics.
I saw this once again in a recent episode of the long-running PBS series Frontline on the National Rifle Association called “NRA Under Fire.”