I have been trying to understand what I call, following gun journalist Michael Bane, Gun Culture 2.0 for over 10 years now. I am currently in a race to finish my book on the topic before Gun Culture 3.0 arrives.
Another day in America, another pile of bodies, and another set of cries for gun control. Predictably, the Atlanta and Boulder and Indianapolis mass public shootings were followed by calls to ban AR-style rifles. President Biden proposes to subject “ghost guns” to background checks and place pistol-stabilizing braces under the National Firearms Act as short-barreled rifles.
This marks a return to the old, pre-pandemic normal in America in which extremely rare cases of large-scale homicide bring efforts to regulate guns and gun parts in ways so general they are unlikely to have the desired effect of dramatically reducing gun violence.
As tragic as they are, overemphasis on these dramatic but rare events diverts our attention from the vast majority of homicides which involve fewer than four victims, victims who are shot with regular old handguns that are acquired in transactions not covered by criminal background checks.
Having studied American gun culture for a decade now, I find myself returning repeatedly to an important truth: Everyday gun violence in the United States is concentrated in places and among people that are most affected by economic and racial inequality. Efforts to reduce this violence should, therefore, be equally concentrated on addressing its causes in these same areas. Doing so shifts efforts at intervention away from guns per se, a move that allows us to circumvent federal gridlock on gun legislation and as well as legal challenges to gun regulation. We can carve a political path forward right now by decoupling violence reduction from gun control.
Firearms are here to stay. Just as we encourage safe sex rather than abstinence to reduce the burden of teenage pregnancy, we can encourage safe firearm storage rather than simply discouraging firearm ownership altogether in our efforts to reduce gun violence.