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.
I have not yet seen any convincing evidence that American gun culture has reached a new evolution, but recently some scholars have claimed it has. I refer to a press release from the Boston University School of Health, screen capped below.
According to the press release:
Previous researchers have proposed two strands of gun culture: one focused on recreational use and a second on self-defense. But this study identifies a third, of people who do not view the defense of the Second Amendment as a means to an end, but as necessary to any freedom in this country.
As a previous researcher who has proposed a Gun Culture 1.0 and a Gun Culture 2.0, I would like to clarify this issue. There are many subcultures within American gun culture. These include recreational shooting (many types), competitive shooting (many specific disciplines), hunting (many varieties), collecting, politics, self-defense, and probably others.
The argument about GC1.0 and GC2.0 is not about “strands” of gun culture, but about versions. It uses the language of software releases to speak about the evolution of the core or center of gravity of gun culture over time. It is an argument about historical change.
I have analyzed themes present in gun advertising over long periods of time to document the shift from GC1.0 (hunting and recreational shooting) to GC2.0 (self-defense), using both The American Rifleman and Guns magazine. A key figure from the latter appears below.
The figure above was published in a special issue of Palgrave Communications on guns, the same issue in which the Gun Culture 3.0 article appears under the title “What is Gun Culture?”
Of note is that the term Gun Culture 3.0 does not appear in the article to which the press release refers. That’s a good thing because the misuse of that term, therefore, does not distract from the actual argument.
The original article does well to identify and attempt to empirically measure some of the different subcultures of American gun culture and to identify where in the US these different subcultures predominate.
Their core results fundamentally support my argument that self-defense has supplanted recreation as the core of American gun culture today. Their Figure 1 (below) shows this change taking place even over a much shorter time frame than my studies.
On the down side, whether they call it Gun Culture 3.0 or not, I question their placing “a symbolic cultural element centered around the protection of the Second Amendment and insurrectionism” alongside recreation and self-defense as an independent strand of gun culture.
Looking at the states where the Second Amendment strand predominates (the first figure in this post), what seems evident to me is the reality that gun rights are seen by the NRA and many of its members as a precondition of being able to have and use guns for self-defense, for hunting, and for recreational shooting. So 2A activism comes to the fore in places like California and New York.
On an even lower down side, to say that this strand of gun culture centers on “insurrectionism” — claimed in both the article and the press release — goes well beyond the empirical evidence and reflects an unfortunate but all too common bias. The three measures the authors use to construct the Second Amendment activism variable are: per capita NRA membership, per capita readers of America’s 1st Freedom, and presence of a state assault weapon ban. Unless you equate NRA membership or reading America’s 1st Freedom per se with insurrectionism, it is unclear how you get from A to B.
Oh, but reading the article itself one finds that the authors DO equate NRA membership with insurrectionism, and they make clear how they get from A to B: the work of the noted gun scholar Josh Horwitz – executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
In the end, I definitely feel somewhat proprietary about Gun Culture 2.0, even though I stole the term from someone else. But there is also the matter of using the terminology correctly. Version 1.0, 2.0, etc. does not refer to subcultures, but to successive versions. If there comes a day when Second Amendment activism or something else we cannot yet conceptualize becomes the core of American gun culture, I will happily jump on board the Gun Culture 3.0 train. Hopefully my Gun Culture 2.0 book will be done by then.