Sociology of Guns Module 2: Guns Are Normal, Normal People Use Guns

Everyone approaches the study of and teaching about guns from a particular perspective. My own perspective comes from my involvement in gun culture over the past decade, which has profoundly shifted my perspective on guns and gun owners. Over the years I have refined this perspective into a sort of motto:

Guns are normal, and normal people use guns.

I first used this exact phrase during my address at the National Firearms Law Seminar and now sell t-shirts with the phrase to raise funds to support my research on gun culture.

In this first substantive module of Sociology of Guns, I share with my Sociology of Guns students this overarching perspective from which I approach the class.

Photo by Robin Lindner/RLI Media

Because it provides the best personal introduction to my relationship with guns, my research on gun culture, and my views of Gun Culture 2.0 (including that guns are normal), I begin by having the students view my lunchtime keynote address at the National Firearms Law Seminar in 2019.

Required readings for Module 2 are:

  • Clayton E. Cramer, “Guns and Sport in the Early Republic,” in Armed America (2006). Part of the response to disgraced historian Michael Bellesiles’s claim that guns were not commonly owned in early America, Cramer entertainingly draws on memoirs and travel accounts to paint a picture of the various uses to which common people put guns in the Early Republic.
  • James D. Wright, Ten Essential Observations on Guns in America, Society (March/April 1995). Although the essay is a quarter century old now, many of his observations are as true today as they were when he first made them. It highlights how far we have to go in developing the sociology of guns as a field.
  • David Yamane, The Sociology of U.S. Gun Culture, Sociology Compass (2017). After working several years in the field of gun studies, I realized that Wright’s critique of the over-emphasis on crime and violence was still valid 20 years later. In this review essay, I argue for a sociology of gun culture that puts the legal use of firearms by lawful gun owners at the center of the analysis, and develop the concept of Gun Culture 2.0.
  • Syllabi for DC v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010). Give students a brief overview of where the Supreme Court currently stands on the Second Amendment. If I had more time, I would have the students read Adam Winkler’s Gunfight, which is in the recommended readings for the class.

Recommended readings for Module 2 are:

  • Adam Winkler, Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America (2011). I have said this is the best single volume treatment of guns in America, and I stand by that assessment. In earlier renditions of this course I have assigned this book, but it took too much time for what is essentially background information (albeit important background information).
  • Lee Kennett and James LaVerne Anderson, The Gun in America: The Origins of a National Dilemma (1975). I read this book for the first time only recently and I am sorry I didn’t read it sooner. I came across passage after passage in which I was reminded that much of what we see in contemporary gun culture and debates over the place of guns in society is not novel.
  • B. Bruce-Briggs, “The Great American Gun War,” in The Public Interest (1976). Published around the same time as Kennett and Anderson, I sometimes assign this essay to highlight again how the gun wars being fought today have been going on for some time. There’s nothing new under the sun.
  • Richard Hofstadter, “American As a Gun Culture,” American Heritage Magazine (1970). A classic lament of American gun culture, the students get a summary of his argument via my work so I don’t require it.
  • Abigail A. Kohn, Shooters: Myths and Realities of America’s Gun Cultures (2004). I have assigned sections of this in the past as she is one of the few social scientists who have tried to understand gun owners on their own terms. In the best of all possible worlds (i.e., with more time), I would require this.

I don’t take the recommended readings to be comprehensive or complete. Suggestions are welcome.

6 thoughts on “Sociology of Guns Module 2: Guns Are Normal, Normal People Use Guns

  1. For a comprehensive scholarly, but very readable, history of the 2nd Amendment; Stephen Halbrook’s recent “The Right to Bear Arms: A Constitutional Right of the People or a Privilege of the Ruling Class?” addresses many of the new (and old) false claims about the history of the RKBA vis a vis limits and “racism.”

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  2. Pingback: Collected Posts on Sociology of Guns Seminar | Gun Curious

  3. I was going to offer my own rave review of Adam Winkler’s “Gunfight” but David’s 2015 review does it justice. I bought a copy shortly after it came out and concur that it is easy to read even if you are not a law professor, comprehensive in covering the history of guns and gun laws in America, and a fascinating page-turner. David’s comment that you feel like you were a fly on the wall for the Heller case is pretty accurate.

    I imagine the upcoming Sullivan Law case will be grist for the mill for Sociology of Guns, 2022.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Collected Posts on Sociology of Guns Seminar | Gun Curious

  5. Pingback: Sociology of Guns, Version 7.0 (Fall 2021) | Gun Curious

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