It’s Time to Retire the NRA’s “Good Guy with a Gun” Slogan

NOTE: An earlier, abbreviated version of this text appeared as an opinion essay in the Charlotte Observer/Raleigh News & Observer on June 16, 2022.

I am a defensive gun owner and a sociologist who has been studying American gun culture for a decade now. One of the first significant gun events I attended for my research was the 142nd National Rifle Association (NRA) annual meetings and exhibits. Held in May 2013 at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, the conference set a record with over 85,000 NRA members attending.

Looking back today at the many pictures I took to document the spectacle, one stands out: a t-shirt for sale in the NRA meeting store that reads on the front in all caps, “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is . . .” The now familiar slogan concludes on the back, “a good guy with a gun.”

Created by Ackerman McQueen – the advertising agency that, with Wayne LaPierre, bears significant responsibility for the downfall of the NRA – the phrase debuted in the infamous NRA press conference following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December 2012.

I did not like it then. I like it even less now. For my thoughts on why, read on or watch this week’s Light Over Heat Video on YouTube.

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Light Over Heat #24: My Thoughts on the Murder of Ahmaud Arbery

This week’s episode features audio of comments I made for the Liberal Gun Owners Lens Podcast series on the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.

I try to recognize both the importance of understanding race/racism in American history, and hence gun culture historically, and also the importance of recognizing that this is not essential to American gun culture today.

I hope this subtlety comes through in this episode.

New “Light Over Heat” videos are released on YouTube every Wednesday, so please surf over to my YouTube channel and SUBSCRIBE to follow, RING THE BELL to receive notifications, and SHARE so others can learn about this work.

Shooting Guns is Normal

In his excellent book, The Gun Gap, political scientist Mark Joslyn highlights the ways in which gun owners and non-owners live in very different social worlds. For example, non-owners are much more likely than owners to say none of their friends own guns.

Unfortunately, one of the few times these different social worlds come together is in the wake of horrific mass murders. This is probably the worst possible time for people to try to grasp a reality with which they are unfamiliar.

One way to appreciate how common and unproblematic guns are for most Americans comes from the Pew Research Center’s 2017 report, America’s Complex Relationship With Guns.

Pew Question: “Regardless of whether or not you own a gun, have you ever fired a gun?”

Nearly three-quarters of respondents (72%) said YES.

In terms of population, nearly 180 million adults in America have fired a gun (72% of 250 million US population over 18). Even plus or minus 5%, that is a lot of people.

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At What Age Do Americans Get Their First Guns?

As the age at which American adults ought to be able to buy firearms is being discussed in the wake of Buffalo and Uvalde, I want to point to some data on the age at which Americans actually get their first guns.

TL:DR (1) For respondents who say they currently or have ever owned a gun, the average age is 22. (2) Men acquire their first gun at age 19 and women at age 27, on average. (3) 37 percent of those who currently or have ever owned guns first got their own gun when they were under 18 years of age.

The data comes from the Pew Research Center’s 2017 report, America’s Complex Relationship With Guns. I doubt these numbers have shifted much in the past 5 years, but if you know of more recent data on this point, please let me know in the comments or by using the contact form or email me.

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Talking About American Gun Culture, Mass Shootings, and Gun Control in the Wake of Uvalde on Newsy

I was invited on Newsy’s Morning Rush to talk about American gun culture, mass shootings, and gun control in the Wake of the Uvalde shootings.

As usual, I find myself trying to capture the complex reality of guns in the United States, and pointing out ways in which “things are not what they seem.” I can’t help it. I’m a sociologist.

They sent me the clip of my segment with them and I posted the 4-minute video to my “Light Over Heat” channel.

I wasn’t expecting it, but they mentioned my mini-book, Concealed Carry Revolution: Liberalizing the Right to Bear Arms in America (Updated Edition).

New “Light Over Heat” videos are released on YouTube every Wednesday, so please surf over to my YouTube channel and SUBSCRIBE to follow, RING THE BELL to receive notifications, and SHARE so others can learn about this work.

Light Over Heat #19: Presentation on Gun Culture 2.0 at UCONN-Hartford Authors Workshop

In Light Over Heat videos #15 (on gun research and gun policy) and #16 (on finding common ground on gun violence), I shared my thoughts on a workshop I attended in March at UCONN-Hartford. The workshop brought together authors contributing to an issue of The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science on gun violence prevention.

Of course, GVP is not my area of expertise, but I was asked to contribute something on the evolution of gun culture. So, in Hartford I presented a summary of my contribution, “Gun Culture 2.0: Evolution, Contours, and Consequences of Defensive Gun Ownership in America.”

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Light Over Heat #18: Why Are Guns So Prominent in American Culture?

I was pleased that the online streaming news network “Newsy” asked to interview me for their nightly program “The Why.” They wanted to address the question, “Why is gun culture so prominent in the U.S.?”

I thought the introductory package they put together was pretty comprehensive and fair, and they allowed me a full five minutes to answer questions about the topic.

I hope my answers are interesting and coherent. Let me know either way.

New “Light Over Heat” videos are released on YouTube every Wednesday, so please surf over to my YouTube channel and SUBSCRIBE to follow, RING THE BELL to receive notifications, and SHARE so others can learn about this work.

Chatting with a Gun Curious Podcaster

The animating idea of this blog is to speak (primarily) to those who are neither totally bought into the idea of guns nor totally opposed to it. That is, to the gun curious.

I recently had the opportunity to chat with just such a person. Mark McNease is a politically liberal gay man living in rural NJ. Mark found me because he is a member of the Liberal Gun Club (LGC), which syndicates this blog. He is a member of the LGC even though he is not a gun owner. Mark is part of roughly 1/3 of the population who don’t currently own guns but don’t rule them out. He is gun curious.

Mark recorded our conversation for his podcast, One Thing or Another (16 February 2022).

This is a very informative podcast not so much because of my answers but because of the host’s questions. A lot of people out there have the same questions about guns and gun culture as Mark, so I hope I answered them well.

Talking Gun Conversion with The Reverend Hunter

In October 2021, I traveled from North Carolina to Vermont to attend and present at the Outdoor Writers Association of America’s (OWAA) annual conference. After flying into Burlington, I had a 90-minute long shuttle bus ride to the Jay Peak Resort, near the Canadian border. On the ride, I listened to and participated in some friendly chatter with other conference attendees.

I would later see one particularly gregarious fellow from the shuttle a few times during the conference, including sharing some meals together. Toward the end of the conference, we realized we had something more in common than the OWAA.

It turns out that before he became The Reverend Hunter, my new colleague Tony Jones was a celebrity pastor of the “emerging church” movement in the evangelical wing of American Christianity. Before I became a gun scholar, I spent 20 years studying American religion. We had a mutual friend in one of my longtime colleagues in the sociology of religion, Gerardo Marti, co-author of The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity, in which Jones figures prominently.

Screen cap of https://reverendhunter.com/
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New Data on New Gun Owners and Gun Policy Preferences

Like many, I have been touting the changing face of gun owners, especially in connection with the great gun buying spree of 2020+. I have discussed this in Discourse Magazine in February 2021, at the Outdoor Writers Association of American annual conference in October 2021, in Episode 3 of my “Light Over Heat” video series on YouTube in January 2022, and elsewhere.

In fact, I was discussing the diversity of Gun Culture 2.0 even before COVID, as in my lunchtime keynote lecture to the National Firearms Law Seminar in April 2019.

Beyond recognizing the diversity of new gun buyers, I have also argued that being a person who owns a gun does not automatically make someone a “gun owner” in terms of their identity. Not developing a gun owner identity could limit new gun owners’ engagement with gun culture more broadly or with Second Amendment advocacy specifically (per political scientist Matthew Lacombe).

Some recent data on new gun owners and gun policy preferences (H/T The Trace’s Daily Bulletin) show that I may be, as is often the case, only half-right.

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