Thoughts on the National Rifle Association (NRA)

Motivated by those who would reduce gun culture in the United States to the National Rifle Association (NRA), I have tried as much as possible to think and write about gun culture without paying too much attention to the NRA. In fact, when I sent out a book proposal a while ago, one of the reviewers took me to task for not discussing the NRA enough.

I have a couple of reasons for downplaying the NRA in my work.

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Who Are The Liberal Gun Owners?

The Democratic presidential primaries have the media off in search of a political unicorn: The Liberal Gun Owner. Two news stories in the past couple of days report on successful hunts.

The NPR affiliate in Seattle reported on “Four Seattle liberals on why they own guns and who they’re voting for in the primary. (H/T to my former student DH for sending this). And the Associated Press ran a story titled “Liberal gun owners face dilemma in 2020 field” (since picked up by many news outlets including The Washington Post).

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Is Gun Culture Becoming Militarized?

Criticisms of the “militarization” of American gun culture are commonplace. No group has done more to attack this phenomenon than the Violence Policy Center (VPC) and their 2011 report on “The Militarization of the U.S. Civilian Firearms Market.”

In this report they, like many, allege that the militarization of the firearms market is recent and is an intentional strategy of companies needing to sell products in a shrinking marketplace:

In spite of the gauzy imagery of its advertising, the gun industry’s militarization is simply a business strategy aimed at survival: boosting sales and improving the bottom line. The hard commercial fact is that military-style weapons sell in an increasingly narrowly focused civilian gun market. True sporting guns do not.

Among the evidence they present is an advertisement for the FNH USA FN Five-Seven pistol (reproduced in their report and below).

Violence Policy Center, “The Militarization of the U.S. Civilian Firearms Market” (2011), p. 3.

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Thoughts on Bridging the American Gun Divide

The finale episode of Season 3 of the American Diagnosis podcast with Dr. Celine Gounder has recently been released. The season focused on gun violence and the concluding episode considers the question: “Where Do We Go From Here?”

Over a year ago, I spoke about Gun Culture 2.0 on Episode 4 of Season 3 of the podcast, and 15 month later I am pleased to be given the last word of sorts for the season.

My comments remain some of my most coherent thoughts on the American gun divide, though I don’t feel as sanguine today as I did in April of 2018 when I was interviewed. Give the episode a listen (or see an excerpt of the transcript below) and judge for yourself. Let me know what you think.

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The National Rifle Association’s Sacralization of the Second Amendment

In a recent appearance on Ballistic Radio with John Johnston, I spoke some about ways in which gun culture can be like a religion. Although I ultimately concluded that there are important differences between the two, I have noted the confluence of guns and religion previously — both in my academic work and on my Gun Culture 2.0 blog.

For example, reflecting on my first experience attending the National Rifle Association annual meeting, I came away with the conclusion that the NRA is a Christian organization. Of course, this was a somewhat impressionistic observation.

Recently, Dr. Jessica Dawson — a sociologist the United States Military Academy at West Point and a U.S. Army Major — has addressed this issue more systematically in an article entitled, “Shall not be infringed: How the NRA used religious language to transform the meaning of the Second Amendment” (the journal, Palgrave Communications, is open-access, there is no paywall to read or download it).

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Targeted Advertising: Documenting the Emergence of Gun Culture 2.0 in Guns Magazine, 1955-2019

As noted in my recent post about the changing themes in gun advertising in The American Rifleman from 1918-2017, I have just finished a replication study based on advertising in Guns magazine from 1955 (when the magazine was founded) through 2019.

It documents the same pattern of decline of “Gun Culture 1.0” themes of hunting and recreational/sport shooting and raise of “Gun Culture 2.0” themes of personal protection and concealed carry.

A pre-publication version of the paper is available for download on SocArXiv Papers. Just two clicks and you can help this paper blow up on SocArXiv.

UPDATE: Thanks to a reader “OK S.” I now have the source of Colt’s “Safety of the Highways” ad. It was published in 1926 in The Lucky Bag, the Annual of the Regiment of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. The annual is available at https://archive.org/details/luckybag1926unse/page/566. Consider donating to the Internet Archive!

P.S., If you have any idea where the Colt’s “Safety of the Highways” ad was first published, I am still looking for the source of that. Thanks!