Light Over Heat #33: The Professor Reviews 4 Books on the NRA

In this week’s Light Over Heat video, I discuss four books on the National Rifle Association (NRA) in light of two persistent myths.

First, that the NRA was a benign, apolitical sportsmans organization prior to the Revolt at Cincinnati in 1977.

Second, that the NRA is “the most powerful lobby in America.” A PBS Frontline episode in 2020 managed to highlight both.

Continue reading

Light Over Heat #32: Talkin’ ‘Bout an Insurrection

After the January 6th storming of the US Capitol Building, I knew that gun owners and gun culture would be blamed. But from the start I have questioned how widely gun owners in general supported this clumsy coup.

In this week’s Light Over Heat video I consider some recent survey data that addresses the question of gun owner support for the storming of the Capitol Building, and for political violence more generally.

Thumbnail image: TapTheForwardAssist, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Continue reading

Light Over Heat #31: The Diversity and (Possible) Future of American Gun Culture

In this week’s Light Over Heat video I discuss diversity in American gun culture, both the diversity of different gun subcultures that exist today beyond the self-defense-oriented Gun Culture 2.0 and diversity within Gun Culture 2.0.

This diversity sets the stage for some speculation about possible futures for American gun culture: (1) post-Bruen growth and consolidation of Gun Culture 2.0; (2) diversity within Gun Culture 2.0 and across gun culture generally leads to a situation where “the center cannot hold” and gun culture fragments with no main center of gravity going forward; and (3) a Gun Culture 3.0 centered on Second Amendment politics.

This latter idea is one that was floated, prematurely in my view, by Claire Boine and her colleagues in their article, “What is gun culture? Cultural variations and trends across the United States.”

Continue reading

Light Over Heat #30: Overview of My Work on American Gun Culture

This is my 30th consecutive weekly episode of “Light Over Heat”! Because I am seeing more people watching these videos coming from outside my existing social networks, I thought I would celebrate #30 by giving a brief overview of my approach to American gun culture and highlight a few of my key works for those interested.

Thanks for dedicating a bit of your valuable time to engaging my thoughts. I deeply appreciate it.

Continue reading

Light Over Heat #29: Just Say “I Don’t Know”

In this week’s “Light Over Heat” video, I reflect on the significance of a moment in my interview with CNN’s John Avlon for his show Reality Check in which he asked me a question and I answered, “I don’t know.” This part of our pre-recorded interview was included in what was eventually broadcast. At first, I thought it made me look bad, but in retrospect I realized it taught an important lesson: the power and importance of saying “I don’t know.”

I am reminded of Jon Meacham’s commencement address at Wake Forest University a few years ago when he said reason requires that you accept you may be wrong. Reason also requires you to admit when you don’t know something rather than pretending to know everything. Both requirements facilitate light over heat.

Continue reading

Light Over Heat #28: Examining a Study of Permitless Carry Laws and Officer-Involved Shootings

NOTE: Since I recorded this video, I published an analysis of this study and one other study on Stephen Gutowski’s gun news reporting site, The Reload. The article is only available to subscribers, but a subscription is well worth the cost.

This week I look at a study that purports to show that the shift to permitless carry laws from 2014 to 2020 is associated with a rise in the number of officer-involved shootings of civilians.

The idea is that permitless carry creates more of a perceived threat among law enforcement officers, leading to more officer-involved shootings (OIS).

The paper’s abstract reads, “On average, Permitless CCW adopting states saw a 12.9% increase in the OIS victimization rate or an additional 4 OIS victimizations per year, compared to what would have happened had law adoption not occurred.”

But according to a press release announcing the article, an increase in officer involved shootings was only found in 4 of 11 states that went to permitless carry during the study period.

So, despite the headline, in a majority of states that went permitless, there was NO increase in the number of officer-involved shootings compared to the synthetic control states. Here again we see what I call “the problem with averages.”

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 #27: Lessons Learned from a Duke Firearms Law Center Workshop

In this week’s video, I talk about my experience attending a works-in-progress workshop at the Duke Center for Firearms Law. One of the best parts of this workshop is the diversity of perspectives represented. This year, it ranged from an attorney for the National Rifle Association to an attorney for Giffords Law Center*.  (*In the video I said Everytown, sorry!)

The topics covered are incredibly varied as well, and the entire discussion is conducted in a scholarly and respectful manner. I feel very fortunate to be able to spend the day learning outside my primary area of expertise.

Watch the video on YouTube and read more of my reflections below.

As an empirical social scientist, I am not entirely irrelevant to the proceedings, though. Many of the papers either draw upon or could benefit from data on how guns and gun laws actually work in society.

As I discuss in a later “Light Over Heat” video, establishing a clear empirical connection between restrictive/permissive gun laws and beneficial/harmful outcomes is very difficult, and people sometimes overplay the implications of their findings.

Here, a recent argument made by Andrew Morral, who heads up RAND’s gun policy research initiative, is worth some thought. In a New York Times article on gun violence research, Morral says we can’t expect definitive evidence: “That’s sort of like saying our standard for passing laws is a criminal standard — beyond all reasonable doubt. I think we should come into these discussions with a civil standard: Where does the preponderance of the evidence lie? Is there reason to think that the proposed legislation might be better than what currently exists?” (Drawing on a paper by the Duke gun scholar Phil Cook and the University of Chicago economist Jens Ludwig.)

My initial take: Perhaps we need to think of these things as on a continuum from not very sure to pretty sure to very sure (in the social sciences certainty is impossible), and the standard of evidence should vary according to how invasive the proposed policies are. E.g., banning people from owning/doing something should be based on a higher standard than an intervention with a significant upside & limited downside. On the latter, I think of community-based violence disruption or the work of Dr. Joseph Richardson on hospital-based interventions where the only cost is money.

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.

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.

Continue reading