New Book on Gun Culture by Noah Schwartz, “On Target”

As my agent continues to try to find a publisher for my book on American gun culture, I feel bombarded by other people’s books on the topic.

Actually, most books published on guns in America today do not compete with mine because they approach guns from the perspective of what I have been calling The Standard Model of Explaining the Irrationality of Defensive Gun Ownership. This model is driven by criminological, epidemiological, and public health approaches, as well as social science animated by the “hermeneutics of suspicion.”

Enter Noah Schwartz, a Canadian political scientist who wrote his doctoral dissertation on why the National Rifle Association (NRA) is so influential in American gun debates. Spoiler alert: It is not because of their political lobbying and campaign donations.

Schwartz’s work now appears in print as On Target: Gun Culture, Storytelling, and the NRA. (Buy it at your local bookstore, or HERE to indirectly support local bookstores.)

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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.

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The Woman’s Gun Pamphlet: A Primer on Handguns (1975)

TL:DR Because I had then lost this document, and so I do not lose it again, I am posting a PDF of The Woman’s Gun Pamphlet: A Primer on Handguns.

The pamphlet is notable for being published in 1975 by an anonymous “group of women who have spent our lives living in danger of attack from men.”

Thanks to Kathy Jackson (a.k.a., “The Cornered Cat”), a thought leader on women in gun culture, for finding her copy and sending it to me.

For more on the reasons I needed this document recently, please read on. . .

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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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Review of Misfire: Inside the Downfall of the NRA by Tim Mak

Before I had a chance to read it myself, I had been hearing good things from reform minded NRA members about Misfire: Inside the Downfall of the NRA by NPR investigative reporter Tim Mak.

I’ve now had a chance to read the book in full. Despite some small quibbles I have with Mak’s language, analysis, and storytelling, this is an interesting and important book for those wanting to understand how the NRA got to be in the position it is in right now.

If you don’t have any idea what I mean by “the position it is in right now,” then you DEFINITELY need to read this book.

I “live Tweeted” my reading, chapter-by-chapter, so you can see my synopses and thoughts unrolled below.

Reading “Misfire” at the Barber Shop. Selfie by David Yamane
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Women, the NRA, and Gun Culture by Noah Schwartz

Although I was not a fan of NRATV generally, there were some programs I thought did a good job of trying to “build bridges, not walls.” Among these were shows aimed at incorporating more women in gun culture. So I was excited when I came across an academic article — “Called to Arms: The NRA, The Gun Culture & Women” in Critical Policy Studies — that analyzed some of these programs like Love at First Shot.

I was going to write a summary of the article, but then it occurred to me that the author himself might do a better job of sharing his ideas on the topic. I am pleased that Noah S. Schwartz (see about the author at the end) agreed, and his thoughts are below.

(If you cannot access the original article behind the paywall, send me an email and I can send you a copy for educational purposes.)

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“Live” Tweeting the Gangster Capitalism Podcast on the NRA

Following is a long Twitter thread I wrote while listening/reacting to a podcast series called Gangster Capitalism which focused this season on the current crisis of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

I went into it skeptically, since the NRA is often misunderstood and hatred toward it takes general biases toward guns in the media and turns them up to 11. But in the end I found the series largely accurate (to the extent that I know what is going on in the NRA) and only disappointing in a couple of places, notably in its final conclusion.

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On “The Political Weaponization of Gun Owners” by the National Rifle Association

The political power of the National Rifle Association (NRA) is both frustrating to and badly misunderstood by many of its critics (as I highlighted recently in response to PBS Frontline’s program on the NRA).

According to Barnard College political scientist Matthew Lacombe, much of the legislative strength of the NRA is due to its ability to politically mobilize guns owners on its behalf. And key to that political “weaponization” has been the cultivation of “gun owner” as a social identity in the first place. (An identity I reflected on from my own perspective in my previous post.)

Here I discuss his recently published article, “The Political Weaponization of Gun Owners: The National Rifle Association’s Cultivation, Dissemination, and Use of a Group Social Identity.” Unfortunately the article is not available open access, but if you would like a copy for educational purposes, let me know.

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PBS Frontline Episode “NRA Under Fire” and Common Narratives of the NRA

I don’t really want to keep talking about the National Rifle Association (NRA). I really don’t. As noted previously, when I sent a proposal for a book on Gun Culture 2.0 to Oxford University Press a couple of years ago, one of the peer reviewers took me to task for not talking about the NRA enough. In fact, as a correction to those who want to reduce guns and gun culture to the NRA, I am intentionally trying to write my book without putting the NRA in the center of the action.

Which is not to say the NRA is unimportant, but the common narrative of the NRA is too simplistic in a number of ways. In particular, it downplays too much both the NRA’s early political activity and its current activities beyond politics.

I saw this once again in a recent  episode of the long-running PBS series Frontline on the National Rifle Association called “NRA Under Fire.”

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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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