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
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Queers with Guns? Against the LGBT Grain

For the past 18 months, I have been co-editing, with Trent Steidley of the University of Denver, a special issue of the scholarly journal, Sociological Perspectives. The theme is “A Sociology of Firearms for the 21st Century.”

A major goal we had in soliciting and selecting articles for the special issue was to expand the narrow sociological literature by appreciating the multifaceted role guns play in society and culture beyond crime, deviance, and injury. This is the sort of project I called for in my original “Sociology of U.S. Gun Culture” article.

The printed edition of the journal will be available later this year, but the articles are being posted online once they are finalized. One that I am particularly proud to have had an editorial hand in is “Queers with Guns? Against the LGBT Grain” by University of Texas graduate student Thatcher Combs.

In all the years I have taught the Sociology of Guns (since 2015), I have not been able to assign a peer-reviewed sociological study of LGBT gun owners. I typically assign Rolling Stone’s story on the Pink Pistols and tell the students that some day a sociologist will give their attention to this important topic.

I am preparing my syllabus for this fall’s Version 7 of Sociology of Guns and am happy to have Thatcher Combs’s work to assign at last.

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Gun Culture 3.0? I Don’t Think So (Not Yet)

I have been trying to understand what I call, following gun journalist Michael Bane, Gun Culture 2.0 for over 10 years now. I am currently in a race to finish my book on the topic before Gun Culture 3.0 arrives.

I have not yet seen any convincing evidence that American gun culture has reached a new evolution, but recently some scholars have claimed it has. I refer to a press release from the Boston University School of Health, screen capped below.

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Article Published on “Who Are the Liberal Gun Owners?”

Early in 2020 I wrote an entry on this blog asking “Who are the liberal gun owners?” I was responding to media interest in liberals who own guns in an election year. In response to an inquiry from the Associated Press, I did some quick and dirty analyses using data from the National Opinion Research Center’s General Social Survey, but was left wanting to know more.

I was fortunate to find two sociology graduate students from Baylor University to collaborate with me on a more systematic analysis of these same data, Jesse DeDeyne and Alonso Alonso Octavio Aravena Méndez. Together, we recently published our article in the journal Sociological Inquiry.

Although the article is not Open Access, you can use THIS LINK to access a limited version of the full text of the article. You can also download a PDF of the article for educational purposes.

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A COVID-19 Handgun Purchasing Boom? – By Trent Steidley

In his third and final guest post in this series (see his first and second), Trent Steidley takes up the claim that the COVID-19 gun purchasing spree of March 2020 was driven by handgun purchases (a claim I made myself, which helped begin this dialogue).

Was March 2020 the best month for handgun sales ever?

Handguns for sale at Frisco Gun Club, Texas. Photo by David Yamane

By Trent Steidley

NARRATIVE #3: March 2020 was the best month for handgun sales ever.

This is technically correct (and if you watch Futurama you know this is the best kind of correct).

By MOODMAN from giphy.com

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How Unprecedented Was The Gun Buying Spree of March 2020 – By Trent Steidley

In his guest post yesterday, Trent Steidley challenged the simplistic use of data from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) as a measure of “gun sales.”

Today he critically engages the second of three common narratives emerging from the great gun buying spree of March 2020: that March 2020 saw the most guns sold in a single month in the history of NICS.

By Trent Steidley

NARRATIVE #2: March 2020 saw the most guns sold in a single month

This is true, at least for the numbers from NICS sales. But March 2020 is not a large increase considering the effect of population size and in relation to previous spikes.

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Caution and Sense with NICS Data and Gun Sale Spikes – by Trent Steidley

My recent posts about the great COVID19 gun buying spree of March 2020 (especially handguns) elicited some helpful clarifying and corrective tweets from my colleague Trent Steidley (bio below). I don’t know any sociologist as familiar or adept with National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) data as he is.

I am grateful, therefore, that he has written up his thoughts on using caution and sense with NICS data and gun sale spikes. In three separate posts here, he offers some clarifications and alternative takes for those really trying to understand what happened last month.

Frisco Gun Club, Texas. Photo by David Yamane

By Trent Steidley

You will have heard that March 2020 was a gangbuster month for gun sales. To be sure, two things are certainly true.

One, a lot of people went to gun stores, got background checks, and likely bought guns in March 2020 (and the reason for this is certainly because of COVID19, but whether these are new gun buyers afraid of social unrest or current owners afraid of government actions will take time to tell). Two, the majority of these guns sold were handguns.

But there are some narratives in these news stories that we should be cautious about.

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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!

The Rise of Self-Defense in Gun Advertising, The American Rifleman, 1918-2017

I realized recently that I never posted the published version of my work analyzing gun advertisements in The American Rifleman. It documents the decline of “Gun Culture 1.0” themes of hunting and recreational/sport shooting and rise of “Gun Culture 2.0” themes of personal protection and concealed carry.

So, here is the citation and a link to the book chapter: David Yamane, Sebastian L. Ivory, and Paul C. Yamane, “The Rise of Self-Defense in Gun Advertising: The American Rifleman, 1918-2017,” in Jennifer Carlson, Kristen Goss, and Harel Shapira, eds., Guns: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Politics, Policy, and Practice (New York: Routledge, 2019).

I am currently writing up a replication study using advertisements in Guns magazine from 1955-2019, which I presented at the American Society of Criminology annual meetings in San Francisco this month. I will post a link to that paper when it is ready.