Open Fire: Understanding Global Gun Cultures

By Charles Fruehling Springwood | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Drawing a Virtual Gun1

Katherine Gregory

This chapter examines how members of pro-gun chatrooms reproduce gun culture on the internet by constructing their online group identity around commonly shared beliefs they ascribe to the gun. Specifically, I want to understand how online spaces are used to build a community around gun culture, so grounded in the physical artefact. Although gun culture has been the subject of much debate, little is known about how online chatrooms operate as a source for community engagement and cohesiveness outside material culture. This study begins with observations made in a chatroom and concludes with a content analysis of pro-gun websites. Drawing on links between firearms, nationalism, and methods of activism intended to mobilize online supporters in the promotion of gun-owner rights in the United States, I analyze the many ways the discourse obfuscates the power associated with firearm ownership and production in the United States. Ultimately, I ask whether the internet reproduces the existing social structures or whether it contributes to the designing of a new social order.

Our popular concept of community has been historically associated with a sense of place. In the last twenty-five years, however, notions of community and identity-formation have shifted away from physical geography with the advent of BBS (bulletin board systems) and the internet. As a result, social groups are no longer confined to their geographical location or social position to establish their social bonds (Wilson and Peterson 2002). This relatively new method of social interaction is fostering social inclusiveness and community-building based on common interests and identity claims that were either in earlier times limited to one's social location or concealed owing to their stigmatizing characteristics. Social groups no longer solely defined by extrinsic social characteristics or bound to a tight social network are replaced by loose social networks based on common interests (Gold 2003). This “fluidity of community” may have positive aspects that produce a sense of exclusivity for members; however, it continues to raise questions about how online communities are shaped and controlled, and whether they simply replicate the existing social order or evolve in new ways. This leads to unanswered questions about who initiates and shapes online discussion;

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