Good Guys with Guns: The Appeal and Consequences of Concealed Carry

Good Guys with Guns: The Appeal and Consequences of Concealed Carry

Good Guys with Guns: The Appeal and Consequences of Concealed Carry

Good Guys with Guns: The Appeal and Consequences of Concealed Carry

Synopsis

Although the rate of gun ownership in U.S. households has declined from an estimated 50 percent in 1970 to approximately 32 percent today, Americans' propensity for carrying concealed firearms has risen sharply in recent years. Today, more than 11 million Americans hold concealed handgun licenses, an increase from 4.5 million in 2007. Yet, despite increasing numbers of firearms and expanding opportunities for gun owners to carry concealed firearms in public places, we know little about the reasons for obtaining a concealed carry permit or what a publicly armed citizenry means for society. Angela Stroud draws on in-depth interviews with permit holders and on field observations at licensing courses to understand how social and cultural factors shape the practice of obtaining a permit to carry a concealed firearm. Stroud's subjects usually first insist that a gun is simply a tool for protection, but she shows how much more the license represents: possessing a concealed firearm is a practice shaped by race, class, gender, and cultural definitions that separate "good guys" from those who represent threats. Stroud's work goes beyond the existing literature on guns in American culture, most of which concentrates on the effects of the gun lobby on public policy and perception. Focusing on how respondents view the world around them, this book demonstrates that the value gun owners place on their firearms is an expression of their sense of self and how they see their social environment.

Excerpt

I met John at his firearms training school located in a rural part of Central Texas where he and other instructors teach various safety and selfdefense courses, from introductory pistol to SWAT tactics. I was a couple of months into my research on concealed handgun licensing, and my enculturation into the worldview of license holders was well under way. Though I started this project uncertain about why a person would feel the need to carry a firearm in public, by the morning John and I met, I had already heard enough stories about violent assaults and the horror of being helpless when confronted by an armed criminal that I was developing anxiety about the idea of victimization, and I was starting to see the appeal of carrying a handgun. This was happening despite my familiarity with the empirical evidence that clearly showed that violent crime rates were continuing a two-decade-long trend of steep decline and my deep reservations about what it would mean for our society to have an ever-growing cadre of armed citizens. Would we become increasingly suspicious of one another? How would basic social ties be affected? These questions loomed in the background as I interviewed John.

If proponents of concealed handgun licenses (CHLs) could handpick a spokesperson to promote their cause, John would be an excellent candidate. He is smart and articulate and speaks quickly and convincingly about why handgun licensing is effective social policy. For example, he explained that the likelihood of a police officer’s being around when you need one is virtually zero: “It doesn’t mean that they’re bad people . . .  [or] that their organization is a failure. It means that they have a limited number of officers, and we wouldn’t want to live in a country where you have a police officer at your elbow twenty-four hours a day anyway. And most of the police officers would not want to work in an environment like that either. They’re not interested in that. By definition that means that if you’re going to be able to defend yourself against a violent attack from someone that has no justification for attacking you other than greed, malice, sexual, whatever, then, you’ve pretty much gotta be ready to take care of yourself.” He continued, “Our joke is, ‘It’ll never happen to . . .

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