Academic journal article Journal of American & Comparative Cultures

The Evolving Gun Culture in America

Academic journal article Journal of American & Comparative Cultures

The Evolving Gun Culture in America

Article excerpt

Although popular culture appears to fluctuate rapidly, depending on tastes and artistic inventiveness, the deeper culture of political values and ideology changes much more slowly. That is the case with what is called the gun culture in America. A careful examination of the two major parts of the American gun culture (the pro-gun rights group and the pro-gun control group) indicates that they have been changing in ways suggestive of biological evolution. The two groups compete with each other for political and social resources, a struggle that often finds expression in popular culture. Each of these groups considers itself part of the mainstream of the broader American culture while at the same time portraying the other as participating in a separate and irrational subculture. As we discuss below, the size of the pro-gun population has begun to decline. To understand these changes, we must first characterize both sides of this culture and then analyze their relationship with each other.

We clarify conflicting notions of a gun culture by identifying the basic beliefs often attributed to these opposed depictions of two American subcultures, by tracing their origins and development, and by examining the extent to which beliefs about firearms are reflected in the broader American population. We identify recent trends in the makeup of the gun culture. In addition, we conduct a qualitative sampling of publications from both sides of the gun culture which expresses basic beliefs and perceptions each group has of the other.

Delimiting the Gun Culture

We consider the gun culture to include people who view guns as a significant part of American life, both those who support the right to possess firearms and oppose government interference in this right, and those who wish to restrict firearm ownership and use. However, the term is not dichotomous; there are instead many positions along a continuum, and boundaries are indistinct. Nonetheless, we shall speak of the "pro-gun" and "pro-control" forces, as their supporters do, realizing that doing so may obscure more subtle differences in beliefs.

While the term "gun culture" may not be logically dichotomous, the language and images used by gun control advocates and gun rights supporters are intensely polarized. Advocates of stronger gun control identify what they consider a disturbing pattern of attitudes toward the use of firearms and their association with violence and death. Gun rights supporters find a similarly emotional set of beliefs among gun opponents that include what is considered an irrational fear of guns and a tendency to view firearms as evil forces independent of the individuals wielding them. Certain terms that have been used in the debates over the advisability of additional controls on firearms indicate this tendency to dichotomize the positions. For instance, while postwar popular culture used the term "gun bug" to refer to those who have a fascination with firearms, today the term of reference is more likely to be "gun nut," which conveys a far less favorable connotation. From the other side of the debate, those who favor additional gun control measures are referred to as "gun grabbers."

Table 1 below contrasts the current qualitative differences between the beliefs and attitudes of a typical pro-gun advocate with those of a typical pro-control advocate. This table illustrates the polar opposition of participant attitudes by focusing on the key features of the gun policy debate. At the beginning of the twenty-- first century, it may also provide a benchmark against which later attitudinal changes may be identified. Although there are numerous positions along a continuum regarding beliefs and policy preferences about guns, this table suggests the breadth and depth of the typical differences between the two subcultures.

While the beliefs and images of the gun rights and gun control groups are polar opposites, in some senses each side believes it represents the mainstream of American culture. …

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