OSD 135: A sociologist walks into a B.A.R.

David Yamane is studying guns as culture, not pathology.

Worth a read this week is “Understanding and Misunderstanding America’s Gun Culture” (PDF), a chapter that David Yamane contributed to a book called Understanding America’s Gun Culture. (On his Buy Me a Coffee, which is worth chipping into if you read his work and find it valuable, Yamane describes the overall book as “not great”.)

Yamane is known as one of the only sociologists studying guns not as a pathology but as a culture. He described this in a lecture in 2019:

A quarter-century ago in 1995, sociologist James Wright included among his “Ten Essential Observations on Guns in America” that “gun ownership is normative, not deviant, behavior across vast swaths of the social landscape”. The idea that guns are normal and normal people use guns may seem common-sense to those of us gathered here, but it's actually a dramatic departure from the standard social scientific approaches that view guns and gun owners as deviant, and research literatures that are dominated by criminological and epidemiological studies of gun violence. This theme is so constant that the New York Times ran a headline just last week declaring, “Gun Research Is Suddenly Hot”. In fact, the story was about how research on gun violence is suddenly hot. Research on the lawful use of guns is as cold as ever.

You wouldn’t know this from most media depictions, but “guns are normal and normal people use guns” isn’t an opinion about the way things should be — it’s a description of the way things are. As Yamane writes in this new chapter (emphasis ours):

To begin with, a majority of the population currently lives with a gun in their house or had in the past, and a sizable minority — what I call the “gun curious” — have thought about or are actively considering acquiring a gun (Kelley and Ellison 2021; Warner 2020). Only about one-third of Americans say they do not and will never own guns (Yamane 2019b). A remarkable 7 out of 10 American adults have actually tried a gun at some point in their lives—that is nearly 180 million people. Viewed the other way around: A minority of American adults has never shot a gun.

In a domain that is (understandably) focused on politics and laws, it’s easy to miss the fact that culturally, people are actually mostly pretty cool with guns. And that seems to be getting more true over time.

Another example: just this week, the Wall Street Journal ran a story on the fact that women now make up almost half of all new gun buyers.

The preliminary results from the 2021 National Firearms Survey, designed by Deborah Azrael of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Matthew Miller of Northeastern University, show an estimated 3.5 million women became new gun owners from January 2019 through April of this year. About 4 million men became new gun owners over that period, they found.

These things aren’t static, and momentum can shift in either direction with little warning. So this isn’t a call for complacency. Quite the opposite. It’s a reminder that building a positive culture pays off, so it’s worth investing even more in.

Give Yamane’s book chapter a read, you’ll like it. There’s also a second chapter he contributed to, “A Woman’s Place in Gun Advertisements: The American Rifleman 1920-2019”, which dives into the evolution of gun culture particularly with respect to women taking on an increasingly visible position.


This week’s links

Beau of the Fifth Column on gear vs. training

Shades of Pat McNamara’s quote that just because you have a gun doesn’t mean you’re armed.

Ivan the Troll’s 3011

It’s like if a 1911 fell into the chemical vat with the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman. (But actually it’s pretty cool to see where 3D-printed guns are going.)

OSD’s own BJ Campbell on Benjamin Boyce’s podcast

Great wide-ranging conversation.

Interview with Arne Duncan on street violence in Chicago

From the Freakonomics podcast, pointed out to us by an OSD subscriber (thanks Bill). Starting at 32:48, the former Secretary of Education talks about work he’s done in the field of preventing violence. It’s worth a listen because despite what you’d expect (and despite the fact that he’s certainly a gun control supporter), gun control doesn’t come up in the conversation. It’s focused on root causes.

The cars from Mad Max: Fury Road are up for auction

B.Y.O. pintle mount


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