If You Want to Understand America's Gun Culture, Start by Listening


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By Mark Houser

In a recent opinion piece titled Guns and the Rural Vote, Ryan Davis offers his thoughts on what people fail to understand about American gun culture. Unfortunately, Davis himself overlooks the essential and distinguishing features of Americans’ attitudes towards firearms and the right to bear arms. In doing so, Davis misunderstands why American “gun people” (for lack of a better term) find gun control so utterly unpalatable.

Davis makes some good points — I particularly like what he had to say about the shared practice of hunting be able to bridge social divides. However, Davis’s core thesis is completely wrong. I continue to be frustrated by attempts to understand “gun people” that don’t involve listening to us. By characterizing our concerns and values as merely “symbolic,” Davis dismisses the real, substantial threats we face from politicians’ agendas and administrative agencies’ actions.

Regarding gun owners’ attitudes toward gun control, Davis says, “The offense is in what is said; not what is planned.” That is maddeningly incorrect. I oppose Biden’s gun control plan because of the material consequences it would have for me, people I love, and millions of other Americans — not because I don’t like the way he articulates it. 

Davis seems to accept the idea that talk of confiscation is “gun-lobby fearmongering.” Again, the explicit particulars of Biden’s gun control plan and his spoken rhetoric say otherwise.

I cannot express how frustrating it is to be told that gun owners’ concerns are “symbolic” when they are, for example, doing the math to figure out how much it would cost to register each of their standard-capacity magazines at $200 each — or, more likely, trying to think through what will happen if they choose not to comply with such a ridiculous scheme.

And gun people worry about what their lives would look like if the ATF decides to makes them felons overnight through one of the arbitrary regulatory decisions I’ve written so much about. In the latest instance, the ATF unilaterally and secretly abandoned its operating definition of what a firearm is and raided a business based on some new (but still unknown) definition it had invented.

To say that gun people have merely “symbolic” concerns is dismissive to the point of being offensive.

Davis is also wrong to view American gun culture primarily through the lens of hunting. In fact, this is completely backwards: a defining characteristic of American gun culture is the understanding that hunting has only an incidental relationship to the right to bear arms.

As I’ve written elsewhere, the right to bear arms and the Second Amendment aren’t about shooting ducks. The vast majority of participants in American gun culture understand this. Anyone who doesn’t gets called a “Fudd,” a derisive term for people who see the right to bear arms and gun ownership as being subordinate to or merely a corollary of the practice of hunting.

For contrast, consider New Zealand: a country with a relatively high rate of gun ownership where owning a firearm for the purpose of self-defense is generally illegal. In New Zealand, gun ownership largely is merely a function of hunting. One cannot understand American gun culture without understanding how it is distinct from a gun culture centered around hunting.

I do appreciate the effort to understand “gun people” rather than dismiss us, but I don’t appreciate having our material concerns being relegated to the province of symbolism. Listening to us would go a long way toward understanding us.

 

This article was originally published at marklivesthings.medium.com and is reprinted here with permission. 

 

 

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