Academic argues, “Gun Availability Isn't Gun Culture”

A new Twitter acquaintance and reader here, Khalil Spencer, recommended an article to me on the subject of the place of guns in American life that deserves some discussion.  Ben Peterson, writing for the Intercollegiate Review, proposes the idea that “Gun Availability Isn’t Gun Culture”, wherein he suggests that the solution to gun violence in America is an inculcation of a rightly understood set of attitudes and practices passed from elders to children.

My suspicions get raised when I hear “mom and apple pie” recipes for improving the culture.  Peterson’s description of the passing along of traditions of safety and responsibility sounds pleasant, but leave me thinking that we’re missing something.  There are tones here of The Andy Griffith Show with uncomplicated answers to simple problems in a nation that never really existed.  And despite the best intention of parents, there’s good reason to conclude that children are more influenced by their genes and their peers than they are by the previous generation.  How much a particular type of gun culture could be passed along intentionally is difficult to say.

Culture is itself a challenging concept, one whose meaning sounds obvious on the face of it, but becomes much murkier and more complex as we study the matter.  The definition includes beliefs, experiences, points of view, practices, and symbols, among a lot of other things, and the transmission of all of that.  Multiple cultures can live in the same geographical region, and while we categorize a culture by what often is a stereotype, the reality is that cultures have a great deal of diversity within them, along with a lot of commonality with other cultures.

One example of this is Hollywood’s role in gun culture.  For too many, everything they know about firearms comes from American movies and television.  How much is support for “assault weapons” bans, magazine capacity limits, and other such restrictions based in large part on appearances comes from what people see on their screens?  There’s a cocking sound whenever someone draws a Glock, and both heroes and villains shove their pistols into their pants without bothering about holsters.  Flipping the cylinder shut on a revolver is less common, I’m pleased to say, and more characters keep their fingers straight along the frame until ready to shoot, so all is not a loss.

The larger concern is the danger of social conformity.  A gun store near my home has had a sign at the entrance telling Obama voters and people with sagging pants that they’re not welcome.  That attitude is not universal, but it harkens back to the view that this country is definitively white, straight, Christian, and middle class.

Saying that we need a gun culture is a sweeping statement, one that gets muddled in the details.  Is teaching responsibility and safety a good thing to do?  Of course.  I’d celebrate gun classes in elementary and high schools, for example.  But safe gun handling isn’t a hard subject.  Jeff Cooper famously got the rules down to four, and anyone who follows them is probably never going to have a moment of negligence.  Intentional actions are another matter altogether, and that’s where calls for a new gun culture miss the mark.  It’s not “gun culture” or the lack thereof that is the problem, unless Peterson has more in mind than just guns.  His favoring of the Israeli approach to gun ownership—tight controls, including government discretion on who may have weapons legally—leaves me thinking that he sees gun rights more in terms of privileges that only approved people may have.

It’s simpler to say that if you don’t harm innocents, you have the right to own and carry firearms.  And avoiding such harms is in fact easy to do.  In terms of law and social expectations, simpler tends to be more effective.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

Latest Reviews