You are on page 1of 83

I DonaldE.J.Kilmer,Jr.

,(SBN: 179986)

2 A ProfessionalCorporation
126l LincolnAvenue,Suite111
J SanJose,California95125-3030
Telephone: 4081998-8489
4 Facsimile: 4081998-8487 Þ/¿*"' a êAA6
Attorney for Plaintiffs

t , 10
TASIANA WERTYSCHYN,JEAN LEE, FederalRulesof Civil Procedure26(a)(2)
Judge: Martin J. Jenkins
l5 (Bob) ADAMS, ROGERBAKER, MIKE Courthouse: U.S.Court House
t6 SanFrancisco
Plaintiffs, California 94102



& 23
To: Defendants,

ffi 24

ffi 25

throughits attorneyof record,RICHARDS,WATSON &


andRichardWinnie,CountyCounsel;l22l OakStreet,Suite463,Oakland,California94612.
Do¡ald Kilmer
Attomey at låw 28
I 261 LincolnAvc.
Su¡tcI I I
SanJose,CA 95125
Vc:408/998-8489 Nord]¡ke v. Kine PageI of 2 PlaintiffsExpert'sReport
Fx: 408/998-8487
I PLEASETAKE NOTICE THAT, UndertheFederalRulesof Civil ProcedurePlaintiffs:



6 andpursuantto this Honorable

REPORTasrequiredby FederalRule of Civil Procedure26(a)(2)

7 Court'sNovember1,2005Scheduling
8 AttachedasExhibitsA - E heretoare:
9 A. Expert'sReport:The Gun asa Symbolfor AmericanGunEnthusiasts.By Abigail A.
( , 10 Kohn,Ph.D.

1l B. CompleteCurriculumVitae andpublishedarticlelist of Abigail A. Kohn, Ph.D.

I2 C. Samplearticlefrom footnote#6of Expert'sReports:Their Aim Is True,by Abigail

13 Kohn. Reason.May 2001.

t4 D. Samplearticlefrom footnote#6of Expert'sReports:StraightShootingon GunControl,

15 by Abigail Kohn,Don B. Kates,WendyKaminerandMichaelKrauss. Reason.May

t6 200s.
T 7 E. Cultural Anatomy of a Gun Show. By Joan Burbick. A paper presentedthe Conference

18 "Gun Control:Old Problems,New Paradigms."The conferencetook placeat the
t9 StanfordCriminalJusticeCenterat StanfordUniversityLaw Schoolon September16-17,
20 2005. This paperwasreferencedin footnote#31 of the Plaintiffs Expert'sReport.

2I Dated:May 12,2006



24 DonaldE. J. Kilmer,Jr.
25 A ProfessionalCorporation
126l LincolnAvenue,Suite111
26 SanJose,California95125-3030
Phone:4081998-8489 Fax: 408/998-8487
27 E-Mail: Don@DKlawOffice. com
Donald Kllmer
Attomey at Iáw 28 Attorney for the Plaintifß
126l LincolnAve.
Sùitell I
SanJose,CA 95125
Vc: 408/998-8489 Nordvkev. Kine Page2of 2 PlaintiffsExpert'sReport
Fx: 408/998-8487
r . )

The Gun as a Svmbol for American Gun Enthusiasts

Abigail A. Kohn, Ph.D.


7637HolmesRun Dr.
FallsChurch,VA 22042


1l Mav 2006
Table of Contents

L Introduction and Methodology

il. The Contested Meaning of Guns

I ilI. Gun Enthusiasts in the Anthropological Study

IV. The Gun as a Svmbolfor Gun Enthusiasts

V. The Meaningof Gunsat Gun Shows

VI. Conclusions

I. Introduction and Methodology

In recent decades,America's "gun culture" has becomerelatively infamous, not

only in the United Statesbut internationally as well.l A Scottishjournalist remarkedin

The Scotsmanthat "guns are the basis of much of Europe'sfascination and loathing with

the United States,from the V/ild West to the mean streets."2 The National Coalition for

Gun Control in Australia has publicly arguedthat the sport of combat shooting (i.e., IPSC

sports,or sports governedby the IntemationalPractical Shooting Confederation)is a "so-

called sport" that epitomizesAmerica's gun culture becauseit "glamorizes violence" and

encouragesmen to engagein "violent fantasies."3But as much attention as the idea of

the gun culture has received in recent years,very few commentators(in academiccircles

or otherwise) have attemptedto define the term, or discover what it meansto the people

who composethe gun culture. Who are the membersof this gun culture?

From the fall of 1997to the winter of 1998,as a Ph.D. candidatein a joint

program in Medical Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley and San

Francisco,I conductedan anthropological study of gun enthusiasmto answerthat

question. To collect data for this study, I used the traditional anthropological method of

participant observation,which entailsjoining the designatedgroup in question,becoming

acquaintedwith its members,observing and participating in community events,and

engagingin group activities with the community.a Thus for 14 months, I observedpeople

I Portionsof this reportare

excerptedfromShooters:MythsandRealitiesof America'sGun Cultures,by
Abigail A. Kohn,@2005by OxfordUniversityPress,Inc., andusedby permission.
' Tim
Cornwell,"AmericanGun Cultureis anExportNobody'Wants,"TheScotsman,January3,2003,p.
3 PennyThow, "Call for banon combatshooting,"flobart-Mercury(Australia),
November4,2002,p. 15.
'This methodof conducting
studieshasa long historyin the disciplineof antfuopology.For descrþtions
of anthropologystudies,seeMichaelH. Agax TheProfessionalStranger:An InformalIntroductionto
andactivitiesat shootingranges,gun shops,gun shows(includingonegun showin

AlamedaCounty),andshootingcompetitions,all of which areattendedby peoplewho

own, collect,andlegallyusegunsin NorthernCalifornia.I conductedin-depthinterviews

with 37 maleandfemalegun enthusiasts,

andspenthourssocializingwith, observing,

andsportshootingat shootingrangeswith dozensmore.SI askedthe gun enthusiasts


interviewedhow they first wereintroducedto guns,how long they hadownedtheir guns,

andwhatgun ownershipmeantto them. I askedthemwhat gunssymbolizedfor them.

This anthropological
studyformedthebasisof my Ph.D.dissertation,

passedin the springof 2000,earningme a Doctoratein Philosophyfrom the University

in the field of MedicalAnthropology.This

of Califomia,BerkeleyandSanFrancisco,

studyalsoformsthebasisfor this report,andformsthebasisfor the opinionsI lay out in

this reporton the natureof gun enthusiasm,

andwhat gunssymbolizefor gun enthusiasts

in NorthernCalifornia. The studyprovidedthebasisfor my book on the meaningand

symbolismof gunsfor gun enthusiasts,

entitledShooters:Myths andRealítiesof

Ameríca'sGunCultures(New York: OxfordUniversityPress,2004),aswell asarticlesI

l ì havepublishedin Reasonmagazineandthejoumal CurcentIssuesin CriminalJustíce.6

Ethnogrøphy(SanDiego,CA: AcademicPress,1980),JamesClifford andGeorgeE. Marcus,Editors,

WritingCulture:thePoeticsand Politicsof Ethnograpåy(Berkeley:Universityof CaliforniaPress,1986).
I havereadbothofthesebooks.
5To protectthe confidentialityof the individualsI metandinterviewed,I usepseudonyms for all of the
peopleandplacesI describe.
" Abigail A. Kohn, "Thei¡ Aim is True:TakingStockof America'sRealGun Culture,"Reason(May
2001). Seethefollowingwebsite:lrttp://, on 9 May 2006;
Abigail A. Kohn,Don B. Kates,WendyKaminer,andMichaelL Krauss,"StraightShootingon Gun
Control:A Reasondebate,"Reason(May 2005). Seethefollowing website:
lrttp://, on 9 May 2006;ÌrbrgailA. Kohn,"Police
BeliefsandAttitudesaboutGun Control,"CurrentIssuesin CriminalJustice17 (2,2005).

This researchalsoqualifiesme to serveasan expertwitnesson the law suit,

Nordyke,et. al. versusKing, et. al., andto addressa seriesof questionsrelevantto the

suitthathavebeenaskedof me by DonaldKilmer. Thesequestionsinclude:

E In the contextof a gun show(asdefinedanddescribedby this law suit),

of a gun conveya particularizedmessagethat would be

understoodby personsattendingthe gun show?

€ Might we not alsodescribeany generalmessages


pafücularized)that areconveyed?

Ë Would peopleattendinggun shows,understand


F, Is theresucha thing asa gun culture?

F" What is the gun culture?

e How arethe gun culture'sideas,valuesandcontinuedexistenceadvanced

at gun shows?

4 Are gun showsa meansof expressionand,/orcelebrationof the gun


t. : \ Are guns,asopposedto picturesofguns, necessary

to conveythe


E Are guns,asopposedto picturesofguns, necessary

for the celebrationof

the gun cultureat gun shows?

I will answermostof thesequestionsin the courseof this report. Thosequestionsthat

arenot addressed
duringthe courseof my discussionwill be answereddirectly in the

conclusionof the report.

I conductedmy dissertationresearchin the SanFranciscoBay Area. I discovered

throughmy researchthatNorthernCaliforniahasan active,self-delineated

centeredon gunsandgun enthusiasm. I conductedmy research,therewere

betweensix andten gun shopsin themetropolitanarea(dependingon how the

geographicboundariesweredrawn),six shootingrangeswithin a forty-five minuteradius

of the innercity, numerousgun showsthat traveledthroughtheBay Area severaltimesa

month(with local vendorsin attendance),

local chaptersof nationalorganizations


andtheNRA, andshootingcompetitionsandeventsthat occurredalmost

everyweekendof the year.

This researchwasundertakenasan ethnography,

or in-depthstudyof a particular

communityor small-scalesociety.TIn the anthropological

traditionof ethnography,

point wasnot to gatherquantifiabledatafrom a representative

sampleof gun owners.

Rather,I soughtto discoverthe "natives'pointof view," or in morecontemporary


to learnwhich issuesandconceptsaremostimportantto gun enthusiasts.s


researchis uniquein its ability to provideanunderstanding

of behaviorandbelief that is

usuallyonly understoodin quantitativeterms.eSocialscientistsactuallydo know a fair

amountaboutAmericangun ownershipin morestatisticalterms.toHowever,these

quantitativemethodsyield datathat arenot particularlysubtleor nuanced:numbersonly

imagesandpiecesof a complexsocialworld.

An excellent description of ethnography as method comes from Michael H. Agar, The Professional
Stranger: An Informal Introduction to Ethnography (San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1980).
" J.P. Spradley, The Ethnographic Interview (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, L979),referenced in
Janice M. Morse and Peggy Ann Field, "An Overview of Qualitative Methods," In Qualitative Research
Methodsþr Health Professiozøls (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1995),21-41.
See Jack Katz, "Ethnography's Warrants," Sociological Methods and Research 25(4, 1997),391-423.
Gary Kleck's Targeting Guns provides an encyclopedic review of the extensive criminological literature
on firearms and their ownership. See Tørgeting Guns.
Ethnography,on the otherhand,cancombineandinterpretthesepiecesinto a rich Ethnographycanfill the contextualgapsleft by statistical

portraits,andprovidesa window for the socialworld of anygivengroup. Thesereasons

which provide
arewhat sociologistJackKatzhaslabeledthe "warrantsfor ethnography,"

the rationalefor why ethnographic

accountshavewider relevancethantheir small

Sowhile the37 shootersI interviewedarenot o'representative"

samplesmight suggest.l2

in the sensethat they canandshouldrepresentall gun ownersor enthusiasts

on a national

scale,the conceptsandissuesthat theseshootersraisearebroaderthantheir own

personalinterests.l3Theseshootersprovidea window into the culturalconcernsand

issuesthat gun enthusiasts

sharemorebroadly,asevidencedby the similaritiesbetween

the themesandconceptsthattheseshootersraise,andthethemesandconceptsdiscussed

in suchnationally-based
publicationslike NRA magazines,

publishedin nationally-based

By attending local rangesand shooting eventson a frequent basis, I witnessedthat

there are numerous"regulars" at gun shops,gun shows, and the local shooting

competitions. Thesearepeoplewho love to talk about,collect,handle,and shoot guns:

they call themselves"shooters." Theseregulars form a loose-knit fellowship of men and

v/omen of a variety of ethnicities and socio-economicclasseswho are drawn together not

'.' Katz,"Ethnography'sWarrants."
" Ibid. For fi.¡rtherdiscussions
on the legitimacyandrelevanceof ethnography to socialscienceresearch
moregenerally,seeRobertA. StebbinsandWilliam Shaffir,ExperiencingFieldwork:An Insider Viewof
QualitøtiveResearch(ThousandOaks,CA: Sage,l99l) andtheir"Introduction,"pp. l-23,inparticular.
13Becauseof the variationanddiversityof what hasbeendescribedasAmerica'sgun culture,its important
to recognizethatthis reportcontributesto the socialscienceresearchon gunsby consideringoneaspectof
America'sgun culture,andby discussingonesubgroupof Americangun owners:thosepredominantly
white, middle-classindividualswho selÊidentifyasgun enthusiasts, live in a largelyurbanenvironmentin
the Vy'est,oìMngunslegallyandrecreationally, andform meaningfulsocialcollectivesaroundtheir interests
in guns.The individualsinterviewedherewerecontactedasa part of an ethnographic study,which means
that I did not attemptto contactandinterviewindividualswho would collectivelyprovidea representative
sampleof gun ownersfrom acrosstheUS.
by physicalspacebut by their sharedinterestsin guns.laAs such,thoseindividuals

constitutea localmanifestationof theNorthernCaliforniagun culture.

II. The ContestedMeaningof Guns

The term"gun culture"is oft-usedbut rurelydefinedin popularculture.

historianRichardHofstadtermadeuseof the term in !97},hetracedthehistorical and

culturalusesfor guns,arguingthatthewaysin which gunshavebecomewoveninto the

social,cultural,andpolitical fabric of theUnited Stateswould makeit exceedingly

difficult to enactfederalgun controls.tsBut sinceHofstadter'srelativelycareful

discussionof the ideaof a gun culture,few commentators


circumspection.Rather,a definitionof the gun cultureis so "obvious"that it's presumed

- thegun cultureis composedof "gun nuts,"theNRA, a derangedoffrce


workerwho raveson abouthis gun rightsandthenshootshis colleaguesandhimself or

the young,inner-citygangmemberswho conducturbanwarfarcwith military-style

assaultweapons.tóIt shouldbe clearfrom this descrþtionthat the term "gun culture"has

-l beenusedpredominantlyby critics,andby peoplefor whom "gunsin America"have

becomea hugesourceof internationalshameandembarrassment.

'o While I did

seepeopleof differentethnicitiesandbackgrounds,
themajorityof the shootersin the Bay
Area appearedto be ofEuropeandescent.
"Americaasa Gun Culture,"AmericanHeritage(October1970):4-8, 82-85.
opinionpiecesemployingpunitivedescriptionsof gun ownersandmembersof the gun
culturearenumerous.See,for examples,DenisHorgan,"ForgetGun Conhol:Ban ThemAltogether,"The
Hartþrd Courant(May 14, 1999):A2; Editorial,"NRA ShootsItself in Both Feet,"New YorkDaily News
(May l, 1999),20;RobertScheer,"PeteWilson'sTwistedLogic on Handguns,"ZosAngelesTimes
(September30,1997),87; Bob Ewegan,"Liar,Liar, Pantson Ftre,"DenverPosl (August7, 2000),Bl0;
Editorial,"MothersKnow Best,"New YorkDaily News(May 13,2000),16;MichaelKramer,"Patakiand
Guns:TheDNA Solution,"New YorkDaily News(March 19,2000),49; Amy Pagnozzi,"Gun-Control
Planis an Empty Shell," TheHartþrd Courant(April 28, 1999),Al2.
It is my opinion that this definition of the gun culture-a monolithic,

unidimensional entity composedof white men who fetishize and enjoy guns becauseof

the violence that can be committed with them-is limited. In fact, this view of the gun

culture is held only to those who dislike guns, or straightforwardly equateguns with

violence and killing. For these anti-gun critics, the pairing of guns and violence is

viewed as so inherent, so "îattrral," that the relationship is no longer viewed as a

symbolic one. To thesecritics, guns are violence. This view was held by the Million

Mom March,rTthe San Francisco/Oakland

versionof which drew 3,000-5,000supporters

in May, 2000,with little counter-protest.18

To the Million Mom Marchers,violenceis

really the solepurposeof guns. This is a position that hasbeen echoedin by critics of

guns for decades,although the national debatebecameparticularly heatedduring the

1990s,when the Clinton Administration took on gun control as a matter of national


While guns are certainly used to commit violence, this is only one of their uses.

Likewise, violence is only one of the symbolic meaningsattachedto guns. In American

i ' i sociefy, guns not only symbolize violence, but also freedom, political rights, and rugged

individualism. Although it may seemrelatively obvious, this was a core finding of my

anthropologicalresearch. Just as guns are a symbol of violence for some, they are a

symbol of freedom and constitutional rights for others. The point to be made on this

topic is that in American society and culture, there is an overwhelming emphasis on

17Seethewebsitefor this organizationat http:/^,rÃ/w.millionmommarch.coml

. This websitewasaccessed
on1 Mav 2006.
"Mom's Marchin OaklandDraws5,000People,"SanFranciscoChronicle,May 15,2000,
p .A l 5 .
i'I dir"us this issueextensivelyin my book,Shooters:MythsandRealitiesof America'sGun Cultures
guns, in a variety of social, historical, and political contexts. Thus the meaning attached

to guns, or put anotherway, the messagesascribed to guns, can be both positive and

negative, as well as every shadein between. In other words, for Americans, guns are

polysemic: they symbolize a variety of things, and have multiple, complex meanings.

This is perhapsthe most important point to understandabout the gun culture-it

is not, in fact, unidimensionaland easily equatedwith violence and death. The gun

culture is a complicated,multi-layered entity made up of smaller, diverse gun subcultures

in which guns mean different things to different people (or groups): freedom and

responsibility to some,protection and self-defensefor others,and obviously, as I

mentioned, violence and killing for yet more. What all of these sub-culturessharecan be

consideredthe defining essenceof the gun culture emph¿s¿s

on guns as significant

objects, rich with literal and symbolic meaning. Americans have used guns to win wars,

to carve out a frontier, to uphold the law and violate it, to engagein sport and recreation,

and to maintain homeland security. The usesfor guns are numerous,and their symbolic

meanings equally so. Becauseof the enofinous symbolic and literal import of the gun to

Americans, and the extent to which guns are v/oven into American society and culture,

the United Statesas a nation can be understoodas both havíng a gun culture, andbeíng a

gun culture.

III. Gun Enthusiastsin the AnthropologicalStudy

The shootersI interviewedfor my ethnographyfell into threebroadcategories.

a love of guns,both
All of the shootersI interviewedsharedsomebasiccharacteristics:

with guns(gearfor shooting,like

handgunsandlong guns,a love of the gearassociated

for anymiddle-classsportingphenomenon,
is an industryin andof itself), andan

enjoymentof the activity of shooting,eithercompetitively,for plinking (shooting

outdoorsat randomtargetslike tin cansor bottles),or for recreational


The first groupwascomposedof "generalenthusiasts,"

which includedthirteenpeople.2O

Theseshootersown gunsfor severalreasons:becausethey like them,enjoy shooting

them,engagein sportor hunting(but areenthusedaboutgunsandtheir sport,asopposed

to simply enthusedaboutsport),and/orown for self andhomedefense.This category

includedten menandthreewomen;onewasMexican-American,
i:. _..,, American,but the restwereof Europeandescent(i.e.,white).All of theseindividuals

weremiddle-or lower-middleclass,accordingto their incomelevel andin somecases,

their selÊproclaimed

The secondgroupof shooterswasinvolvedwith "cowboyactionshooting,"a

shootingsportdedicatedto Old Westguns,outfits,andshootingscenarios.This category

includesnineteenpeople,elevenmenandeightwomen.I interviewedoneAfrican-

Americancowboyshooter;the restwerewhite.2lThis groupwasfuIl of doctors,

engineers,lawyers,andreal estatebrokers,manyof whom weremoderatelywealtþ.

Threeof theseshootersworkedin the firearmsindustryandwereapparentlyvery

successfulat it. The few (four) thatwerenot white-collarwork aslow- or mid-level

artists,or in onecase,a retiredlaw enforcementofficer. Therewerein

fact a goodnumberof activeor retiredlaw enforcementofficerswho enjoy cowboy


I met all of these individuals becausethey worked on a range, taught a class, or were inhoduced to me by
other shooters.
2r At the time
of fieldwork, only one Black cowboy shooter regularly participated in the sport in the area.
" I didnot manage to interview more than one of them, primarily becauseI ran out of time.

The third group of shootersI call the "Generation X" shooters,not only because

they were the youngest group overall (all were bom after 1960),but becausetheir

thoughts, attitudes,and occupationsfit the popular generationalportrait drawn from

media representationsof Gen X. There were only five shootersin this category, all men,

four whites and one Asian-Ameican.z3 Several of thesemen organizeedshooting

activities for themselvesand their friends on public lands severalhours outside of the

urban centersof Northern California. Some of these shootseven made oblique social

statements;for example, one shooting outing entailed shootersfiring at old computer

equipment.'oThis event was called the "Hard Drive-Bye." It was intended to be social

commentary:most of theseshootersworked in the computer industry and enjoyed

themselvesimmensely blasting away at computersand AOL disks for severalhours, the

point being that AOL was a less-than-perfectbut overly utilized vehicle for accessingthe

internet. I usually shot with thesepeople under more private circumstances,on local

shooting rangesor public land.

Overall, the shootersI interviewed were typical of the shootersI met while

conducting my ethnographyof gun enthusiasmin Northern California. The shootersin

the study, and most of the shootersin the Northern California community, all subscribed

to what I refer to as'þro-gun ideology," a set of beliefs and political idealsthat includes:

4 The belief that the SecondAmendment to the U.S. Constitution confers an

individual (as opposedto a collective) right to own a gun,

t" The belief that owning a gun is an importantpart of being a responsible

adult who is capableof keeping oneself,one's family, one's community,

23I only interviewedmenin this categorybecauseI only cameto know maleshootersin that group.
However,I met severalwomenwho shotwith thesemenon occasion.
24I did not observethis event.but it wasdescribedto me extensivelvin interviewsandcasualconversation.

and one's nation safe from criminals, foreign enemies,and a tyrannical

domestic government,and

The belief that owning a gun (and being a gun enthusiast)is a key signifier

of being a good American cítizen who believes in core American values

(i.e., freedom,rights, and responsibilities),and who defendsthosecore

values by defending one's gun rights in political (i.e., public) forums.

The shootersI interviewedfor this ethnographyalsoexpressed


beliefs,andsentimentsof thepeoplewho wereinterviewedby DonaldKilmer on April 8,

I r 2006,at the SanJoseGun Show. I listenedto thoseinterviewson the DVD sentto me by

DonaldKilmer, andfoundthatthe ideasexpressed

by thosegun enthusiasts

similarto thepeopleI interviewedfor my study. I alsobelievestronglythat despitethe

factthat I conductedmy studyin the late 1990s,andpublishedmy book in 2004,the

thoughts,beliefs,andsentiments by the peopleI interviewedandstudiedare


still relevantin 2006.If anything,shootersin NorthernCaliforniatodayfeel evenmore

firearms,andthe political symbolsandmessages

thosefirearms,becauseof waysin which legislationin Californiahaswinnoweddown

legalaccessto firearms.

III. The Gun as a Symbolfor Gun Enthusiasts

Basedon the researchdescribedabove,aswell asinterviewsof attendees

of the

SanJoseGun Showon April 8,2006,it is my opinionthatgunssymbolizecore

Americanvaluesfor gun enthusiasts.For shooters,gunssymbolizefreedom,

gun enthusiasts
constitutionalrights,andAmericancitizenship.In essence, believethat

owningâ güfl,beingableto handlea gun anddiscussit in a public forumlike a gun

thatthey aregoodAmericancitizens.Theybelievetheir gun

show,conveysthe message

ownershipsendsthe message
thattheyadhereto andrespectthe AmericanConstitution,

thattheyhavea right to protectthemselves,

their families,andtheir communitieswith a

firearm,andthat they havea profoundrespectfor the historyandpoliticaltraditionsof

theUnited States.In short,owninga gunmeansbeinga goodAmericancitizen.

I arrivedat this opinionaboutwhatgunssymbolizefor shootersby askingthema

seriesof questions,including(but not limited to), "What doesowninga gun meanto

you" and"What do gunssymbolizefor you?" Their answersled me to the opinionthat

for shooters,gun ownershipsignifiesa setof political andsocialideas:owninga gun

signifiesthat the gun owneris an moral,upstandingcitizenwhoascribesto American

corevalueslike freedom,constitutionalrights,andbeinga responsible


gun meanstaking it uponyourselfto protectyourself,your home,your family, andyour

nation,andbeingwilling to die to protectthepoliticalidealsinherentin theU.S.

Constitution.While manyAmericansfind this kind of patriotismstrangeor even

uncomfortable,shootersfeel very stronglyaboutthis setof beliefs,andbelievetheir gun



For manyof the shootersI interviewed,gunssymbolizedthe rightsthey believed

wereconferredto themasAmericancitizens.Theseshootersviewedgun owrìershipasa

basicAmericanright, onethat derivedfiom historicandpolitical traditionstracingback

to the draftingof the U.S. Constitution.Shootersdiscussedthe waysin which early

American gun owners-the greatly mythologized citizen soldier-won the Revolutionary

War and helped createthe United States. Paula, a white shooting instructor in her late

forties who was also a former police officer, associatedguns strongly with the founding

of the nation:

Why did Independence

Day comeabout?What causedthe Independence

Day? I think it may havehadsomethingto do with guns. I just go back

to-that's whatmadeAmerica...

When I askedKeith, a white mechanicin his late thirties, what guns symbolized

for him, he said:

TheAmericanway andpower. The ability to rebelandstand

whole. WhatthePilgrimsthought.It's a powerthing. I'd say

individualfreedom...Evenif we don't wantto. It's thewhole

í ' i
... Americanway again.Like I say,therebellionsandthe wholenine

yards. BostonTeaParty...That'swhatmadeAmerica..... V/e go

to othercountrieswherepeoplejust don't havethe right. Well, as

humanbeings,we're spoiled.We're spoiled.At a youngage

we're spoiledbecausethesemenfoughtanddied for it. Not John

V/ayne. But our relatives.our friends.

Elliott, a white mechanicin his earlyfifties, saidthe following whenI askedhim what

gunsmeantto him:

I felt that the mostimportantthing politically was,I think peoplehavethe

by the Constitution,but they needthe right to protect

right, guaranteed

if theyneedto,just like theyneedthe right to haveabortionsif



For Elliott, however,that right comeswith a trade-offin termsof public safety. Elliott

doesnot believethat the proliferationof gunsin societyis entirelybeneficial.However,

thebenefitsin his mind outweiehthe costs:

The fact [is] thatpeoplelive by the fact that theywant to own guns,and

to Uzis andthe abilityto shootup crowds...

Arid this is the kind of carnagethat is part of thebyproductof demanding

. ', that gunsbe legal. That'soneendof it. And the otherendis being- is
i . ,
giving up everything,is giving up the right to defendyourself...

Manuel, a Mexican-American man in his late forties who workedata gun store, also felt

some ambivalenceabout theseissues. His ambivalencestemmed from the belief that he

did have a right to own guns, and he did not want to seemparanoid by voicing a concern

that he could lose that right. He said the following when I askedwhat owning a gun

meant to him:

It means-I was going to say that it meansI'm exercising my right to own

a gun, but I'm not really-I'm not gonnasay [anything]political... like

that, where people are not so much yelling about their guns rights being

takenaway or whatnot... becauseI can [have a gun], becauseI live here

in America. And we can, where someplaces they can't have guns. So I

guessI am exercising my right to have guns. And I guessthat's important

to me that I do have that freedom,where other people don't. It meansthat

if I had to I could defend myself with it, and do it safely.

The attendees
of the SanJoseGun Showon 8 April2006 who wereinterviewed

by DonaldKilmer voicedsimilarbeliefsandideasaboutwhat is meantby owning

a gun. DonaldinterviewedReginaldHalIoway,z5
a white manin his late

70swho wasan exhibitorat the show,Mr. Halloway afüculatedviewsthatwere

quitesimilarto the views expressed

by Elliot andManuel. WhenDonaldasked

him whatmessages
wereconveyedby hispossession
of a gun at a gunshow,Mr.


Number one, it proves that I still have the right to possessand own

firearms, which is my SecondAmendment right. This I fought for

in the SecondV/orld'War and I will fight for it again to keep that

amendment...those SecondAmendmentriehts. I don't think

Reginald Halloway is the real name of this individual. He provided his name and addressfor Donald
Kilmer so that he could be contacted in the context of this lawsuit.

anybodyshouldhavethe right to try andtakeour Second

Amendmentright awayfrom us.

He goeson to state,"That's my Americanright, givenby our Constitutionandby

our Bill of Rights." Mr. Hallowayclearlybelievedthatthe very fact of his

at the gun showdemonstrates

attendance his commitmentto the view that he was

exercisinghis Constitutionalrights,andtakinga political stand.

'- :/

The mostcommonvaluethat gunssymbolizefor shootersis freedom.Freedomin

this contextmeansthe right to expressoneselfthroughenjoyingshootingsportslike

hunting,to protectone'sfamily ashe/sheseesfit, andthe freedomto own andcollect

guns. While this definitionof gunsseemssomewhattautological,someshootershadso

muchtroubleseparatinggunsfrom freedomconceptuallythat they simply equatedguns

with freedom(in the sameway that anti-guncriticsequategunswith violence). WhenI

i -r askedBob, a white shootinginstructorandgun dealerin his flrfties,what gunssymbolize,

he saidthe followine:

What do they symbolize? Freedom. We fought and won our freedom with

a gun. ... It gives us the freedom to enjoy it with our family and protect

our family if we need to do so. The freedom to expressourselvesout on

the shootingline.... I think first and foremostit symbolizesfreedom. I

think it symbolizes avariety of things in that realm, if you put in the

contextthatI just did... Freedomof choice,expression,

varietyof thing.

Lewis, amaî in his forties of both Europeanand Native American descentwho worked

as a commercial artist, answeredthe question of what guns symbolized to him this way:

The ideaof Americaandfreedomitself. lVe wouldn't haveit without

them. It [i.e.,a gun] is the vehiclefor our freedom.

I interviewedJaneandLouisetogether.Theyweretwo white femaleshooting

instructorsin their forties,andthey answeredthe questionof what guns

symbolizedto themin the following way:

Jane:The first word that cameinto my headwasfreedom.

Louise:Yeah,I thoughtof thattoo,powerandfreedom.To me those

f, .) arekind of synonymous

RichardHudnut,anothergun showattendeewho wasinterviewedby DonaldKilmer at

the SanJoseGun Showon 8 April 2006,alsodiscussed

how gunscansignit/ freedom,as

well asconstitutionalrights.26Mr. Hudnutwasa white firearmsdealerwho appeared


be in his fifties. He wove severalconceptstogetherin his discussionwith Donaldduring

tu Someof the otherpeoplewho DonaldKilmer interviewedalsoexpressed including

similar sentiments,
Martin Dyer, RogerD. Baker,andRichardStephan.

his interview. WhenDonaldasked"What messages
areconveyedto you by seeingother

gunsat a gun show?"Mr. Hudnutanswered:

That we live in a free and open society that allows firearms to be

in a legal manner. ... That's I think the biggestmessagethat's

importantto me... that we can do that. As a part of our Second

Amendmentrights, if you will...

AnothermanI interviewed,Harold,a white gun shopownerin his latefifties, saidthis


Freedom,America. That'sprettymuchit. The JohnWayneway or

whatever.Always haveandalwayswili.

WhenI askedhim if owning a gun saysanythingabouthim asa person,he said,

, , , )

Well, to me,peoplethat own gunsandstuff, yeah. I think that tells people

Americans.We don't causeany

problems.But we understandour rights,andwe understandour

asan American. Yeah,that's aboutit, just as simpleas



in his fortieswho enjoysparticipating

in the sportof cowboyactionshooting,2T

spelledout his own versionof what

freedommeanswhenI askedhim what zunssvmbolize:

Symbolize? I always thought that if you hada good horse, a good

Winchester,and a good backpack, you could into the woods and

stay forever. So it's kind of maybe a romanticized freedom


Marcus'vision of what gunssymbolizeillustratesthe waysin which guns

arelinkedinexorablywith a particularvision of America'shistoricpast,which

hasbeenglorified andmythologizedin songs,stories,plays,andmoviesfor years.

At shootingrangesandcompetitions,andat gun shows,I constantlywitnessed

gun enthusiasts
handlingguns,carefullyexaminingthe groovesandcarvingson

grips or rifle stocks,anddiscussingthe storiesandhistoriesassociated


certainfirearms. Gun shows,which sometimesfeaturebeautifulold firearmsand

antiquities,canbe a primaryplacewheregun enthusiasts

gatherto view or handle

old guns,a'Winchesterrifle or an antiqueColt, canrecallpassages

from treasured

novelsor imagesfrom favoritemovies,makingthe experience

highly enjoyable

andin somecases,powerfullynostalgic. Simplyholdingan antiquegun canbe a

link to a romanticAmericanpast. Or for a World V/ar II veteran,holding an old

27Cowboyactionshootingis a recreationalshootingsportin which shootersuseantiquereplicafirearms

(i.e.,gunsthatfire real ammunitionbut replicateantiquegunsin appearance)
in shootingcompetitions.
Shootersdressup like cowboysandfrontiersmen(andwomen)andcompetewith eachotherfor speedand
accuracy.PleaseseeKohn, "Their Aim is True," inReason.

Ml Garandcanbe an experiencethat recallsa time whenhe defendedhis country

with that firearm,proudlyandwithout the ambivalence

that hasfollowed someof

the morecontemporary
conflicts. Thesearethe kindsof memoriesthat guns

promptfor shooters,
particularlyatlargevenueslike gun shows,whereshooters

haveaccessto gunsthat theywouldn't necessarily

be ableto view or handleat a

local shopor competition.

VI. The Meaningof Gunsat Gun Shows

Shootersenjoygun showsbecausetheyarcvenuesto gathertogetherand

discusstheir commoninterestin firearms,andto tradememoriesand storiesabout

the importanceof gunsin their lives. Gun showsareuniquepublic venuesthat

everyimportantaspectof the gun culturefor gun enthusiasts:

showsprovidea forum for buying andsellingguns,for discussinggunswith

experts,for learningaboutAmericanhistory,society,andpolitics

throughthe lensof antiqueandcontemporaryfirearms,andfor educating

!' I themselvesandeachotheraboutpolitical issuesrelatingto what shooterscall

their "gun rights." Pro-gunideology achrallyflourishesat gun shows; as I have

argued elsewhere,"Pro-gun ideology works as a kind of glue for the gun

culture-it provides a sharedrationale and common discursive elementsthat

allow diverse setsof individuals to come together to celebratetheir gun rights."28

In fact, it is my opinion that thesecornmon discursive elementshave become

verbal shorthandto communicateparticular social or political messages. For

example, when a shooterutters phraseslike, "God made man, Colonel Colt made

" Kohn,Shooters,p.138.

themequal,"2earrd"Frommy cold deadhands,"3o
whatthat shootermeansis,

"Physicaldifferencesmakesomepeoplemorewlnerable thanothers,but having

a gun ensuresthatthe strongcannotvictimizethe weak,"and"I will frght to the

deathto keepmy SecondAmendmentrightsbecausethoserightsareso important

to me,"respectively.

Thephrase"From my cold deadhands"wasfirst utteredby pastNRA

presidentCharltonHestonat theNRA AnnualConventionin 2000,andhe

this phrasewith a defiantgesture,raisinghis rifle abovehis head,

grippingit tightly with both hands.Thephraseandthe gesturehavebecomeso

potentsymbolicallyof thepolitical fight to maintainSecondAmendmentrights

(in the faceof political opposition)that mostshootersacutelyunderstand

what is

meantwhenan ordinarygun ownergripshis long gun abovehis headwith both

hands,evokingHeston'smessageandhis meaningwithout acfinlly speakinga

word. In otherwords,simplypicking up a gun andstrikinga particularposecan

to othershooterscertainkindsof messages;
I am readyto defend

my ríghtswith thisfirearm) ot Thisgun guaranteesmypolíticalfreedom,and

signífiesmyAmericancitizenshíp.Thesearethe basictenetsinherentin pro-gun

ideology,andarepart the stockandtradeof gun showsthroughoutNorthern


te This wasa phraseI heardfrequently

from shootersduringmy field research,andit appearson various
thingslike bumperstickersandpostersat gun showsor shootingranges.
'u This is a phrasethatwasutteredby pastpresidentof theNRA, CharltonHeston,at theNRA Annual
Conventionin 2000.

VII. Conclusion

I havedescribedthe waysin which shootersI interviewedthink andtalk about

guns. As I mentionedearlierin this report,I did attendseveralgun shows,includinga

gun showheld on AlamedaCountyfairgrounds.I view thesegun showsaspublic forums

wheregun enthusiasts
to talk about,view, handle,buy, andsell guns. And

asI havestated,I believethatthe basicmeaningof gunsfor the shootersI interviewed,

andfor the shootersinterviewedby Don Kilmer on 8 April2006 at the SanJoseGun

Show,is that gunssymbolizecoreAmericanvalues,andbeinga goodAmericancitizen.

at gun shows

differently. For example,JoanBurbick,a professorof EnglishandAmericanStudiesat

WashingtonStateUniversity,views gunsshowsassitesweregunssigniff "national

andvigilantepolitics."3l Tracingthe history of gun

ownershipin the U.S.,andlinkagesbetweengun ownership,revolutionarypolitics,and

frontiermasculinity,ProfessorBurbick arguesthat gun ownershiphasbecomea symbolic

bulwark againstthe "enemies"that encroachuponhegemonicwhite masculinity:"the

girlie man,thejuvenilepredator,the gangsterrapper,the tax man,the liberal,the school

teacher,the femi-nazi."32To ProfessorBurbick,who attendednumerousgun shows

throughoutthe American'WestandMidwest,gun showsarevenuesfor white, middle-

classmento grievetheir supposedlydeterioratingmasculinity,which hasbeenchipped

awayby progressive
politicsandtheriseof women'sandcivil rights. Professor

" JounBurbick,"CulturalAnatomyof a Gun Show,"Paperpresented at the Conference"Gun Control:Old

Problems,New Paradigms,"sponsored by the SecondAmendmentResearch Centerandthe Stanford
CriminalJusticeCenter,StanfordUniversityLaw School,PaloAlto, California,September16-17,2005,p.
3trbid,p. r5.

arguesthat gun ownership in this context is a rather feeble attempt to reclaim a loss of

social and political status,and gun shows are one of the few places where men can gather

to talk about and festishizeguns, demonstratingtheir statusas "real men" who use their

gun enthusiasmto substitutefor more authentic or communitanan forms of political


While this interpretationof gun ownership, and the messagesconveyed at gun

shows, is quite different from my own, ProfessorBurbick's point is quite clear: "Gun

shows can be studied as cultural markets that sell not only things but ideas and values."33

She statesthat for some of the men she interviewed at gun shows,purchasing a gun has

become anact of defiance,of political resistance,against"no-good liberals" and "gun

grabbers," againstall those enemies,real and imaginary, who have come to embody

threats againstthe conservativewhite masculinity that her intervieweeshold dear. In

essence,she argues,guns have become a commercialized commodity that articulatesa

particularpolitical discourse.While ProfessorBurbick and I disagreeaboutthe natureof

the messagesthat guns convey, wo are in strong agreementon this point: guns do, in fact,

convey political messages.

The final point to make is that there is a profound and ugly irony in suggesting

that a gun show could be held without the presenceof any firearms. Removing guns

from the gun show, or substituting actual guns for pictures of guns (the implication being

that the guns themselvesare too dangerous,or too repugnant,to allow their literal

presence)makes a mockery of the notion that Americans have a right to express

themselvesby being gun enthusiasts. A gun show that bans guns is analogousto a

Speaker's Corner in which speechis bannedbecauseof the political messagesinherent in

33lbid,p. r.

andcelebratetheir gunrights:the
it. For shooters,a gun showis a placeto demonstrate

very existenceof a gun showillustratesthepolitical realify thatAmericanscitizenshave

guns,andto discussthemfreely in openforums.

the freedomandlegalright to possess

In fact,removinggunsfrom gun shows,or substitutingpicturesof gunsfor actual

thepotencyof the gun asa symbol-for anti-gunactivists,guns


symbolizeviolenceandkilling, andremovinggunsfrom gun showsis a symbolicstand

againstviolenceandkilling. Or, for someanti-gunactivists,gunssymbolizepatriotism

or nationalism,which someanti-gunactivistsview asintrinsicallyoffensive. In any case,

inherentin the suggestionthat gunscanandshouldbe bannedfrom a gun showis the

implicit recognitionof the gun asa symbol,not asan actualpurveyorof violence. This is

the casebecausethe gunsat gun showsdo not actuallymaim andkill. They are rutely

that guns
evenfired. Attemptingto bangunsfrom a gun showis an acknowledgement

andthusbanningthemis an effort to negatethosesymbolic


\ r conveyedby guns.

The bottomline is that banningguns,just like throwinggunson a fire to burn

becauseof what gunsareperceivedto

themin protest,is a forcefulpolitical message

to an
or for anyonewho subscribes
symbolizein the first place. For gun enthusiasts,

individualrightsinterpretationof the SecondAmendment,banninggunsfrom gun shows

would be an irony that negatesthe whole enterprise,makingthe gun showalmostentirely

pointless.For thisreason,aswell asthereasonsI discussed

--cJC, -!rt00
t'taY rr urr uu:.tÐP FPlgdrr ñonn É.4'

Northem California would be severelyinhibited in their ability to expresstheir gun

enthusiasmin public forumg should guns be bannedfrom gun shows.

Date: fho'. // . 2Oa€


' l

, . 1

, ]


' , j
7637HolmesRunDr., FallsChurch,V^ 22042
homephone: 703.992.6329



I Ph.D. in Medical Anthropologt, 2000.Focus areasinclude psychiatry
and psychology in
I anthropology, criminology, and firearms research. Dissertation Shooters: The Moral ll/orld
I of Gun Enthusiasts.Nominated by dept. to university for "Julius R. Crevins Distinguished
I Dissertation" award. September 1993-June2000.


M. Phil. in Criminologt,1992. Focuson PsychologyandPsychiatrywithin Criminology.First Class
Honorson M. Phil. thesiscomparingthe law enforcementandment¿lhealthcommunities'views
on satanicritual abuse.Fall 1991-Spring1992.DegreeawardedOct. 1992


8.4.. CumLøudeinFolkloreandMythologt,I99I.Dean'sList 1987,1988,1990,1991.
HarvardCollegeAwards,ElizabethCaryAgassizCertificateof Merit, 1990,t991. MagnaCum
Laudeon SeniorThesis.Focuson AnthropologyandReligion,specializationin Europeanwitchcraft.

Work Experience(SeealsoTeachingPositionsHeld)


Consultant Cunentlywork asa processandstrategyconsultantfor a nationalsecurityclient,conductingresearch,
policy analysis,and liaisonwork betweenseniorgovernmentofficials and seniorintelligenceofficers.
Write andbrief researchstrategydocumentsandwhitepapers.November2004-Present


Research Conducteda qualitative,ethnographicstudyof gun enthusiasts
living in Sydney,Austualia,
Fellow anda smallerstudyof urbanandrural policeofficers'beliefsaboutfirearms. Also write papersfor
conferencesandjournals,andgive guestlecturesfor classes.June200l-June2004


Assistant Worked as an assistantto the editor-in-chief and the managing editor of an academicjournal.
Read submissions,edited copy, checked references,solicited reviewers from the academic
community for submissions. November 1995-November 1998.


Assistant Workedon a numberof studiesanalyzingperceptions
of alcoholismin differentCalifomia
editedbook chaptersandpapers,collatedliteratureand

Research NORMAN E. ROSENTHAL.M.D. Bethesda.MD

Assistant Assisted a National Institute of Mental Health psychiatrist with the researchof an independentbook on
child sexual abuseallegations in the context of custody disputes.Gathered and analyzedinformation for
casestudies. Contacted book subjects,investigated aspectsofsex abusethrough library research,
interviewing, and literature searches.Summer 1992to Summer 1993

Research JOAN TURKUS, M.D. Mcl-ean, VA

Assistant Assisted a psychiatrist who specialized in dissociative disorders with organizing her offices and
researchmaterials. Filed materials, organized researcharticles. Summer 1992 to Summer 1993
Production Assisted independentcasting directors and producers housed at Paramount Pictures,
Assistant Inc. Organized daily schedulesfor casting directors. Acted as liaison between casting directors
and agentswhen coordinating appointments for actors. Fielded calls, sorted mail, greeted actors,
helped constructcastlists. Summer 1988, 1990.

Production AS THE WORLD TURNS New York. NY

Assistant Worked as a production assistanton a daytime drama. Answered phones, helped to organize offices,
acted as a personal assistantto the associateproducer, and assistedactors with lines. Summer 1987.

Positions Held


Board Invited by the Presidentand Founder of a Non-Governmental Organization with offices in the US
Member and Kenya to serve on the Advisory Board. Assist officers of organization with grant matters, letter-
and report-writing, edit material for publication, advise on anthropology matters. April 2005-Present.


Board Invitedby the PresidentandFounderof a Non-Governmental Organizationwith officesin the US
Member andKenyato serveon the AdvisoryBoard. Assistofficersof organizationwith grantmatters,letter-
andreport-writing,edit materialfor publication,adviseon anthropologymatters.August2002-Present.


Student Nationallyelectedto serveasthe GraduateStudentRepresentative
to the Boardof the Societyof
Rep. MedicalAnthropology,a subdivisionof the AmericanAnthropologicalAssociation.November
Grants, Honors, and Awards

2005 Ray andPatBrowneAward for the BestBook by a SingleAuthor for 2005 for Shooters:Mythsand
Realitiesof America'sGun Cultures,Awardedby PopularCulfureAssociation
2002 SesquiGrant,Universityof Sydney,ProjectEntitled,"An Analysisof PoliceAttitudesandKnowledge
About FirearmsOwnershipandViolence"
2000 Nominatedby UCSFMedicalAnthropologyDept.for the "JuliusR. CrevinsDistinguished
Dissert¿tion"Award for 2000
1997-t998 RosenbergFellowship,Universityof California
t996 W.H.R. RiversPrizefor BestGraduateStudentPaperin MedicalAnthropologyfor paper
titled "ImperfectAngels:The MedicalManagement of Childrenwith Craniofacial
t99s-r996 RegentsFellowship,Universityof California
t994-t99s RegentsFellowship,Universityof Califomia
1994 HonorableMention,PredoctoralResearchFellowship,NationalScienceFoundation(U.S.)
1993-1994 RegentsFellowship,Universityof Califomia
t992 First ClassHonorson M. Phil. Thesis,CambridgeUniversity,Cambridge,England
l99l A.B. CumLaude,HarvardCollege


1999-2000 Co-Instructor,Foundationsin PatientCare,Universityof Califomia,SanFrancisco,

t999 AnthropologyInstructor,Anthropologyand SociologyDept.,Southwestern Oregon
CommunityCollege,CoosBay, Oregon,SpringQuarter
r999 SociologyInstructor,Anthropologyand SociologyDept.,Southwestern Oregon
CommunityCollege,CoosBay, Oregon,SpringQuarter
1998 AnthropologyInstructor,UCSFMedicalAnthropology,Universityof California,
SanFrancisco,SanFrancisco,Califomia,Winter Quarter
Researchand Publications


2004 Shooters:MythsandRealitiesof America'sGun Cultures.New York, NY: OxfordUniversityPress.


2000 Shooters:The Moral World of Gun Enthusiasts.Ph.D.Dissertationin Medical
Anthropologyat the Universityof Califomia,BerkeleyandSanFrancisco.

Original Articles in Peer-ReviewJournals:

Kohn,A. A.
2005 PoliceBeliefsandAttitudesaboutGun Control. CurrentIssuesin CriminalJusticel7(2).

/ 2000 ImperfectAngels:The MedicalManagement of Childrenwith CraniofacialAnomalies.

Kohn,A..4.,andK. Bryan
1999 Ritual Practicein a SocialModel RecoveryHome.Contemporary
Drug Problems25(4):7ll-740.

1994 Speakingof the Devil: Anti-SemiticThemesin Contemporary
Anthropolo gist 2l (2): 23-34.

Essaysor Chaptersin Books

2000 CowboyDreaming:Gunsin FantasyandRole-Playing.In Gun V[/omen:FireqrmsandFeminísm
ín Contemporøry
America.M.Z. StangeandC. Oyster,Eds.New York: New York University
/ Kohn,A.A.
1999 Paramilitaryorganizations.InOxfordCompønionto AmericanMilitary
History. JohnV/hiteclayChambers,II, ed.New York: OxfordUniversitypress.

Other Publications:

Kohn,A. A.
2004 The Wild WestDown Under:ComparingAmericanandAustralianExpressionsof Gun
Journalson FirearmsandPublic Polictt 16.

2001 Their Aim is True:TakingStockof America'sRealGun Culture.ReasonMagazine,33(l):26-33.

1994 Underlyingassumptions in thework of mentalhealthprofessionals
on ritual abuse.
Division of CriminalandLegalPsychologyNewsletter37, April 1994

1994 Underlyingassumptions in the work of mentalhealthprofessionals
on ritual abuse.
Clinical PsychologtForum 69:19-21.Reprintedfrom abovenewsletter.
Invited Presentations
at Scientificand Professional
Meetingsand Workshops

2005 InvitedSpeaker,"Responseto ProfessorMary ZeissStange'sPaper,'Gender Self-Defense Issues

IncludingGenocideandInternationalViolenceSituations',"Presented at the "BessieJones
Day Symposium- ModemIssuesInvolvingtheLaw of Self-Defense,"GeorgeMasonLaw
School,Arlington,VA, November
200s InvitedSpeaker,"Responseto ProfessorJoanBurbick'sPaper,'Anatomyof a Gun show,"
Presented the Conference:Gun Control:Old Problems,New Paradigms,sponsored by
the SecondAmendmentResearch Centerandthe StanfordCriminalJusticeCenter,Stanford
UniversityLaw School,PaloAlto, California,October
2002 InvitedSpeaker,"Gun OwnersandPublicHealth:How Gun OwnersHearPublicHealth
Messages About Guns,"Presented at the Schoolof Public Health,University
Of North Carolina,ChapelHill, ChapelHill, North Carolina,November
2002 Invited Speaker,"Gun OwnersandPublicHealth:How Gun OwnersHearPublicHealth
Messages About Guns,"CME Lecturepresentedto the Medical Staff of the CaliforniaState
Penitentiaryat Vacaville,Vacaville,Califomia,July
2001 Invitedspeaker,"The cowboy v/ay: TheRelationshipbetweenGunsandIdentityfor
AmericanGun Enthusiasts," tlniversity of SydneyLaw SchoolLunchtimeLecture
r999 InvitedExpertPanelistfor theDepartmentof Justice,Meetingon the safe storageof
Guns,NationalMedia Campaign,Departmentof Justice,Washington,D.C.,July.
1998 InvitedParticipant,RoundtableDiscussionon SecondAmendmentScholarship,
Academicsfor the SecondAmendment,Annual Conference,Washingion,D.C.,November.
1998 Invited speaker,"shooters:An Ethnographyof Bay AreaHandgunEnthusiasts."
Academicsfor tle SecondAmendment,Local ChapterSanFrancisco,November.
1995 Invited Speaker,CraniofacialAnomaliesCenterat Children'sHospiøI. "Resultsof the
AnthropologicalStudyon Staff-Patients Interaction."StanfordUniversityChildren's
Hospital,PaloAlto, Califomia,September.
l99s Invited Speaker,K¡oeberAnthropologicalSocietyGraduateStudentLectureSeries.
"Speakingof the Devil: The Conspiratorial Mentality andAnti-SemitismasCurrentTrends
AmongstPsychotherapists." Universifyof Califomia,Berkeley,November.

at Professional

Kohn, A. A.
2003 The Wild WestDown Under:ComparingAmericanandAustralianExpressions of Gun
at the Americansocietyof criminology,ñovember.

Kohn, ,A..4.,GeoffreyHunt, andKarenJoeLaidler

2003 Girls, Gangs,andGuns:FemaleGangMembers'Experiences with Firearms.Paper
Presentedat the AmericanStudiesAssociationMeetings,Hartford,CN: October.

Kohn, A. A.
2003 TheWild WestDown Under:ComparingAmericanandAustralianExpressions of Gun
at the AustralianandNew Zealand,
Societyof Criminology,

Kates,D. 8., Jr. andA. A. Kohn

2003 Doesthe PublicHealthLiteratureRely on AccurateStatisticsAbout Firearms?:Assessing
the Evidence,Presentedat the InternationalSymposiumentitled"The Legal,Economic
andHumanRightsImplicationsof Civilian FirearmsOwnershipandRegulation,
Sponsored by the World Forumon theFutureof ShootingSportActivities, Royal
ArmouriesEducationCentre,Towerof London,London,}y'rayl-2.
Kohn, A.A.
1999 TheCowboyWay: NarrativeIdentitiesAmongstAmericanGunEnthusiasts. Paper
at the AmericanAnthropologicalAssociationMeetings,November.

Kohn, A.A. andJ.A. Dizard

1999 IndividualversusSocialResponsibilityfor Gun Crime:The Perspective
of Gun Enthusiasts.
by J. A.Dizard at theAmericanSocietyof CriminologyMeetings,

1996 ImperfectAngels:The MedicalManagement of Childrenwith CraniofacialAnomalies.
PaperPresentedat AmericanAnthropologicalAssociationMeetings,November.

l . -

Reasonmagazine- May 200J Their Aim Is Trueby Abigail Kohn Page1 of9

home ¡h*u1 5e¡r.h $"rhr{r;iÉ *d,rarli5!

REASON * May 2001

Their Aim Is True
Taking stockof America'sreal gun culture æ Gun Ownershipin America:
The numbers
By Abigail Kohn æ REASON's Gun Page

It was mid-September, 1998,the first day ofNorthern california's Range vy'ar,

a "cowboy action shooting" competition in which participants dressup in Otd
costumesand use replicas of antique weapons. so far things were going
pretty well. I was just starting to get used to my borrowed r2-gauge shotgun,
and my revolvers (single-action .38s) were performing smoothly. My cowgirl
costumewas pretty comfortable - black silkjacket, flowing black silk skirt --
and for once my hat was staying on my head. I was getting into my groove,
hitting most of the targetswith my pistols, and almost all of them with my new
lever-action .44 rifle. My shotgun shooting wasn't too great, but the gun was
borrowed, and that's always a good excuse.But I was fast approachingthe
toughestpart of the event -- the "mechanicalpony" stage.cowboy shooters
have to load their guns and fire at metal targetswhile sitting on a rocking
mechanicalpony, the kind that used to be in front of supermarketsin the '70s.
Everyone was complaining that the rocking motion was so jerky you couldn't
hit the broad side of a bam. And anyone who forgot to keep her shotgun stock
braced firmly againstthe hollow of her shoulder would be sore for weeks. I was
dreading this stage.

I heard the rangemastercall my name, and that meant it was time to make final
preparationsfor my turn. In the safety area,r carefully loaded my rifle with the
requisite 10 rounds. Then I loaded my revolvers and tucked them back into my
hip holsters. My heart was starting to pound, and when my name was called, I
slowly walked up to the pony, handing my rifle and shotgun (with their actions
open) to the shooterwho'd be keeping track of my hits. I readjustedmy eye and
ear protection, climbed up onto the pony, and nodded that I was ready. I could
feel how clammy my handshad gotten as I took back my rifle, the first of the
105/fe.ak.their.shtml 5/tt/2006
Reasonmagazine-- May 2001 Their Aim Is Trueby Abigail Kohn Page2 of 9

four guns I would shoot.

I vaguely heard the rangemasteryell the commandsto standþ and then start,
but I was already on autopilot, trying to move with the pony, which had
startedrocking. The motion was slow, but since I was used to shooting while
standingperfectly still, it had already completely destabilized me. I tuned out
everything except the gun I was holding at the moment and the targets in front
of me (pretty far in front of me, actually). I worked my rifle's lever to
chambera round, aimed, and fired. Aiming was not easy,but I felt like I was
shooting close to the target. I think I even managedto hit a few, but I couldn't
be sure. After firing all 10 rounds, I handeddown my rifle. The pistols were
easierto aim and shoot, and I heard five of my 10 shots plink againstthe
metal targets.

The shotgunwas the worst, as I knew it would be. My borrowed gun was a
"side-by-side," a I2-gauge double-barreledshotgun.I am not a tall woman, so
even with light loads, this gun \ryasa handful. After loading quickly, I brought
the butt up againstmy shoulder and held it there as tightly as I could. I was so
full of adrenalinethat I didn't even feel nervous anymore. I let myself rock
back and forth with the motion of the pony and carefully aimed at the targets
about 8 or 10 yards away. I pulled the first trigger. The gun slammedback
againstmy shoulder with a thud. What seemedlike an eternity later, I pulled
the secondtrigger, and this time I managedto control the recoil pretfy well.
But by this point I was too busy reloading to feel much satisfaction from
having hit the target on one of my first two tries. After loading two more
times, Irealized that I probably hit only half my targets.

That last shot was a relief. When I climbed down from the pony, stiff from
tension, my shoulder was akeady throbbing. The recoil had causeda massive
bruise to begin forming.

The cowboy shooterwho'd been counting my hits smiled at me and nodded

encouragingly. He was a regular at theseevents,in his late 60s. With an
authentic cowboy drawl, he said: "That was good, careful shooting. Don't
worry, speedcomes later. That was good shooting." I almost groaned -- I must
have been really slow. I nodded and smiled at him, taking back my rifle. Then
I walked back to the safety areato unload my revolvers and check all my

Truly, I didn't care how fast or accurateI had been. I was just glad to have it
finished. My shoulder \ryasreally starting to ache. I was not looking forward
to tomorrow's team shoot, though thank God it would be the last day of the
two-day event. I had learned an important lesson:It's tough to be a decent
cowboy action shooter when you have to keep borrowing the guns.

There was a time when I would not have wanted to touch a gun of any kind,
much less spendpart of an afternoon riding the back of a rocking mechanical
pony and blazingaway at a seriesof targetswith revolvers, rifles, and
shotguns.But that improbable picture is the culmination of a journey that took
me from the ivory towers of academiato the shooting ranges of Northern

http :/ I r 05I fe.ak.their. shtml slIU2006

Is Irue Dy '¿\DrBaur\t,'ur
Reason magazine- May 2001 Their Aim

anthropologist, I nui,.1ottii" of gün ctazies'butwhat I foundwere
regularfolks -- relateto íheir gunsin generallysocially
peopleareu91lallyignoredby mostmediaaccounts
storyof-howI came to make
America's"gun cultuie."What followi iJthe
sorisof peoplewho makeup
that discovery,andsomebrief sketchesof the more
America,s*u.t --ãiiË;l;;ã *sunderstood gun culture.or, perhaps
accurately,America's guncultures'

Militia or Mainstream?

unus.til background-I did not
the U.S. no, u,,g.rrr*rã¡oiå.,'f"tniot ltrave an
grow up with guns;i;tt*;p on theEastCoast'the daughterof white'
anda master's
politically liberal,i#isï d;tnts' After finishing graduate
programin EngunJ,'i;;;t";k. q. u.s. anddecidedon more it
school.I choset" ;õ;;ht;pology u""u"..I1iked the spiritof adventure
within a nonjudgmental
embodied,urr¿U"culsáI Ut"¿ìn. id.u of working interaction'In 1993,I
human toðiul
disciplinettratencÃiragsJitt".qlOv.of at theuniversity of
enteredthejoint pr"Ërr:*-r" -ãJi"ár anthropology
Californiaat Berkeleyand SanFrancrsco'

-- culture-
Berkeley,I foundüi"t"ti' i"terestin my originál-topic9f inOuirf
-- I siowly beganlooking
boundpsychiatricsyndromes waswáttittglSo
aroundfor other#;;h;"pics, hopingto-frndsomethingcurrentand .
interesting.Aroundthat timè, I met a fãttow anthropology
namedMichael(his andall subsequent nameshavábeenchanged),who was
*tiiittg his dissertationon Moroccantourism'

England,he wasp-äil andpro-feñrini.'o-- andhe liked to ride
a hunter-I found this last
motorcycler.rur"Ji"t i-g"ing91il1, Michaelwas
i ;

in commonwith Michael' but
facetto be particularlyodd.I felt that I had a lot in
I didn,t expect *""ïft" was so liberal andsourbaneto be interested
" Michaelhad grownup aroundrytt;.H" huntedwith his
iñcluding a rifle, a shotgun,
father andbrother,;;d il o*ttã¿ ,.u*à guns,
to hunt'
;¡; sþrter pistoíthathe usedto train his dog

specificallyhis interestin
willingnessto sharehis interestswith me,most
awareof my own
guns.That attracieãm", not only becauseI wasso
sucha traditionally
ignorance,urrturrã-u"r-å"r.his ieadinessto share
had a sometimes;;;i; rehtiõnshþ, we eîentua[y decidedto be simplyfor
gettingto know eachother
friends,which *" ;;;;i" five yearsr-íår. After
,"u"rui*onths, we decidedto try working together.

beencomicalif it hadn't beenso
our first foruy intáïrr? *uj.ãt woulã have

Reasonmagazine-- May 2001 Their Aim Is True by Ablgall llonn
L O é V a w L t

naïve. Our initial attempt to meet local militia memberstook us to a shooting

range in the Bay Area, *h"t. v/e assumedlocal militia meetingswould
held. V/e went on a Túesdaynight, fully expecting the range to be seething
with radical political activity. why else would people congregateata
shooting rung", if not to meêt othðr fike-minded, potentially dangerous
wing grin nuls? It never occurredto us that they might be there for the
enjoyment of target shooting.

It embarrassesme now to recall that trip. We went expecting to find militia

membersmilling around in camouflagé gear,holding signs, and handing
visit -
radical pamphlets.Needlessto say, we didn't meet anyone during our
ranges across the U'S' that do
*no frtitrut'description. There máy be isolated
and even
cater predominantiy to shootersin-volvedwith the militia movement,
,ung.r that covertly sponsor"radical political activity." But there v/ere
the rangewe visited, even though we
ãin"tiu meeting schedïles to be found at
did see aradicalbumper sticker or two: "Gun control is hitting your target'"

After wé realized that we probably weren't going to accomplish our original

goal of establishingcontaðtwith ihe militia, we starting paying attention to
what we could leamatthe range.And that first time shooting, I discovered
something I knew absolutely nãttting about: gun enthusiasm.That Tuesday
evening u:ttttr range we mei a lot of people who w-erethere for essentially
thing: ó shoot gUns.For the most part, they were friendly people who were
,"uíy and wi[iñg to talk about their interest in guns and their enjoyment in
shooting. Eventuã[y Michael and I dropped the militia project, but !Y
interestln gun continued. It has proven to be a very fruitful
avenuefor research.

My first experienceshooting a gun provided me with some insight about the

,r,ârtno,r, cultural conflict sunõunding the issue of guns in American society'
Guns simultaneously attractedand repelled me. When Michael and I first
went shooting, the rangemasteraskedus what kind of gun we wanted to try,
and I immediately said-,"A Glock." I had heard that name dozens,if not
hundreds,of timès otr ÍV and in the movies, and it was strangely appealing
for that reason.But it also seemedthe most representativeof crime and
violence, which put me off. It representedtwo sides of the samecoin, and I
wanted to get my handson it.
The rangemastershook his head, amused,and muttered, "They always ylnt
try the õlocks." He gave us a 2O-minutelesson,during wfrich I had to pick
añd handle the gun severaltimes. I was terribly excited, but also very nervous'
Finally the rangimaster marchedus onto the range, stopping at an unused
lane. He turned to the man shooting in the lane next to ours and said, "Keep
an eye on these two, Bob. They don't know what the hell they're doing'"
--_ I
V/e felt vaguely humiliated, but we didn't protest he was right. And . -
realizedseveralimportant tirings in that mõment. There is no one essential
*"V t" understand*hut grntt are, and what they do. And therein lies
-- --
,.rltor" conflict. Guns hale come to signify the best and the worst
qualities of heroesand villains in the Ã*"ii"utt imagination. Guns are both

Reason magazine-- May 200t Their Aim Is True by Abigail Kohn Page) oI v

literally and symbolically very powerful, and I was drawn to this research
becauseI wanted to understand,and analyze,the sourcesof that power.

Aid and Comfort

Although I was interestedin becoming a shooterfor the firsthand experience

it would bring to my research,I was and continue to be somewhatnervous
around g.rttt.1 am Comfortablewith my own guns (I have bought several -
since gelting started),but I am not a tried and true gun enthusiast.I think that
my uori"ty, which was initially simply feat, actually made the researchmore
enriching lot me. I really had to work through those feelings to do the
research,as I was literally handling guns every day.

Working with Michael helped as well, becauseI could tell he was impressed
with my desire to take on such a traditionally masculine interest and sport.
Most oithe female shooterswho I know were introduced to guns by men, and
I know for myself that overcoming my fear and matching Michael shot for
shot was both challenging and exhilarating. It was anxiety-producing too, but
fantasticbecauseI could do it, and I becamepretty good at it.

The point of my research,as I explained to wary but supportive faculty

adviiors and family, was to understandwhat guns symbolizedto gun
enthusiasts.Why do people enjoy owning guns?What does gun ownership_
mean to them? To answerthesequestions,my researchtook me to places that
are generally consideredthe sole province of that much-malignedand poorly
understoodwhipping boy called "the gun culture." I took lessonsfrom
instructors certiflredby the National Rifle Association, went to gun shows, and
shot on ranges and in competitions.Most importantly,I interviewed 37 adult
men and wõ*en who identified themselvesas gun enthusiasts("shooters" is
their preferred term).

I spent the most time with a local posseof cowboy action shooters,and in the
ptôce*t became an active participant in their sport. Beyond dressing in period
costumesand using old-style weapons,cowboy action shootersconstruct
elaboratemock-ups of Old West towns using painted plywood and vivid
imaginations. These cow towns are assembledand dismantled on local
shooting ranges on the weekends,all for the purpose of the somewhat
complicãtedihooting competitions sketchedout at the start of this article.
Somè of the better-aitended(and better-financed)shoots include makeshift
dancehalls and saloons.Shooterseat, drink, dance,hang out, and, most
important, shoot. I enjoyed spendingtime with the cowboy action shooters.
This part of my researchconstitutedwhat anthropologistscall "participant
observation," and my observationsand assessmentscomposedmy
anthropological data.

My interviews, conductedover 14 months from late 1997 to the end of 1998,

wéte a little more quiet and contained.I interviewed not only cowboy
shooters,but also general enthusiasts,people I met at every stageof my
research.They weie fascinating people, each worthy of introduction. The
following thrée are representati* got enthusiasts.As important, they break

I 05/fe.ak.their.shtml slrU2006
Reasonmagazine-- May 2001 Their Aim Is True by Abigail Kohn Page6 of9

down the idea of a monolithic gun culture.

Community Servant

I met Greg relatively early in my research.He taught my secondclass on

handgun safety at a local shooting range in the B,ay Area.A knowledgeable
and articulate Vietnam veteranand managet at a security firm, Greg
volunteershis time as a shooting instructor. He teachesan all-day class every
month to groups of five to 10 people.

Greg - who, like most of the instructors I've met, is white -- emphasizedthe
importanceof "good gun etiquette," which includes becoming thoroughly
familiar with your firearms and their properties, and never pointing a gn at
anotherhuman being, regardlessof whether or not it is loaded. He
underscoredthe importance of this by observing the rule at all times. When he
handled guns, he turned them in his handsvery carefully, without ever
pointing themuzzle at himself or anyone around him. Throughout the lesson,
he constantly reminded us of the deadlinessof guns, reiterating the idea that
while they were not "magic talismans," they did have symbolic and literal
power in the hands of their users,regardlessof why they are used. Greg was a
charismaticman and a good teacher,and the lessonwith him passedquickly,
culminating in a late afternoon shooting sessionin chilly winter rain. He
observedour group as \ryeshot our handguns atpaper bull's-eye targets,
brusquely correcting improper stancesor techniques.This class was the most
exhaustingone I attendedduring my entire research.

When I interviewed Greg, he spoke candidly about why he volunteers to teach

gun safety, and why he enjoys it. Greg explained that he joined the military as
a young man to test both his manhood and his independence,and he credited
the military with teaching him much of what he knows about firearms. His
military experienceagedhim considerably,and his interest in guns subsided
once he got out ofthe service.But severalyears Iate4 a friend reintroduced
him to shooting. Since then, he's been an enthusiast.

Greg believed strongly that he was performing a community service by

passingon his knowledge. He talked about how people, particularly women,
come to his classesfrightened, both of guns and of being victimized. Greg felt
that the media and the entert¿inmentindustry prey on people's fears of guns
and crime. It was important to him to provide knowledge and understanding
of how to use guns safely and effectively. He believed that the anxieties of
living in a violent society necessitatelearning to keep yourself safe, not
becauseyou are likely to be attacked,but becausefear of being attacked can
beparalyzing. Though I didn't agreewith all of Greg's views, I certainly
respectedthe experienceson which they were based.


I met Thea in an introductory handgun classthat was taught by two other

women. An attorney, she was a vivaciously attractive white woman in her
mid-4Os.She had grown up under difficult circumstancesin the Midwest and

http:/I rcason. shtml

com/OI 05/fe.ak.their. slrU2006
Reasonmagazine- May 2001 Their Aim Is Trueby Abigail Kohn PageT of9

had married her childhood sweetheart.Although he had kept a shotgun,Thea

had no interest in guns back then. She did, however, have an abiding interest
in law enforcement,and in her late 20s she applied to the FBI Academy and
was accepted.But before she could join the agency,her husbanddied, leaving
her to raise their two daughtersalone. She did not join the FBI, though
eventually she went to law school and becamean attorney.

Thea becamemuch more interestedin guns when she began dating a gun
enthusiast,whom she has since married. Thea associatesher husband
Jonathan'sgun enthusiasmwith his willingness to care for and protect her.
Initially, I was ambivalent when she told me that becauseThea seemedso
feminist in both her professionaland personal life. But her interview
reminded me that people are more complex than labels can render them. Thea
made it clear that theseissuesare complicatedfor her. She said: "I made a
career,personally and professionally, of empowering people. But as good as
I've always been about standingup for other people, I'm not the least bit good
about standing up for myself. And so it's very important to me to have
somebody -- f mean, trdidn't have a clue how important that was until I was
with Jonathan-- to have a man protect me. And I feel like he is completely
protectiveof me. I just kind of bask in that."

Shooting makes Thea feel confident and strong -- or, as sheputs it, like she
has "somethingelsegoing on besidesestrogendepletion."She admires
shootersas people who know how to stand up for themselves."I think of them
being kind of in chargeof their destinies.And I think maybe that's another
reasonwhy this is somethingthat's good for me now." She linked her
admiration for shootersto her difficult childhood. Shooting has helped her
find an inner strength. "I'm a person who loves to stand up to bullies. My old
man [her father] was such a bully -- this is a very new skill that I'm learning
to cultivate. It's very hard for me. And this makes me feel strong."

The Rifleman

I met Leonard while I was becoming a cowboy action shooter.A somewhat

quiet and reservedman, he was a regular in the group. I asked if I could
interview him, his exact words were, "You don't work for SarahBrady, do
you?" He agreedto talk with me only after I assuredhim that I did not work
for the gun-control advocate.

Leonard was particularly interestingbecausehe was one of the few African-

Americans who competedregularly at local and regional cowboy shoots.
Leonard was a middle-classfamily man, an architect who lived and worked in
the city, and he had also been in the military.

He loved Winchester rifles, and apparentlyhad quite a collection. I asked him

why he liked cowboy shooting, and why he thought there were so few black
men on the modern-day cowboy range. He said that he thought it was because
so few African-Americans know about their ethnic heritage on the l9th-
century frontier. He thought blacks weren't likely to learn about their heritage
from Hollywood Westerns,the sourceof so much popular knowledge of the
105/fe.ak.their.shtml sttU2006
Reasonmagazine-- May 2001 Their Aim Is Trueby Abigail Kohn PageI of9

frontier, becauseWesternsrarely portrayed the African-American

contribution to the Old West.

He said: "I think a lot of times - until just recently, maybe in the '60s -- when
you used to seeWestern movies, you didn't seeblack faces.But I knew ever
since I was a kid that there were [black cowboys], becausewe had pictures of
guys from around 1901."

Leonard was quite knowledgeableabout the contribution of African-

Americans to the historic frontier, and he derived his pleasurein the sport
from this actual history, as opposedto the mythologized history that is
dramatizedby the sport of cowboy shooting. When I askedhim what guns
meant to him, he said, "I always thought that if you had a good horse, a good
Winchester, and a good backpack,you could go into the woods and stay
forever. So it's kind of a romanticized freedom, maybe."

It was easyto seehow this image could appealto a man who lived and
worked in a highly urban environment.Leonard had a sophisticated
understandingof the difference between fantasy and reality, but that
knowledge did not diminish his pleasurein cowboy action shooting.

Paradigm tr'ound

Contrary to my initial expectationsof the "gun nuts" who presumably

constitutewhat critics disparagingly refer to as "the cult of the gun in
America," most membersof "the gun culture" I've talked with are typical
citizens. They live normal American lives, insofar as any of us is "nomal."
They have complex and sophisticatedideas about what guns do, what guns
are for, and why guns are an important part of American history, society, and
culture. A point that is consistentlyoverlooked in the heat and vitriol of the
gun debateis that millions of Americans have ostensibly enjoyable, or at the
very least ordinary, experienceswith guns all the time.

My own professional and personalexperienceshave also helped me

understandwhy shootersare so resistantto the idea that guns are really only
weaponsof violence. They can certainly be used that way, and I don't know a
shooterwho doesn't acknowledgethat point. But guns are also about sport
and recreation. They are about spendingtime with friends and others who
sharethe pleasureof challenging sporting competition.

For that reason,when critics equateguns only with violence, they miss a large
part of the picture, and they misrepresentthe complex nature of America's
diverse, multilayered gun culture. If guns werc only about tragedy and death,
then they would not be so enjoyed and so firmly incorporated into the lives of
so many different Americans. The people who actually arepart of the gun
culfure often have rational, thoughtful, or simply mundanereasonsto own and
use guns. Ridiculing and insulting them to further policy agendasstrikes me
as both counterproductive and wrong.

I took up shooting and researchingguns to confront my ambivalence about

http:Ih eason.
com/0105/fe.ak.their.shtml 5/rr/2006
Reasonmagazine-- May 2001 Their Aim Is Trueby Abigail Kohn Page9 of9

guns and their relationship to violence, and to try to understandwhy they are
such powerful symbols in American society. If I learnednothing else during
my research,I learnedthat "the gun culture" is not some concrete,bounded
entity that is manifestedat gun shows or at shooting ranges,or in NRA

The gun culture is a fundamentalpart of American culture as a whole.

Members of America's gun culture don't live in a vacuum. They serve on
school boards; they attend town meetings;they go to neighborhood parties
and community picnics; they go to their jobs in large and small places of
business.They have incorporatedguns into their lives, and many of them
really aren'tinterested in changing thatfact. Until critics of guns and the gun
culture recognizethat fact, they are only going to alienategun owners and
polemicize the gun debate.Neither result will fuither a goal sought by both
sides:to reduce the amount of violence in American society.

Abigail Kohn (abbykon@itsa.ucsfedù is researchinggun culture in Australia

and is at work on q book about American gun enthusiasts. 105/fe.ak.their.shtml 5/rt/2006


( . j
tf.eason: ùlrargnt ùnoolmg On ¡ yun UOntfOl: a{ <l>t(eason</l> debate PageI ot 17

[!_l Thepagecannotbefound

¡l¡cui !tãr'tn ,Jh5{¡.Þù :.¿lcri¡.ts

May 2005

StraightShootingon Gun Control

A Reasondebate

Abigail A. Kohn, Don B. Kates, Wendy Kaminer, and

Michael I, Krauss

it comes to rancorousdebatesin which the two sides
routinely talk past each other, gun control ranks up there with
abortion and the deathpenalty. Last year Abigail A. Kohn, an
anthropologist trained at the University of California at San
Francisco, bravely waded into this battle with Shooters:Myths
and Realities of America's Gun Cultures (Oxford University
Press).A sympatheticportrait of gun enthusiastsin Northern
California, the book endswith aplea for a calmer discussionof
guns and crime. ReasonaskedKohn to summarizeher argument
and invited responsesfrom three people with an interest in this
area: civil liberties lawyer Don B. Kates,journalist Wendy
Kaminer, and law professorMichael L Krauss.

Beyond tr'ear and Loathing

Abigail A. Kohn
the Department of Justiceissuesa public statementthat
the SecondAmendment protects an individual right to own a
gun, when 35 statespassnondiscretionarycarry permit laws,
when New York Timescolumnist Nicholas Kristof declaresthat
"gun control is dead," you know the gun debateis over.

http ://,/O5
05/fe.ak.straight.shtml s/tt/2006
r\ç4ù\rrl. ùu<uËrrl ùuuuturË UII . rUIl \,UlltlUl; ¿\ \I/j\ËASUII=-/12 UCDAtg rage¿orLt

But somebody forgot to tell the SanFranciscoBoard of

SupervisorsandPizzaHut. Fresh from championing the rights
of gays and lesbiansto get married,SanFrancisco'ssupervisors
are trying to curb the rights of all city residentsto keep
handgunsin their homes.Meanwhile, major American
corporations such asPizzaHut and AOL forbid employeesto
bring even legally owned and transportedguns onto company
property or to carry them on the job. Pizza Hut recently fired an
employee for carrying a gun while delivering pizzas; the
company learned of the violation when the employee used the
gun on the job to defend himself during a robbery attempt.

Although the JusticeDepartmenthaspractically promised that

guns are off the national agenda,stateand local gun controls
affect millions of Americans. IVhile gun owners have powerful
allies such as the JusticeDepartment and the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which in the 1998 case U.S. v.
Emerson found that the SecondAmendment guaranteesan
individual right to armed self-defense,gufl control supporters
maintain strongholdsin the country's biggest cities. Having
John Ashcroft or Alberto Gonzaleson their side doesn't do
supportersof gun rights much good in cities such as New York,
Chicago, and the District of Columbia, where it is difhcult or
impossible to legally keep guns for self-defense.And such cities
may be the places where owning a gun for self-defenseis most
important, particularly for people who live in high-crime

Given that neither side of the gun debateis going to concede

defeat, and given their loathing for each other, I'd like to offer
severalsuggestionsfor moving the debateforward. I come to
1 l thesesuggestionsafter severalyears ofanthropological research
on gun enthusiastsin the San FranciscoBay Area during the
late 1990s.I met shootersat ranges,gun clubs, competitions,
and gun shows, where thousandsof Bay Area shootersregularly
bravé the hostility of their local government and their neilhbors
to enjoy their chosenshooting sports.My researcheducatedme
not only about how gun owners think and feel about their guns
but also about the assumptionsthat both sides of the gun debate
bring to the table. Until gun control supportersand gun
enthusiastsre-examine some of their assumptions,neither will
get far in achieving policies thatare likely to reduce violence,
the statedobjectiveof both sides.

Here's what gun control supportersmust do to have any hope of

being heard on the national level again:

Stop tryíng to destroy the gun culture. There are more than250

http :/ 5/rr/2006

r\ç4ùrrrr. ùrrarËrlt ùrruurutB ult. I rull \.ontrot: ,¿\ <_l>l(eason</l> dgbate Page'3ol 17

million guns in public circulation in the U.S. They cannot be

wished away.Even if the U.S. governmentbannedgun
ownership and stoppedall gun manufacturing and importation,
it would still needto confiscateall thoseweapons.Doing so
would require wholesale violations of Fourth Amendment
rights. The probability of getting rid of guns in America,
therefore, is practically zero.

Then there are the people who own all those guns. The gun
culture is a multilayered, multifaceted phenomenonmade up of
diverse, complex subcultures.Contrary to popular stereotypes,
membersof the gun culture are not alipoténtial tenoristsj
unemployed skinheadshanging out at gun shows, or menacing
warrior wannabesin camouflage geat.Not every gun owner is a
member of the National Rifle Association; in fact, some gun
owners dislike the NRA. Gun owners come in all colors and
strþes: They are police officers, soldiers, farmers and ranchers,
doctors and lawyers, hunters, sport shooters,gun collectors,
feminists, gay activists, black civil rights leaders.Most of the
shootersI know are normal membersof their local
communities. They have regularjobs; they go to neighborhood
picnics and PTA meetings; they have children and
grandchildren. They interact with their co-workers, bosses,
employees,neighbors, friends, and families in socially positive

Despite their differences in backgroundand lifestyle, all these

individuals have thoroughly integratedguns into their lives.
Gun control supportersneed to recognize thatAmerica's gun
culture has deep roots in American history and that pro-gun
ideology has deep roots in America's political cultuie. Even if
the NRA were to magically disappeartomorrow, the gun culture
would remain. The people who composeit are simply not
interestedin giving up their arrns.

Guns and the gun culture are so intertwined with American

culture that many Americans perceive guns as utterly,
unremarkably normal. Most gun owners have unexciting, if not
entirely banal, experienceswith guns all the time. Claiming that
gun owners are mentally ill or that the gun culture is a..cult,'(as
the historian Garry Wills has) will not changethe fact that most
gun owners are ordinary people.

Speakingof which...

Stop demonízinggun owners.Insulting,ridiculing, or

attempting to shamegun owners leavesthem even more
disgustedby the idea of gun control. Gun control advocatesand
05/fe.ak.straight.shtml 51rU2006
I\ç.1ÐuIl. ùuarBilt ùuUUturB UII ' {UIl L.UIltfOl. .á\ <-l2l(eason<-/12 OeDale rage4oï Ll

social critics have rarely missed an opportunity to describegun

owners as "gun nuts," "gan craziesr"or even ttpotential
terrorists." If gun control advocatesare only trying to rouse the
passionsof people who already agreewith them, they may be
accomplishing their goal. But presumablythere is an audience
sitting on the fence, an audiencethat includes gun owners who
are open to persuasionby a reasonablepoint of view. Gun
control supportersunderestimatethe ways their rhetoric
alienatesthis reachablegroup of people.

Discontinuing thesetactics of public ridicule would go a long

way toward establishingbetter faith with gun owners. V/hat
would happenif politicians who support gun control publicly
acknowledgedthat most Americans who orvn guns do so
legitimately, as part of a well-establishedtradition of American
citizenship? What if they noted that gun owners sharetheir
desireto reduce violence and welcomed the opportunity to hear
their suggestionsfor fighting illegal gun salesand making the
legal gun market safer?V/hat if they actually meant it? Irealize
how unlikely it is that liberal politicians would be willing to
give up the rhetoric that appealsto the hard-core anti-gun
constituency.But if catering to this constifuencymeans
consistently losing elections, alienating large groups of voters,
or having proposedpolicies shot down by the courts, surely it
makes senseto reach out to moderategun owners. Toward that

Use local gun owners as a resource.Therc are more than75

million gun owners in the U.S. Chancesare that most supporters
of gun control are well-acquaintedwith at least one person who
owns a gun and considershim or herself a gun enthusiast.
Instead of relying on letters to the editor in the national press or
sound bites from the NRA to explain gun enthusiasmor pro-gun
ideology, perhapsgun control supportersshould simply ask
their friends and neighbors.If people begin honest dialogues
with others they are predisposedto trust, they might be less
inclined to take a hard-line position in the broader gun debate.

Asking local residentswho are knowledgeableabout guns to

give children and teenagersa run-down about what they do,
how they work, and why children shouldn't touch them except
under adult supervision in controlled circumstancesmight help
dispel the myths and fantasiesthat are attachedto these
seductive,powerful icons. The absenceof accurateinformation
about guns does not make them less appealing; it only fosters
ignorance about their dangers.

Give up on dead-endgun control proposals. As the Democrats

htþ :// sllr/2006

r\sa¡iurr. ùrr¿lrBflr ùflOoung olt . run \-onuo[: .¿\ <-t2Ì(eason</l> oeDate rage)oIl/

have discovered,nothing kills a political careerfaster that the

words licensing and regístration. Al Gore learnedthis the hard
way, and four year later no amount of duck and goosehunting
could negateJohn Kerry's image as a potential gun grabber. It's
true that the NRA is very good at painting any Democrat-or
the odd Republican-who daresmention gun regulation as an
enemy of the people. But the gun control movement has
provided bad advice to liberal hopefuls, encouragingthem to
believe that most Americans want tighter federal gun laws.

The gun control movement needsto take responsibility for its

own poor showing, which is largely due to its reliance on
policies that are not only unpopular but unlikely to reduce gun
crime. A national licensing and registration system for
handguns,for example,would be very costly (ust ask Canada),
impossible to manageeffectively, and likely to generate
widespreadnoncompliance,creating more criminals than it
would catch. Recordsof sale (kept by dealersnow in several
states,including California) accomplish most of the benefits of
registration without nearly as much of the negative fallout.

Why not advocatethat approachinstead?

Another example of counterproductivegun control is

discretionary caffy permit laws, which give police the authority
to decide who should be allowed to carry firearms. Such laws
penalizethe poor and disenfranchised,batteredwomen, even
gay activists-people whose applicationspolice are likely to
reject. By contrast,politicians and local celebrities (who often
have well-armed bodyguards anyway) usually have no problem
getting permits. Amaztngl¡ such laws are still proposed as
solutions for cities plagued by gun crime, where the citizens
most often deniedpermits tend to be the onesmost vulnerable
to crime. Thesepoorly thought-out policies don't just anger gun
owners; they discredit the very notion of gun control.

Gun control supportersshould make a real effort to researchthe

gun control policies they support. Even if they think general
disarmamentis a good idea, are they really interestedin policies
that selectively disarm people with the leastpolitical influence?
They need to identiff and promote violence-reducinggun
control policies that everyone can rally around, including law-
abiding gun owners.

And why would gun owners want to get behind any kind of gun
control policy? Becausegun control is not going away.Despite
the lack of evidence,many Americans continue to believe that
gun control will prevent gun violence, or at least reduce it. As

http:ü,iO505/fe.ak.straight.shtml 5/tr/2006
Ñeasurr; ùrrargnr ùnooltng on'.-r]n uonffol: .¿\ <rl>tfeason</l> GeDate rageoorr/

long as there are guns around, there will be people who insist on
controlling them. No matter how effectively gun owners
demonstratetheir safety consciousness,or how often they use
guns to defend themselves,there will always be gun control
supporterswho genuinely believe that owning guns causes

To beat gun controllers at their own game, gun owners should:

Recognizethepower of their recentpoliticøl victories. The 5th

Circuit's ruling in Emerson,the electionof George Bush,
John Ashcroft's term as attorney general,and the Justice
Department's support for an individual-rights interpretation of
the SecondAmendment all were important victories for the gun
rights movement. What thesewins mean is that gun enthusiasts,
and in particular the NRA, no longer need to take an absolutist
stanceagainstall forms of gun control. The NRA traditionally
has arguedthat most, if not all, gun control is dangerous
becauseit will lead the U.S. down a slippery slope to gun
confiscation. But becauseof the Emerson decision and the well-
articulatedposition of the JusticeDepartment,Americans now
have a fairly clear SecondAmendment right to own guns.
American courts are slowly but surely rccognizing what gun
owners have known all along.

That being the case,the strongestposition gun owners can take

is to look long and hard at the laws on the books and decide
how they can be improved. Gun owners should start thinking
proactively and constructively about how they can contribute to
a body of law that continuesto respecttheir rights but more
effectively prohibits dangerousand criminal gun use, gun
i " ,
dealing, and firearms trafficking. Theseare the kinds of crimes
(the latter two in particular) that are rampant in areasof the
nation where gun control laws are strictest.Gun owners should
lead the way in championing laws that addresstheseproblems.
This meansthey should...

Rethinkwhat is meant by "gun control. " Until now, gun control

has largely been about attempting (generally unsuccessfully) to
reduce or eradicategun crime by controlling legal accessto
guns. Licensing and registration, bans on "assault weapons,"
discretionary licensing laws: These are the defining aspectsof
the contemporarygun control paradigm. Insteadwe need to
start thinking about gun control as an attempt to control the
black market in firearms.

A good example is private gun sales,which are largely

unregulated.This createsa seriousproblem, since there is

ak.straight.shtml snv2006
r\ç4ùulr. ùrr4rËul ùiluutruË ull . r.utl \.ultLlul. ft \l/I\9¡1sull\/l/ uçuatç ÍagvtoLLt

strong evidencethat guns used in crime are purchasedthrough

informal, third-party channels.Criminologists such as JosephF.
Sheley of Califomia StateUniversity at Sacramentoand James
D. Wright of the University of Central Florida have documented
the ways in which crime guns move quickly through a
community by meansof informal transactions,a problem that
should be addressedby harshly penalizing people who engage
in nonprofessionalgun transfersand circumvent legal dealers.
Straw purchasing-in which a person with a clean background
purchasesa gun through legal means,then turns around and
sells it illegally to a prohibited buyer such as a convicted
felon-is a related example of a seriousgun crime. Massive
amountsof guns can move quickly and easily into the black
market through consistentstraw purchasing,which should be
heavily penalizedon both the supply and demand sides.

Shooterscan help police theseproblems. In any given

community, gun enthusiastsare often quite familiar with the
dealerswho are not always scrupulously careful about selling
only to legal buyers. When I conductedresearchwith shooters
in Northern California, I found it was no secretwhich dealers
were selling guns to straw buyers. If such dirfy dealing was
public knowledge (or quasi-public knowledge), why didn't
shootersnotiff local or stateauthorities?Why would they keep
silent about criminal activities that hurt law-abiding gun

I suspectsome shootersdistrustedthe local office of the Bureau

of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF, now the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) or felt a senseof
loyalty to the gun-owning community (always beleagueredin
San Francisco). Or perhapsthey simply didn't care to get
involved with the issue,figuring it wasn't such a big deal if it
didn't directly affect them. But solid researchby criminologists
such as David M. Kennedy, Anthony A. Braga, and Anne M.
Piehl, all at Harvard University's Kennedy School of
Government,has demonstratedthat small numbers of dirfy
dealerscan move an enoÍnous number of guns into the black
market, thereby making the surrounding areasmore dangerous
for everyone living there.

Dirty dealing and gun traffrcking don't just provide literal

weaponsto violent criminals; they provide rhetorical weapons
to the gun control movement, which never misses an
opportunity to stick it to gun owners. If gun trafficking and gun
crime increase,anti-gun crusaderswill tum the spotlight to the
most obvious "cause" of the problem: the legal gun-owning
community. Shootersshould remember their own stake in

htþ :/
straight.shtml 51rU2006
rw6¿ùrJll. r)r,r4rËrll ùuu\rLlllË UII . ruII \.LrltLIUI. ¡L \l/I\ç4ù(Jll\/I/ Ltçu<lLg f ¿1Ëç o ur r /

ridding the community of gun crime; it benefits them in every

way to get more proactive about reducing crime. Gun owners
need to work assertivelywithin the system to accomplish
changethat ultimately benef,rtseveryone, simultaneously
demonstratingtheir willingness to compromise. Accordingly,

Support effectíveviolence-reductionpolicies. A number of

projects developedin the last severalyears show great promise
in reducing youth violence, gang activity, and gun crime
generally. One of the most impressive and sophisticatedis the
Boston Gun Project, also knows as Operation CeaseFire. The
Boston Gun Project is the invention of a team of Harvard
researchers(including Kennedy, Braga, and Piehl) who began
in the mid-1990sto collaboratewith the Boston Police
Department, youth outreachcoordinators,and community
activists who work with inner-city youth and gang members.By
uniting the efforts of theseagenciesand individuals, they
disrupted the gun crime that was contributing to Boston's high
homicide rate. With help from the police and the local BATF,
the researcherslearnedthat there were several dealersin
Massachusetts(as well as surrounding states)who regularly
sold guns to straw purchasers,thereby helping to sustain
Boston's black market in guns. This was one method by which
the project was able to identiff and disrupt the sourcesof guns
that were quickly finding their way into dangeroushands.

V/orking with community activists and gang specialists,project

leadersalso held meetingswith local gang members and youth
considered"at risk" for committing violent crime. Community
activists and outreachworkers discussedwith them the ways in
which their dangerousbehavior was hurting them, hurting their
families and füends, and damaging the community, both
physically and in terms of morale. Project workers also
discussedwith theseyouths the potential consequencesof their
violent behavior, including seizureof assetsand proceedsfrom
drug transactions,harsherprosecutorial attention, and tougher
bail terms. All participants in the project were informed that
violence would not be tolerated,that in some casesit would be
prosecutedin federal court, and that all ofthe project's separate
agencies(the police, the BATF, and community services
organizations)would make offenders' lives uncomfortable until
the violence stopped.Individuals who were engaging in the
most violent behavior were identified by the coordinating
agencies,arrested,and prosecuted.

All the youth involved in the project (and in the community)

witnessedwhat happenedto those violent individuals, which
ak.straight.shtml s/II/2006
rf.gasorr: ùLrargflr ùn(]()[rng on "un \-onuol: .¿\ <-l2l(eason</l> oeDale ragey or r I

helped deter further violence. Ultimately, the Boston Gun

Project was credited with helping reduce the youth homicide
rate in Boston by nearly two-thirds in the late 1990s.The
project received numerouscommunity and national awards for
quality and innovation in law enforcementand policing.

It would be difficult to replicate theseresults without adequate

funding, police support, and a community willing to make a
strong commitment to its underclass.But this is the kind of
program that gun o\rynersin communities acrossthe country
should be seeking out and supporting. It jibes with the best
ideas that shooterssharedwith me about reducing violence:
better law enforcement,recognition that crime is not simply a
matter of guns, programs targeting the people most likely to
harm themselvesand others,and working with individuals who
have appropriateexpertisefor reducing crime. This program
also could easily be consideredpart of effective gun control:
The project discovereddealerswho were engagedin illegal
practices, attemptedto disrupt gun trafhcking, and sought to
reduce or stop activities associatedwith gun violence.

The gun debatemay not be entirely over, but shootershave an

increasingly strong edge.Certainly they should be aware of the
foolishnessgoing on in places such as San Francisco, and they
might even consider a boycott of Pizza Hut, if that's how they
want to make their point. But more important than that, they
should be actively engagedin promoting a better understanding
of why violence occurs. They should be seeking out programs
that reduce it, leading the way in this good flrght.That is how
they can really win the gun debate.

Abigail A. Kohn (øbbykon@post.høís an

anthropologíst and writer. A versíon of thß essqywasfirst
published tn her book Shooters:Myths and Realities of
America's Gun Cultures, copyright 2004 by Oxford Uníverstty
Press Inc.

No Room for Compromise

Don B. Kates

Abigail Kohn's analysisis acute.Her suggestionsare equally

so-in the abstract.But are they practicable?

Once upon a time, compromisewas practicable. In the 1920s

the National Rifle Association headedoff a nationwide
campaign to ban handgunsby proposing a set of moderate 51rU2006
r(eason: òüargru ùnooung on'-un uonrol: l\ <l>l(eason</l> ceDate tsagelu oI I /

restrictions, including bans on gun possessionby convicted

felons and the insane.Theserules were adoptedin almost all
statesto the exclusion of laws requiring a permit to have a

But anti-gun goals have advanced,thereby eliminating any

chancefor compromise today. The first thing compromise
would require is for the anti-gun movement to honestly admit
that the SecondAmendment to the U.S. Constitution securesto
all law-abiding, responsibleadults freedom of choice to keep
firearms for the protection of their families and homes. That is
the only intellectually seriousconstitutional interpretation. But
anti-gun advocatescannot acknowledgethat, for it would
foreclose their ultimate goal of banning and confiscating
handguns,and eventually all guns, from the general population.

Admittedly, Handgun Control Inc., now known as the Brady

Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, champions the more
moderateposition that people may have firearms for hunting
and target shooting. But theseguns either must be locked up in
a public armory or, if kept at home, must be unloaded and
disassembled.The aim is to keep ordinary people from having
firearms readily available for selÊdefense.

The ultimate goal of the anti-gun movement precludes any

compromise. Gun control advocatesdisingenuously ridicule gun
owners for fighting regulation of guns similar to what they
readily accept for cars. But drivers too would adamantly oppose
controls if they were promoted by people who believed that
automobiles are evil instrumentsno decentperson would want
to have and that anyone who does desire them must be warped
sexually, intellectually, educationally, and ethically. Car
registration and driver licensing would be adamantly opposedif
advocatedon the ground that cars should be made increasingly
unavailable to ordinary people and eventually denied to all but
the military, police, and the influence peddlers and other
"special" individuals whom the military or police select to
receive permits.

Gun owners, like abortion rights supporters,know that if their

opponentscannot get prohibition outright they are implacably
determinedto reach the sameresult through regulation that
looks reasonablebut can be manipulatedby hostile
administratorsand courts. Long and bitter experiencehas taught
gun owners that the only "compromise" the anti-gun movement
offers them is their uncompensatedagreementto ever more
regulations furthering the short-term goal of multiplying red
tape and administrative obstaclesso as to make it progressively

05/fe.ak.straight.shtml 5/rr/2006
r\961ùt,u. ùrr4rË[rL ùrruutrrrË ult '; rull vuIlLIUl. f\ \l/I\9¿lsullvl/ llguiltg rdBv L r ul l/

more difficult for ordinary people to have firearms for self-


The hostilify of groups like the American Civil Liberties Union

and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored
Peoplemakes gun owners even more reluctant than abortion
rights proponentsto consider compromise.The mere threat of
challengeby thesegroups meansmost Americans in most
situations (abortion rights advocatesin particular) can be
confident that regulations will be just and fairly administered.
But gun owners can have no such confidencebecausecivil
liberties groups andjudges themselvesardently favor anti-gun
goals and seenothing of value in the rights or interestsof gun

Sensiblethough Kohn's suggestionsfor compromise are,they

miss the point that the anti-gun movement's concern is only
ostensibly with crime. Its actual purposehas been declaredover
and over again.According to the Brady Campaign's Sarah
Brady, "The only reasonfor guns in civilian hands is for
sporting purposes." The Washington Post editorializes that "the
need that some homeownersand shopkeepersbelieve they have
for weaponsto defend themselves[represents]the worst
instincts in the human character."Former Attorney General
Ramsey Clark declaresthat gun ownership for personal self-
defenseis "anarchy, not order under law-a jungle where each
relies on himself for survival." A New Republic editorial asserts
that the desireto possessarmsfor family defense'þroceeds
from premises that are profoundly wrong. In a civilized society,
physical security is a collective responsibility, not an individual
one." Historian Garry Wills insists that"every civilized society
must disarm its citizens againsteach other. Those who do not
trust their own people becomepredatorsupon their own

In other words, the aim is to produce a citizenry deprived of all

meansof self-defenseso as to be abjectly dependenton a
supposedlyall-wise, and certainly ever more powerful,
government for its security. What compromise with this can
there be for people who believe in a strong and independent
citizewy, as gun owners do?

Don B. Kates is a criminologist and cívil liberties lawyer

associatedwith the Pacífic ResearchInstitute.

You're Too Easy on Gun Rights Supporters

com/0505ife.ak.straight.shtml 511U2006
I\9¿l¡iUIl. ' rtlll \I-'lñ9¿lSUIl\'/12 (I€UAtg rdl¿V LL VL T I
ùuar$Irt ùIrUUtUrB UII \-UlltlUL f\

V/endy Kaminer

Efforts to prohibit popular behaviors are bound to be futile at

best. Prohibition offers simple lessonsin the power of the
market that both liberals and conservativesignore when their
fear or loathing of particular behaviors is strongerthan their
logic (or their respectfor individual liberty). Black markets
predictably arise to fill illegal demands,even when the cost of
satisfying them, for suppliers and consumers,is high. That helps
explain why prisons are filled with lowJevel drug offenders.

So Abigail Kohn is right to confront gun control advocateswith

the simple factthat efforts to ban firearms are bound to fail.
Regardlessof how scholarsor judges interpret the Second
Amendment, the Fourth Amendmentmay make seizuresof
guns difficult, as Kohn observes.(The Fourth Amendment has
been greatly erodedby the drug war, but conflrscationof guns
from private homes would generatemuch more resistancethan
confiscation of drugs.) I suspectshe is also correct in asserting
that recent legal and political victories by gutr rights advocates
should easetheir concernsabout the prospectof prohibition and
make them more amenableto regulation.

But while Kohn exhorts both sides of the gun debateto re-
examine their assumptions,she seemsto expectmore
compromise from proponentsof gun control. How many
assumptionsmust gun enthusiastsre-examine,after all, in order
to support strategiesfor shutting down black markets and
reducing juvenile violence? I'm not inclined to let them off this

If gun rights advocateswant to gain credibility with advocates

of gun control (and others not enamoredof right-wing
Republicanism), they might re-examine the politics of the
National Rifle Association. It is not only a gun rights
organization;it is effectively aÅghtarm of the GOP, promoting
the party line on issueshaving nothing to do with guns. Check
out its V/eb site (, and you'll f,rndpagesand pages of
links to articles in the partisan press,including attacks on the
U.N., John Kerry, trial lawyers, Tom Daschle, and

What you are less likely to find in the NRA is a consistent

concern for individual rights, including the rights of criminal
suspects.I'm not suggestingthe NRA should transform itself
into the Cato Institute, much less the American Civil Liberties
Union. But an organizationthat promotes gun ownership partly
as a means of controlling or deterring crime and partly as a

htþ :i/www.reason.
com/0505/fe.ak.straight.shtml 511U2006
Keason: ùrralgnr ùnoolmg on '-un uonlrol: .¿\<-l>Ì(eason</t> oeDate rage rJ or r /

check on repressivegoverTìmentshould at least avoid

supporting criminal justice policies that increasethe arbitrary
power of governmentat the expenseof individuals, particularly
those involved in nonviolent crime.

While the NRA has sometimesrallied to counter direct threats

to Fourth Amendment rights, recognizing their value to gun
owners, it has been AWOL, at best, in the battle to protect the
Fourth Amendment from the'War on Drugs. In fact, the NRA
lent support to some of the most abusivecriminal justice
practices in effect today. During the 1990s,to counter rising
concem about violent crime and gun violence in particular, the
NRA advocatedharsh mandatory minimum sentences,
including California's notoriously draconianthree strikes law.
According to Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the NRA
helped derail congressionalefforts to alleviate the effects of
mandatory minimums on nonviolent offenders.In the mid-
1990s,when former Harvard researcherDavid Kennedy was
helping to establishthe Boston Gun Project fiustly praised by
Kohn), the NRA was helping to ensurethat unarmed,
nonviolent offenders would spendmost if not all of their lives in

The NRA also was busy opposing the Brady Bill. Inside the
bubble of the gun rights movement, waiting periods for gun
purchaseshave been treated as worse deprivations of liberty
than life sentencesfor shoplifting. The federal waiting period
expired in the late 1990s,and researchershave concluded that
waiting periods have only marginal effects on gun violence; but
marginal effects can have enorrnoussignificance to individuals.
In any case,waiting periods also have only marginal effects on
gun purchases.Kohn does not pressgun rights advocatesto
rethink their categorical opposition to modestregulations such
as waiting periods, but if they don't like being viewed as gun
nuts, they might consider doing so.

Finally, gun rights advocateswho indulge in quasi-survivalist

rhetoric should reconsiderthe highly anachronisticinsistence
that gun ownership is essentialto mounting successful
insurrectionsagainstan oppressivestate.If David Koresh had
been taken alive insteadof incineratedby federal agents,he
might testify to the uselessnessof firearms to a small group
besiegedby officers of a large government.Today that
uselessnessis only increasing. Invisible surveillance techniques
are proliferating, privacy is history, and the notion that guns
guaranteeliberfy is increasingly ridiculous. SecondAmendment
rights are relatively securetoday, but as restraintson
govemment, they're also less important.

05/fe.ak.straight.shtml 5/Lt/2006
lteason:ùuargn[ ònooung on '+un uontrol: A <l>Keason</1>debate Page14 of 17

l[rendyKaminer ( the author, most

recently, of Freefor All: Defending Líberty ín America Todøy

It Isn't Safe Yet

Michael L Krauss

Abigail Kohn clearly has come to a nuancedunderstandingof

gun owners. That would be unremarkablefor the majority of
Americans who already understandgun owners (becausethey
are, or are closely related to, gun owners). The fact that Kohn
finds her understandingnoteworthy is an indication of the
ignorancethat prevails among those who have anegative
attitude toward guns, among whom I assumeKohn once
countedherself. In that sense,her essayreadsmuch like an
article urging people not to fear the Jews becausethey don't
really drink the blood of Christian babies:Reading it makes one
sadthat it's needed,but perhapsit will do somegood. So two
cheersfor this essay.

It's hard to give three cheercfor it, though, becauseKohn pulls

her puncheson many occasions,presumably to avoid offending
her gun-phobic readers.For instance,shemight have pointed
out, in more than a fleeting half-sentence,that thereis no
evidencegun control reducescrime; that gun control has
distinctly racist origins (the desire to disarm freed slaves); and
that gun control is most constraining precisely in areas(such as
Chicago and the District of Columbia) where descendantsof
i freedmen arc tryingto build safe lives for their families.
l ¡ '
; l
i r .
I am myself a victim of gun control. I work in (and for) the
Commonwealth of Virginia, but I live in neighboring Maryland.
Maryland is surroundedby Pennsylvania,Vy'estVirginia,
le.lawarg, and Virginia, eachof which affords law-abiding
citizens the right to carry a concealedweapon, provided tÈey
have taken appropriatetraining courses.Marylánd statutes
appear to grant such a right, but in fact the superintendentof
police vetoes every "catry application," except for those of
politicians and celebrities,just as Kohn describes.The
Democrat-dominatedMaryland legislature fears mayhem if the
state's nonpolitician, noncelebrity citizensare afforded this
basic right of self-defense.Yet Maryland consistently has a
considerablyhigher crime ratethanany of the neighboring
"concealedcaÍry" states.It is this kind of madnessthat makes
gun owners conclude gun controllers are immune to rational

/www.reasoncom,/0505/fe.ak.straight.shtml slrU2006
Keason: ùffalgnr tnooung on ';un uontrol: A. <1>Keason</t> clebate Page15 ot'17

End of rant;backto Kohn. Contraryto her insinuation,the

NationalRifle Associationis not an extremistorganization,any
morethanthe AmericanCivil LibertiesUnion or the Anti-
DefamationLeague.Kohn may not know that several
organizations havesplit from the NRA because,in their view, it
is ínsfficiently protectiveof Americans'SecondAmendment
rights.By her insinuation,Kohn reinforcessilly stereotypes
insteadof debunkingthem.

And let's talk aboutthoseSecondAmendmentrightsthat Kohn

assuresher readersareso clearlysecured.As I write, citizensof
our nation'scapitalarefully deniedtheserights:If they usea
firearmto defendthemselves againsta criminal,they are
rewardedwith confiscationof their weapon,for only criminals
may possessfirearmsinsidethe District. V/ould Kohn feel the
13thand 14thamendments werefirmly anchoredif the country
still includedoneslave-holding jurisdiction?Manyjurists retain
the deludedview that the 1939SupremeCourtcaseU.,S.v.
Miller sterilizedthe SecondAmendment.Míller didnot vacate
the individualrightsprotectedby the amendment, andit could
not do so evenif it tried, sincethe SupremeCourtcannot
modiff the Constitution.Until citizensacrosstheUnited States
areassuredof respectfor their SecondAmendmentrights,it is
outrageous to suggesttheserightshavebeensecured.

Finally, let it be knownthat I'm not a "gun enthusiast"myself,

thoughKohn's essayseemsto assumeall SecondAmendment
supportersare.I do not enjoygunsthe way I enjoycars,for
example.I feel firearmsareserious,dangerousitemsthat
happento be greatequalizers,enablingindividualsto defend
themselvesagainststrongerassailantsandcitizensto defend
their rightsagainsttyrannicalgovernments. I'll be glad if
Kohn's debunkingof the equivalentof the Jewishblood libel
gainstractionamongthe deluded.If andwhenthat happens,
maybewe all cansit down andreally considerwaysto enforce
the SecondAmendmentandreduceviolent crime.

MichaelL Krauss(
is a professorof law at
GeorgeMason Uníversíty.

The Makings of a Bargain

Abigail A. Kohn

Consideredtogether,thesethreerepliesneatlydemonstrate why
the gun debateis at a standstill. is a patent
truismto one
sideis an obviousfalsehoodto the other.WendvKaminer

http:/ 5/II/2006
Ãsasorr:ùrargnr ùnoormg on I iun Uontrol: A <l>Keason</r> debate Page16of 17

arguesthat gun enthusiastsneed to recognize that the NRA has

become so virulent and unreasonablethat it does a disserviceto
the gun-owning community, while Michael Krauss insists it is a
much-maligned civil rights organizationthat has become almost
soft in its politics, to the point that splinter groups are forced to
take up the battle for our þerennially deteriorating) gun rights.
j Is it any wonder the gun debatehas lost even the pretenseof
: l
This leads me to one of Kaminer's most trenchant questions:
V/hy am I not harder on gun enthusiasts?Krauss' and Don
Kates' commentsillustrate the reasonperfectly: There isn't
much point. According to Kates,shooterswon't compromise
becausethey view the gun control movement as fundamentally
untrustworthy. Why should shootersmake deals with the devil?
Gun controllers undoubtedly would use any good-faith efforts
by shootersto push for yet more gun control, which eventually
would pave the way for their true goal: conf,rscation.Or so the
argument goes.And as Krauss amply demonstrates,some gun
rights advocatesnow approachthe very idea of debate,much
less compromise,with such thinly veiled hostility that just
having a discussionseemsunlikely. If Krauss expressesthis
much contempt for people who ostensibly agreewith him,
heaven help those who dare to disagree.

These two factors-{istrust and hostility-are the primary

Jeasonsthe gun debategoes nowhere. As I point out in my
advocates.But here's anotherreasonwhy shootersare unlikely
to consider any form of gun control: They don't need to
consider it. For the most part, at least on the national level, they
now hold the winning hand. V/hy tinker with success?

This is the point on which I feel most compelled to disagree

with Krauss. As someonewho conductedher researchduring
the Clinton administration, which was genuinely hostile to gun
owners, I seeit as obvious that gun owners and gun rights
groups enjoy far more political power now than they have in
years. As the electionsof 2000 and2004 have clearly
established,gun control is a losing proposition for Democrats,
and the gun control movement is in more disarray today than it
has been for decades.Some gun owners may still feel like
victims, and may live in enclaveswhere their ability to carry
openly, for example,is not allowed (yet), but on a national scale
gun owners are in a far strongerpolitical position than they
were 10 yearsago.Period.

Hence my question: What are they going to do about it?

htþ :// slrU2006

Keason:straightshootingon aun contror:
A <i>Reason</i>debate
Page17of 17

couldn't-theytakethis opportunityto
activelyseekout and
li9l"l:.-o".¿uÉ"e pro gramsandpolicies?
Whetherone chooses to labeltneÈo'stonGunprojectan
experiment_in gu1 g.ontol or not, the fact ,.*uinr,tt
programsubsranrially utìiri,
reducedgun-relaredft iid; Ëärtorr,
at leastwhile it waswelr-fi.rndeã anJoperational.The bottom
line is that it greatlyimprove¿propi.;,
lives.Is Kaminerthe
only onewilling to recógnizettris
ryes,of course,shootersshourdremainvigilant againstthe
obviousprejudiceevidencedio piur".
rit. sã, ri""?îrääl ør.r"
politicianswill try (again)to enåct
uitot"o andunenforceable
laws banninghandguns.And shooters
corporationslike pizzaHut.
But equallyimportant,shootersrt ouiã
li:å11-r jnd policies un genuinelytupãuiäãir"au"i"g
empowering it *ouù
sayto their critics:..Well,no, I donitsupportbe for.rrãoi.rr ro
a banon
lilo*lt primarilyU"ruurrirJo*ni'*orL. However,
support I do
[ProjectX or programy] becauseit has¿.-ãri.t*ulv
reducedgun-rerared violeãcei"é;;;;i crime-riddenciries
acrossthe U.S. I reservemy support
for policies tnul äniUy
bargainif both sidesarew'ling to.o-pro-ise
reducegun viorence:shootersîouiJ andwork to
r,ipportreasonabre and
the goal of disarmingthe-Ameri;ã;p"opf". would give up


i l
of English and American Studies
Pullman,W A 99164-5020

Cultural Anatomy of a Gun Show

What doesit meanto put a gun show on a cultural

dissectingtable, eqpeciallygun
') showsthat takeplace in small towns throughout
the united states,two to five thousand
every year'?' Gun shows ateby definition local gatherings
for the diqplay,saleand
exchangeof firearms,thoughthey often can include
items from home-madefudge to
tatteredpiles of romancenovels.' They rangefrom
flea marketsto stripped-d.own
commercialdiscountstoresand often contain
both underthe roof of a county fairground
pavilion' And the showshavebecomepolitical
battlefields,pitting gun show organizers,
lobbyistsand NRA affiliates againstunsympathetic
membersof congress,government
agencies,state,county and municipal governments.

\" ' Gun showscan be studiedas cultural markets

that sell not only things but ideas
and values' They housedistinct stylesof merchandise
andmeaningoften connectedwith
narrativesaboutthe nation, masculinity,and
war. Individual tablesand booths sell
frontier style weapons'guns culled from the history
of our domesticand foreign wars,
fantasyand survival guns completewith DVDs
on counter-insurgencyand terrorist
tactics,handgunsfor home defense,military-style
weaponsfor the maximum sensationof
shooting,and last but not least,guns for hunting
and target shooting,the recreational
weaponsof a thoroughlyindushial and commercial

Litigation over gun showshave challengedthe definitionsof what it meansto be

"engagingin the business"of selling firearms andwho hasthe right to sell, exchangeor

trade them and underwhat circumstances.tMore recently,law suitshave debatedhow

gunssold at gun showsmay be protectedaspolitical and commercialqpeech,and gun


) rights advocateshave claimedthat the showsthemselvesare a form of political

. t

i expression.o Thesedisputeshave led to a recentlegal opinion over a California gun


show that disavowedtheseFirst Amendmentclaimsby stating that"agun itself is not
I speech,"' eventhoughthe plaintiff claimedthat becausepolitical messageswere
ì ' , inscribedon specificrifles sold at gun shows,the gun canbecomeitself a form of
speech.uOn this level, the gun show presentsus with a momentin our culture in which
l specific commoditiesare representedas capableof speech.Not the human voice or its

I varioustexts and symbolsor actionswith thesetextsor symbols,but a gun, a mass

product of the,canvoice politics. In this way, the gun show and its
history are crucial for us to understandhow and why gunsand even gun showshave

cometo seemcapableof voicingpolitics.

With the industrial age,coflrmodities,as Karl Marx pointed out in the nineteenth-

century,begantheir curiousability to "appearas independentbeings endowedwith life."'

Hence,the gun was seenas an object in a political economyin which they were not only

consumerproductsbut conveyorsof commodifiedmeaning. Moreover, asproduction

hasbecomeincreasinglyreliant upon advertisingto promote salesin the twentieth

century--fuelingfantasizeddesiresshapedby culture--commoditieshave becomeeven

more saturatedin meaning. JeanBaudrillard writes, "the autonomyof a commodity is

revealedevenlessin its use than in its packagingand advertising.'r Hence,to dissecta

gun shovt/involves unpackingseveralforms of commodified
meaning, eachwithits own
distinct yet relatedhistory.

For the sakeof this grossanatomicalexercise,let me focus on three forms

commodifiedmeaningfound at the cultural site of a gun show: national
male consumerism,and vigilante politics. Each aqpectof meaning
hasa history
dependentupon an explorationof nationalismin the United States.
Firsl a national form
of masculinity was forged throughfrontier and combataction heroes
during the
nineteenthcentury. William Hosley hasóhownhow Samuel
Colt developedthe art of
advertisingfor his firearmswith paid testimonialsfrom combatheroes
like the Texas
Rangersand artist-adventurers
like GeorgeCatlin.e Thesemodelsof white masculinity

who roamedthe frontier found their advertisinghero in Buffalo Bill

Cody, whose
promotion of Winchesterproductswere an essentialpart
of his Wild West Shows.
Essentialprops in his showswere the WinchesterAmmo Wagon
and the qpecialized
rifles usedin his scenesdepictingCuster'sLast Standand the
revengeof Custeragainst
Yellow Hair. The shootingexhibitionsfeaturedWinchester
Rifles whosecompanyin
turn sold rifles with engravedscenesinspiredby the shows.'o
Further,Buffalo Bill was
reinventedin hunùeds of dramasand novels that were the products
of what were called
"fiction factories,"ttdistributingreproducibleandrepeatednarratives
of white male
adventuresand heroics,especiallyagainstracesdeemedinferior
and in need of conques!
civilization, and,at least,supervision.

Through cody's extavaganzas,promoting the saleof qpecific

firearms and
national beließ aboutwhite masculinity,the spectacleof nation-building
was brought to
millions of Americans. Today westernmemorabilia,antiquefrontier guns,
knock-ofß of westernguns,westernclothing,jewelry, and accessories
at gun shows
continueto perpetuatethis cultural fantasyof the West with its nationalmale heroes,

white men of action readyto chargeand conqueran imaginedwildernessof wild men

and animals.

The frontier as a spacewas usedto createa model of masculinitythatpromoted

salesfound at arrygun show today. And.Cody was quickly replicatedby otherpurveyors

of national white masculinitysuchas TheodoreRooseveltwhoseexploits entertained

Americansboth here and abroadas he fought with his Rough Ridersin Cuba,shot Iions

in Afüca, and sailedthe Amazon in Brazil often with a husty Winchesterby his side to

which the companylvas gratefully indebted,using his endorsementin many of their sales


Roosevelt'ssubsequentsupportof the National Board for the promotion of Rifle

Practicehelpedto further the belief that eachandevery male citizen,preferablywhite,

must be preparedto engagein war at a moment's notice, and to this endrifle practice

becamea necessarypart of training for America's youth, collegeboys, and reqponsible

men of business,trades,andprofessions." Surplusrifles from the army,s various

on our frontier, our border with Mexico, and foreign interventionsin the Caribbean,

Philippines,and SouthAmerica were thesestate-sanctioned

rifle clubs that
fiued eachrifle with a form of nationalmasculinity. Like white men in statemilitias at

the turn of the centurywho could claim out-right the rhetoric of the citizen-soldier,

joining togetherin fraternalgroupsto promoterifle practice, 'o

civilian riflemen could
practiceboth their marksmanshipand citizenshipon the shootingrange.

Second,fusedwith the nationalhero was a seriousshopper,the male consumer

whoserecreationand self-imagewere dependentupon firearms. Rooseveltlike other

hunter-politiciansalso valorizedthe qportsmenas a virtuous and manly cittzenandwith


him increasedgun salesand the start of tradeshowsfor qportsmen." The earliestgun

tradeshow occurredat the turn of the centuryin 1895at Madison SquareGarden.

Promotedas "extravagantexpositions"for qportsmen,they included exhibitionsby

Winchester,Marlin, Remington,Colt amongmany other armsmanufacturers.They were

billed as a "veritable fairyland" to lovers of outdoorqports. At the Winchesterexhibit,

the potentialbuyer could look inside a mutoscopeand watch two men shootat t¿rgets

that flew throughthe air, a breathtakingpiece of invention that would soonbe replace
by action westerns.Thesewere displaysonly, however. He could look, he could touch,

but he could not buy on the qpot.

Theseextravagantdiqplaysof consumergoodswere not unlike the arcadesand

departmentstorescreatedat the end of the nineteenthcentury. The Frenchcritic 'Walter

Benjaminhaswritten abouthow in nineteenth-centuryFrancenconsumerarcades,

in part by the textile and iron indushies,enticed\ryomenand laborersto stareat glittering

displaysand buy beyond their means. In particular,female consumerismstokedthe fires

of industry andbrought in what Benjamin calledthe hell of the new. Time ceasedto

exist. History was reducedto advertisingcopy, and identity crafted to fit industry.
Disturbedby the trend,he imaginedthe woman'sbody a mannequin,cotpse,
or clothing
rack for the diqplayofeach season'snew goods.'u

Likewise, the male consumerat the turn of the centuryfound himself adri ftin a

societythat advertisedguns to stimulatehis needto escapehis daily grind of mental labor

and find solacein the woods and fields beyondindustry's reach. Illustrations in Shooting

and FÌshing showedlawyers dreamingaboutthe woods and young men pausingin front

of gun storeswith wads of bills in their hands,hying to decidewhetherto spend.their

earnedincomeon shoesfor their children or gunsfor their neededpleasure.'' As much

as the young femaleconsumetwas fed clothing to makeher desirable,young men were

sold gunsto escapethe demandsof labor andparticipatein nationalnarrativesabout

virtuous hunterswhoseability to shootgamemadethem worthy and competentmale

citizens. Disciplinedmen of action with knowledgeof the outdoorswere neededas

practicedriflemen, not the soft men of the office whosenervousconditionsreduced

virility.'' They would lead the nation and direct the immigrant rubble washingup on

their shores,fermentinglabor agitationalong the Mexican border, or in the northern

cities, or wanderingup from the sharecropper'sfields in the south.

Selling gunshave alwaysbeen an opportunityto constructmorality sincelethal

force not sanctioneddirectly by the statemust catry ùcivic or ethical stamp

of approval.
Self-defensecanwork to trigger sales,but myths of masculinity can keep salesgoing

well into the future. As non-perishablecommodities,guns are often sold in a saturated

market. Unlike a dressor a pair of shoes,they accumulaterelentlessly,hencethe

tie them to desiresthat conjuremore than survival, unlesscrime itself can
nationalpathologyneedingthe newestweaponto guaranteeprotection and
survival itself
a poignantend-oÊdaysbelief. Models of masculinitythat profiled successful
white men
in combat,on the frontier, in the fields, in book-lined offices, and, atlast,
in the White
House,madegun ownershipressa necessity,more a commodity fetish.rn
As a
commodity fetish, it was more than anythingelsea qpringboardto a set of identities,
web of dreams,a way of knowing the self, emptiedof everythingthatgets in the
way of
the urge to buy and filled with the moral pap ofnation building.,o By rhe
end of the
nineteenthcentury,the gun as commodity was saturatedin meaning. But could it
to speak?
By the 1930s,gun showshad becameplacesto display firearmscollections,

especiallygunsconnectedwith wars fought on American soil or by Americansabroad.

Consumersbecamecollectorsas surplusfirearms from World.War I spilled into the

market." In someways, gun showsbecamememory fairs of male comba! highlighting

American military history. With collectionscameenactments,recreationof battles and

military dressto amuseand educatemainly white men, and.with eachwar camemore

surplusfirearmsenteringthe market and more money to collect. After World War II,

firearms collecting took off with specialbooks on what and how to collect, including an

increasein articleson historicalmilitary guns in suchmagazinesas TheAmerican

Rfleman, the official journal of the National Rifle Associatton."

One exampleof this eclecticyet militarized versionof the gun showsoccurredin

1948. In thatyear, the National Rifle Associationbeganan "exhibit of arms" at its

annualcorporatemeetingthat includeddealers,manufacturers,NRA-affiliated gun

collector otganizattons,andbranchesof the Armed Services." By lg6l,there were

gun collector otganizattonsaffiliated with the NRA. At somegun showsgroups
seriouscollectorswould met in closedsessions,listening to lecturesand technical
\ ;
information on historical guns. An article in TheAmericanRiflemanhighly

recommendedthat codesof ethicsand conductshouldbe observedand enforcedat

commercialand collector shows. Further,Iocal celebritiesand individuals from the

media shouldbe invited to make the casefor gun ownershipreasonableand reqpectable.

And what is evenmore signifïcant,to diqpelfearsaboutguns wheretheseshowswere

held, organizerswere encouragedto handout brochureson the American firearms

heritageand why Americansown, shoot,and collect guns." The gun becamean

essentialprop in an inventednationaltradition, wiped clean of advertising. The gun


commemoratedthe war hero who fought for his country and who perpetuatedhis military

while a civilian no longerunder command.

At one gun show I attendedin Kankakee,Illinois, therewere 120 yearsof combat

gunslaid acrossthe tables. From Springfieldrifles usedin the SpanishAmerican

war ro
Ml6s in the Vietnam and the Gulf wars , veteransand collectorstold war stories,traded

guns,and complainedabouttheir health. Someveteranstold me they worried that these

men at the gun showsneededto get on with their lives. They were stuck. Others

remindedme that firearmsmeantfreedom. Americansneededto standup and be proud.

Still othersjust sat in silencebehind a few rifles and stacksof ammunition,closeto tables

selling medals,buttons,and insignia,the remaindersof bravery andbooty from most

wars fought in the twentieth-century.

Severalwere defiant and defensive. The 1960sintroduceda backlash againstwar,

especiallyin Vietnam, anda,nationalchallengeto who should and could represent

America, and what firearmshad actually accomplishedon the frontier, the

border with
Mexico, and abroad. The civil rights movementled to major indictments
of America's
racism,especiallyaspracticedby supposedlaw-abiding citizenswho claimed.
to lead the

nation. The rhetoric of white manhoodfetishizedin the gun becamesinister

and even
pathological. Buffalo Bill was a serial Indian killer. TheodoreRoosevelt,
an imitation
Brit on Africa safaris,a cowboy-soldieracting on ridiculous fantasiesofpower.
men's gunswere brutal. white rifle clubsin the south were evenworse than the
Klux Klan. White men with gunssignaledpolice brutality, vigilantejustice,
and mob

The fetish had begunto loseits power to protect and legitimatewhite national

masculinity. The law-abidingwhite gun o\rynerwas chargedwith violence in everyday


America socialrelations. A new form of legitimacy was requiredto realign the gun,

masculinity,and nation. Thoughthe rumblingsthat civilian gun ownershipwasprotected

by the Constitutionbeganin the 1930sand continuedin scatterededitorialsthroughout

TheAnerican Rifleman, this discoursefound a pointed articulationduring the period

between1963and 1977as articlesinThe AmericanRiflemanfumbled.fora renewedhigh

moral gtound to defendgun owners,finally finding rhetorical securityin the Second

Amendmentto the Constitution.

I For the commodity to qpeak,a network of discursivepracticesmust become
I articulatedoften acrosstime and spaceand throughspecific institutions. In The

AmericanRifleman, one strandof this discourseappearedthat made the gun speakin a

particularway, voicing what I call vigilante politics. This third commodifiedmeaning

occurredonly after a seriesof rhetoricalspurtsand false startswhen the traditionalrole of

the citizen-soldierwas privatizedinto the militia of one.

The shift in theseyearsbetween1963 and1977brought a dramattcreturnin the

pagesof TheAmerican Rífleman to the languageof the "founding fathers" to justify

mainly white men neededto control what they ownedand.why they ownedguns.
Ultimately in this argument,no person,law, or goverrrmentwas worthy of interfering

with the moral authority of the individual to buy and own weapons,provided, of course,

that he was law-abiding.

Walking the aislesof gun showsfor ten years,I haveheardthis political language

repeatedlike a mantrato hold off both accusationand betrayal. In this way, the Second

Amendmentwas not a legal statemen!but a cultural belief usedby a qpecific group of

individuals to justify both their gun ownershipand their defianceof how violence was

systemicin the United Statesandperpetuatedby thosewho professto uphold the law. Its

rhetoric was lacedwith the righteousstanceof the law-abiding citizenwho upheld a form

of nationalmanhoodfirst constructedin the nineteenthcenturyand eagerlyusedby arms

manufacturersto sell their products.

As one gun rights organizertold me, the civil rights movementneededa strong

counterin the 1960sbecauseof how its successes

had benefitedthe Democraticparty.

Even worse,civil rights had createda disturbancein party politics with moderate

Republicanssplitting their own pafty. In the early 1970s,it was essentialto "reversethe

flow in the pipes."" Groupslike the Young Americansfor Freedom,the John Birch

Society,the Institute for LegislativeAction at the NRA, and the Gun Ownersof America

helpedto reversethe flow by giving the gun a political voice that hasnot stopped

speaking. Legal technicalitiesaboutthe SecondAmendmentcould be overcomethrough

a continuedhighprofile fight in the media and electioncampaignsto insist on the right of

individuals to own guns.

Advertisinghasn't hurt either. The first ad I have found that married

consumerismto the SecondAmendmentoccurredin March of ß64. Redfield Gun Sight

Co., apopular manufacturerof mountsand telescopicsights,simply said "We are legally

{- and morally right in opposingbad legislationthrough the SecondAmendmentto the

Constitution."'u Articles in TheAmerican Riflemanby judgesand lawyers debatedif the

SecondAmendmentwas applicableoften fell short of embracingthe SecondAmendment

as a righteouslanguagefor gun owners, finding instead"a feeblehope" or a "slender

reed" in the Constitutionand the SupremeCourt." Further,the fact of a constitutionally-

protectedcommodity createdlinguistic and semanticchallengesfor the interpretationof


In a dramaticmove, an August 1977afitcle in TheAmerican Rifleman simply

declaredthe gun owner to be a private memberof a generalmilitia. "The guardiansof

our basiclibertiesare not formal bodiesof police or military. They are not mercenaries

hired to preserveand defendthe rights of free men and \¡/omen. The guardiansof civil

liberty are those,eachindividual, who would enjoy that liberty."" A rhetoricalreturn to

the obligatedmilitia of the eighteen-century,

long rejectedby American citizensas a

frghting force,reclaimed'ocivic glow to gun ownership. Forgottenwere the compromises

of the turbulentpost-revolutionaryyearsthat insistedon a well-regulatedmilitia with

officers and a chain of command,a hedgeagainstabuseby either stateor federalactions.

Even more importan! forgottenwere the interveningyearsof voluntary state

militias haggling over federalconhol until the Mexican Revolution and'World War I

determinedtheir fate. Forgottenwere reprimandsto civilian rifleman when they

proclaimedthe right to act like citizen soldier in the frantic military hunt for pancho
in 1916.'oForgottenwere the function of civil representativegovernmentto checkthe

excessof its citizens,especiallyits citizens-in-arms.No, everymanwas a militia island

unto himself. Andbecausehe was declaredvirtuous and law-abiding,he was beyond


In 1979, Harlon Carterdeclaredthat the National Rifle Associationwas ,,foremost

in the struggleto protect andpreserveall our God-given,constitutionaland long-accepted

rights." He andthe NRA werewaginga"greatbattle." ',strongmen will not shirk or

flinch. Freemen cannotdo so. Ours is a greùtrevolution,which beganon this continent

200 yearsago." And further, the renewedpolitical mission to protect gunsthroughthe

Constitutionwas "not the light-heartedpursuit of qport,though there'snothing wrong

with that.'tr' The psychic investmentin gunsthat legitimatedthe actionsof specifïc


white men had morphedinto the "deepand seriousvoice of a people determinedto be

free''É' A renewednationalnarrativeanchoredin the founding fathersand the

Constitutionhad restoredthe gun owner to his rightful place in the American mythos.

Rhetorically,for him gun rights hadreplacedthe strugglefor civil rights that

motivatedmillions of minoritiesand womenin the 1960sand 70s. By 1977,thegun had

finally found its political voice. What followed was a continualstruggleto let this voice

ring throughoutthe land, a voice that spokein repeatedarticlesand speechesof crime and

not the socialand economicconditionsof crime, a voice that spokeof permissivecouß

and lawyersdumping criminals on the streetandnot the social will and infrastructure

neededto make neighborhoodssafe,a voice thatblastedgoverrrmentas the havenof gun-

grabbersand denouncedcitizenswho wantedregulationof guns as domesticterrorists.

The gun inscribedwith the NRA insignia doesattemptto qpeak,and it has sought

sanctionfor its speechin stateand federalcourts.

In 1986,Ronald Reaganhelpedto passthe FirearmsOwners' ProtectionAct

(FOPA), an actthat createda boom in gun showsthroughoutthe United States. By

making it easierfor licenseddealersto sell away from their place of business,gun shows

becamemuch more than small-scaleeventsfor antiqueand.historical gun collectorsand

their huntingbuddies." As a major gun show organizertold me, the FopA was an

"entrepreneurialopportunity." The only problem was the tough competitionfrom other

showsand the overlappingdemographicserved. He addedthat "the number of gun

showscontinuesto expand. The audienceis not expanding."'oHe also insistedthat a gun

show was a form ofpolitical expression,thoughone that was fragile and endangered.He

worried that the young men who were into military-style guns and their love of the

movies,whosefascinationwith global mercenaries,soldiersof fortune for hire to anv


nation willing to pay, were not boundby the myths of nationalmanhoodresunectedin

the languageof the founding fathers. Orperhapsthoseodd guys at gun showsbuying

weaponsbasedon Lord of the Ringsmovies,huge swordswith nameslike Glamdring,

Sting, Narsil, andHadhafang,next to stacksof partially openedboxesof fantasyguns

from StarWars, Star Trek, and StargateAtlantis.

To someof the men I interviewed,to purchasea gun was to practicepolitics, an

act of resistanceto the authority of the stateand its regulatorypowers. The regulations

were perceivedas threatsby liberalsand the left to control their lives. purchasinga gun

meantthat you could defy the brand of politics you despised.At a time when accessto

political power to affect social changeseemedto be held evermore by a

professionalpoliticians, lobbyists,and moneyedelites,the act of buying gun
a can mimic
genuinepolitical action,making citizensinto consumersratherthanparticþants
in civil
society,turning gunsinto commoditiesthat needfederalcourtsto battle over whether

they in themselvesare or are not speech.

In this way, gun showsare marketsforpolitical pantomimesthat simulatethe

exerciseofpolitical power with commoditiesthat seemto containand conveypolitical

speech' Gun showsare not merely compensationfor the loss of accessto political power

in every day life' They are a redirectionofpolitical energyto continuea systemthat

always withholds effectivepolitical power. Like pulling the trigger of a gun, the

sensationof political resistanceis given, only to be takenaway in the harshrealities

political lobbies,parties,and corporationsthat dominateAmerican politics.

In the cultural anatomyof a gun show,the SecondAmendmentjustifies the act of

purchasingand exchangeof firearmsand protectscommoditiesnot citizens,purchasing

not the practice of civil government. The praiseof republicanvirtue basedon communal

duty is replacedby the din of the cashregister. The vigilant citizenworkingto prorecr

and extendthe full rangeof rights underthe law to all citizensis replacedby the
) vigilante-as-cittzen,a militia onto himself, under commandof his private vision of moral

authoritystampedwith nationalidentity. And worse,the SecondAmendmentis reduced

to an advertisinggimmick, fending off the threatsof bans and regulationsthat qpurgun

buyrng qpreesin the United States.

In this vision of the Constitution,the SecondAmendmentbecomesa political

discoursethatvalorizesthe individual in his law-abidingnatureasthe legitimatesubject

of lethal force, especiallythe individual hero who fights crime from his living room and

not only protectsbut punishes,not only defendsbut condemns.The individual

paradoxicallytakesover the functionsof the stateunmitigatedby the

othersand definestheseneedsas irrelevantand evendangerous.'Whenthe gun
this way what is demandedis the socialdeathof the other and the loss of
what Judith
Butler has called "a livable life." " The law-abidingcitizen protectedbehind
the gun can
turn his back on systemicsocial and economicruins our orchards,ghettos,
rural towns, traller parks, and guttedneighborhoods.

This voice of the gun grantslethal force to the individual in his isolation from

othersexcepthis imaginedfraternalband. Itjustifies his right to sucha gun

nationalmyths of masculinity. It criesfor self-d.efense
againstthe anonymousface of the
juvenile predator,the psychoticrapist,the unknown evil that
bangsat the front door or
lurks in the shadows. The individual becomesthe mini-state,the army of one,
dreamsof the ultimate in political power, a gun beyondregulation. The rifle raisedin the

hand abovethe headmimics and defiesthe black power salute. It reassuresthe patriots

of their descentfrom the original minutemen,the band ofbrothers, who representthe


nation andprotectit from thosewhoserights impinge on their freedom--thegirlie man,

thejuvenile predator,the gangsterrapper,the t¿x man, the liberal, the schoolteacher,the

femi-nazi. The list is long and enemiesare generatedanew every hour to challengethe

right of the law-abidingman to buy, own, and brandishthe gun. The gun finally speaks

its commodifiedmeaningalwaysalreadythreatenedand threatening,an advertised

discourseupheldby the Constitutionand the founding fathers,passedon to kin and kind.

Tom Diaz, Making a Killing: TheBusinessof Gunsin America (New york: The New
!99?).p.49. Diaz writesthat the "ATF estimatesabouttwo thousandof these
shows,"while the National Associationof Arms Shows,estimates"more than five
thousandayeat." Seealso, "GLTNLANDuSA: A state-by-stateRanking of Gun
Gun Retailers,Machine Guns,and Gun Manufacturers,"Violence policytenter, 2000.
the last four yearsI have attendedgun showsin washington, Idaho,Nevada,
I llilg ir, Wisconsin,Michi gan,and pennsylv ania.
J.Yizzard, shots in theDark: ihe policy, politics, and symbolismof Gun
ffD: Rowman
9!:ttr?1.(La\rym, puú.,Inc.,2000),pp.tZZ_tZS."
& Littleflreld
_Nordyke v King,
u. s. 9'r'circuit
courtof Appeals, February'lg
B. Kopel, writes that gul shows"are placeswhire Americansproperly exercisetheir
First and SecondAmendmentrights," online at,last accessed
v. King,,p.2223.
" Nordykev. King, p.2224.
David Mclellan, Karl Marx: SelectedWritings(New York: Oxford University press,
2 0 0 0 )p, . 4 7 3 .
in William Pietz,"Fetishismand Materialism," in Emily Apter and V/illiam
Pietz,eds.,Fetishismas Cultural Discourse(Ithaca: Cornell UniverÄitypress,1993),p.
Hosley,Colt TheMakingof a Legend(Amherst: Universityof Massachusetrs
Press,1996),pp. 66-97.
R. L. wilson andGregÀ4artin,
Bufølo Bill's wild west:An AmericanLegend(New
York: RandomHouse:1998),p. 68 andHaroldF. V/illiamson,WinchesrcrlTh"ilun That
(o^nth9WestQ{ewYork:A. S.BarnesandCo.,Inc.,l952),pp.lg5-gg.
" Seetheessay,"Readingthe West:CulturalandHistori.uín*tg1ound," in
Bill Brown,
ed.,Readingthe West:An Anthologtof Dime Westerns @oston:BedfordBooks,lggT),

pp' 1-40' Also, ChristineBold, Setlingthe Wíld Vlest; Popular Fiction, I860-1960
l (Bloomington:IndianaUniversity Press,11987)and Richard Slotkin, TheFatal
Envíronment:TheMyth of the Frontier in theAge of Industrialization, 1800-Igg0
(^Middletown : WesleyanUniversity press,1985).
" For an interestingdiscussionof Rooseveltas á cowboy-soldier,seeSarahWatts,Rough
Rider in the WhiteHouse: TheodoreRooseveltand the Þolitics of Desire (Chicago:
University of ChicagoPress,2003),pp. lZ3-192.
" For a discussion_of thltift. games,seeRussellS. Gilmore, "'Another Branch of Manly
sport': AmericanRifle Games,1840-1900,"in Gunsin America:A Reader,eds.,JanE.
Dizard, RobertMerrill Muth, and stephenp. Andrews,Jr. CNewyork: New york
!?n, Cooper,TheRxe-of the National Guard; TheEvolution of theAmerican Militia,
1865-1920(Lincoln: Universityof NebraskaPress,lggT),pp. eilOl. For addirional
discussionsof white manhoodand fraternalgroupsat the-ium of the century,seeMary
Ann Clawson, ConstructingB rotherhood: Ctass, Gender,and Fraternalis miprinceton:
PrincetonUniversity-Press,1989)and Dana Nelson,National Manhood: Ca)ttattst
Ctllzlnship and the ImagínedFraternity of Wite Men (Durham: Duke Univìrsity press,
" Daniel JustinHerman,Hunting and theAmerican Imagination (washington:
Walter Benjamin,TheArcadesPío¡ect(Cambridge:The Belknap hess of Harvard
UniversityPress,l9g9), pp. 62-100.
" Anon., "Third Annual Sportsmen'sExposition," Shooting
and Fishing: A Journal of
theRfle, Gun,and Rod 21, no.22 (March 18, 1897):445. alsothe illustrarionsfor
Seemy discussionof the nervesand its relationshipto mental labor, in Healing the
\erybl19: T!9 Language of Health and the curture of Nationatisrz (New york:
CambridgeUniversity Press,1994).
" The term fetish was originally usedin the
study of religion, eqpeciallythe study by
Europeansofreligions inAfrica and Egypt. In tire ninetãenthcentury,both Marx
Freud usedthe term, fetish, to identify symptomsreqpectivelyof the and the
political economy. For Freud,the fetish wãs iilogical but resolvedthe conftict
for the
son of the mother's lack of a penis. The fetish was a substitutefor the matemalpenis
madethe fear of castrationcontrollableand the sexualpleasurederived from wo?nen
possible,henceit was both a protectionagainstcastratiänand homosexuality.
Marx, commoditiesactedlike fetishesin ihat they seemedto convey life while hiding
theirmeans ofproduction basedon humanlabor. The social charaCterof labor that
establishesrelationsbetweenhumansassumesthe form of a relation betweenthinls.
Hencethe utility of a commodity is not mysterious,but its value is, needinginterpìetation
to uncoverits secretsof productionand exchange,and its dependenceupotisociai
processes.My useof the term has alsobeeninfluencedby Roland Barthes
and Slavoj
Vo"kthough I do notretain all the implications of their analysis. Like Barthes,I seethe
fetish as a processthat plaçs5onto a thing a network of discursivepractices. As Zizek
points out the market and massmedia,henceadvertising,are dialeðtically connected,
the fetish is alwaysalreadypart of anetwork of discursivemeaninginseparablefrom this
dialectic. Further,the fetish is usedto resolveconflict superficiall! and-obscurethe
analysisof qpecificdiscoursesthat would lead to ie lack õf meaning. See,Sigmund

Freud, The StandardEdition of the CompletePsychological Worksof SigmundFreud,

u-o\.22,(London:HogarrhPress,lg64),pp. 149-157.David Mcledan,ã d. Karl Marx:
l_elgcyed Writings(New York: Oxford University Press,2000),pp. 472-480. Elizabeth
wright and Edmondwright, ed.,Thezizek Reader (oxford: BÌaìtwell, lggg),pp. 53-
86' Seealso,JeanBaudrillard For A Critique of thePotitical Economy'ofthe'Si[n (St.
Louis: TelosPress,1981),pp. 88-101,Emily Apter andwilliam pieø, eds.,Fetishismas
Cultural Discourse(Ithaca:Comell UniversityÞress,1gg3),and William pietz, ,,The
Fetishof Civilization:SacrificialBlood and MonetaryDebi,'in Peterpels andOscar
lltbjects: Essayson the Practicai History ofAnthropologlt (Awr
Arbor: University of Michigan press, 1999).
Michael Taussig,"Maleficium: St¿teFetishism,"in Emily Apter and William pietz,
Fetishismas Cultural Discourse,discusseshow the stateitselfìan becomea fetish and
maskpolitical reality. I would add that the gun in its associationwith anational
masculinity actsas a statefetish to obscurethe natureofpolitical rcality, substituting
insteadnarrativesof nationalmasculineid.entity,pp.2ll-41.
" The Ohio Gun CollectorsAssociationthat stãrteåin1937 representedtheir collecting
as a participationin "a reenactmentof the Americandream." History is known throug[
fire_arms, especiallythe history of the United Statesand in a crucial way is unknowabie
without the gun. "Without firearmswe would not today be free men and women," online
at, last accessed
July 30,2005.
"' JamesE. Serven,"why Americansown, Shoot,
andcollect Guns," TheAmerican
ltfleman 111,no. 4 (April, 1963):12.
Ad for annualconvention,TheAmericanRifleman96,no.6 (June
to ,l94g): 40.
JamesE. serven,"conductingthe Gun sho;,,' TheAmericanRifleman 109,no.6
" Confidentialinterview on January14,2004.
Ad on back cover, TheAmerican-Rfíeman rr2, no.3 (March, 1964).
"^Ashley Halsey, Jr.,"can the seconá AmendmentSurùve?,' ihe ¿,mer¡canRifleman
7,2r,-no.3(July, 1973):77, andHaroldw. Glassen,,,Rightto BearArms is older than
the secondAmendment,"TheAmericanRiflemanl2r,Áo.4 (April, 1973):22-23.
l' "The Right to Keep and Bear Arms: An Analysis of the secondAmendment,,,NRA
ll$_rytl for LegislariveAcrion Reporrs," Theamerican rifleman 125, no. g (Áugust,
11Nne official JournalInserr,TheAmerican Rifleman 127, no.5 (May, L979):5.
Anon, "The N.R A. Has Boider Troubles,"lims and theMan 40,no.15 (July 6,
" Ibid.,p.5.
" The FirearmsOwners' ProtectionAct of 1986or what is known as McClure-Volkmer
ge-atedgboom in gun showsbecauseof the shpperyconceptof "doing business." As
RobertJ. Spitzerwrites, the "act also eliminatediecord-keepingrequirementsfor
ammunitiondealers,madeit easierfor individualsselling guns to do so without a license
unlessthey did so 'regularly,' allowed gun dealersto do6ùsinessat gun shows,and
prohibited the ATF from issuingregulationsrequiring cenhalizedreõordsof gun
dealers,"in RobertJ. Spitzer,Thepotitics of Gun Controt (washington: ce Þrrrr, 2004),

" Judith Butler, ThePsychicLife of Power: Theoriesin Subjection(Stanford:Stanford.

University Press,1997),


Related Interests