Jennifer Carlson teaches sociology at the University of Toronto but has just published a book on America and its guns. The book, Citizen-Protectors, The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline, is a little misleading, because the decline which Professor Carlson studied took place only in Flint, MI and the shabbier sections of Detroit. Analyses of Rust Belt socio-economic alienation are hardly new (think Clint’s Gran Torino) but Carlson’s attempt to explain CCW as a paradigm through which to understand the human response to things going from bad to worse is a somewhat novel interpretation of why many Americans appear to be turning to guns.
Basically, Carlson argues that the notion of armed citizens, or what she refers to as ‘citizen-protectors,’ responds to fears of economic and social insecurities that pervade neighborhoods in economically-depressed cities like Flint. Most of the guys she interviewed (Carlson was the only gun-carrying female mentioned in the book) were not motivated to carry guns out of any ideological or high-minded ideals; they had been threatened or attacked or otherwise felt that carrying a gun was simply something that daily life circumstances compelled them to do. On the part of Whites, the overriding concern was fear of crime; on the part of Blacks it was a conviction that the cops weren’t there to help them out.
The author explains how the NRA’s push for CCW and elimination of gun-free zones has neatly captured the concerns of both Whites and Blacks who carry guns in Flint and Detroit. She correctly refers to the ‘moral politics’ of armed self-defense, which not only takes the form of believing that gun-carriers are law-abiding citizens, but that carrying a gun is actually a fundamentally-sound way to uphold the law. The idea that America should depend first and foremost on armed citizens has been the NRA rallying-cry for the past twenty years, and if you don’t believe me, just read what Wayne LaPierre said about carrying guns after the massacre at Sandy Hook. What Carlson believes is that socio-economic decline, among other things leads to the collapse of public faith in public institutions to maintain the peace. What more propitious atmosphere in which to promote the idea that guns represent a social good?
I would have no problem with Carlson’s argument had she kept her focus on places like Flint and Detroit. But she’s after bigger game, what the end-notes refer to as a ‘captivating and revealing look at gun culture,’ and here I’m not so sure that the book completely succeeds. Notwithstanding the fact that the number of CCW permits has probably doubled in the last ten years, the biggest increase in concealed-carry activity has taken place in parts of the country which benefited from the movement of people and industries away from Rust Belt cities like Flint and Detroit. Does the socio-economic alienation template constructed by Carlson for concealed-carry in Michigan explain the growth of gun-carrying in states like Florida, Texas or other Sun Belt states? To me, that’s something of a stretch.
Notwithstanding the enormous upsurge in gun sales during the administration of you-know-who, the fact is that a smaller percentage of people own guns now then owned them ten years ago, and the demographics of gun ownership (older white males living in rural areas and smaller cities and towns) has basically remained unchanged. I’m not disputing what Carlson discovered by going around to shooting ranges in Detroit and Flint, but the latter’s population has dropped by 50% since 1970, with Detroit losing almost two-thirds during the same forty-five years. Even if every single qualified adult in both cities went out to buy and carry a gun, it would make precious little difference in the overall downward trend of gun ownership in the United States.
Jennifer Carlson has published an interesting book and some of the comments about guns on her blog are really a ‘must read.’ Now that she’s done roaming around Detroit and is back in Toronto, I’d love to know what she did with her gun.