I maintain a short-list of ‘must-read’ books on gun violence, and right now a book written by a sociologist way up at Northland College in Wisconsin sits at the very top. Angela Stroud’s book, Good Guys With Guns, should be read by everyone in the Gun Violence Prevention community because what she says is what everyone needs to know and understand about Gun-nut Nation’s obsession with guns.
And it has become an obsession, at least with small percentage of gun owners who together, according to the recent Harvard-Northeastern study, own upwards of one hundred million guns, which works out to roughly fifteen guns apiece. And this obsession takes its most evident form in the growth of concealed-carry permits, which is what Professor Stroud’s book is all about.
What she did was to go down to Texas (she happens to be a Texas native now transplanted to the shores of Lake Superior) and conduct interviews with 36 gunnies – 20 men, 16 women – who have concealed handgun licenses (CHL), along with going through a CHL course herself. And while she made no attempt to conceal either her academic background or her research agenda, she had no trouble getting her interview subjects to blab about themselves at length. And by the way, without realizing it, Professor Stroud quickly learned one thing about the residents of Gun-nut Nation, which is that they love to talk about their gun. So you have your work cut out for you if you want to weave a coherent and readable narrative out of interviews with 36 of these folks, but in this case the result is a very coherent, very readable and a very important book.
How representative are these 36 interview subjects for understanding the motives and views of the 14 million or so Americans who have been issued CHL-licenses over the past twenty or so years? In several respects – gender, income – they probably are somewhat outside the everyday demographic that we associate with gun nuts (mostly male, usually high school but no more) because this group was almost equally split between men and women and nearly half finished college and many hold advanced degrees. But note that I am comparing the demographics of the author’s interview group with what we know about gun owners in general, not what we know (because we don’t know) about the backgrounds of people who hold a license which permits them to walk around with a gun.
And as far as this latter group is concerned, Professor Stroud hits the proverbial nail right on the proverbial head when she notes that CHL-licenses are usually given out to “white men and women in suburban areas” who are simply not going to be victims of crime. In fact, with the exception of one woman who claimed to have been raped many years before, not a single person interviewed by the author had ever been menaced or victimized in any kind of criminal affair.
So why do these people fervently embrace the idea that guns are must-have “tools” to protect them from crime? Because, and here is the most compelling aspect of this book, getting involved in what the author calls the CHL “culture” changes the way people think about threats, violence and self-defense. And this comes out of perceptions about race and crime in which many Americans ‘privatize’ their response to social inequality by substituting an ‘I can fend for myself’ approach, thereby negating the value of structural (read: government) responses to the inequalities and inequities of inner-city life.
Remember how Reagan called government the ‘enemy’ during his 1980 campaign? For some folks the government ‘enemy’ and the street ‘thug’ enemy is one and the same. But you can protect yourself from both by carrying a gun. And the manner through which Angela Stroud explains all these connections is why she has written a brilliant book.