A New Gun Book That Is Different And Should Be Read.

Firmin DeBrabander teaches philosophy at Maryland Institute College of Art.  Which makes him about the most unlikely person to write a book about guns.  But he has written a book about guns, Do Guns Make Us Free? Democracy and the Armed Society, and the title neatly sums up what the book is all about.  Actually, the book isn’t really about guns so much as it’s a discourse on political theorists and philosophers whose writings contain discussions about the role of arms in defining the relationship of the citizenry to the ruling or governing class.

tea                The text abounds with references to the classic writings of Locke, Machiavelli, Hobbes and more recently, Michel Foucault, John Dewey and Hannah Arendt. DeBrabander describes, in detail, how ‘freedom’ on the one hand and gun ownership on the other often appear to be conjoint concepts but, in fact, are often contradictory and work at cross purposes to each other. Basically the author argues that promoting the idea that guns keep us ‘free’ by protecting us from government tyranny, the gun lobby is, in reality, increasing the possibility that freedoms will be lost as the government finds itself facing an increasingly armed and potentially violent citizenry. He also paints a disturbing picture about how increased government War on Terror surveillance has largely passed unnoticed by the pro-gun community, notwithstanding their alleged concerns about loss of ‘freedoms’ when anyone talks about controlling guns.

This book is the latest attempt to examine the motives and thoughts of gun owners from a cultural point of view.  DeBrabander is aware of Dan Baum’s book, Gun Guys, A Road Trip, which he references at length, but he published too late to include Jennifer’s Carlson’s book, Citizen Protectors, The Everyday Politics in an Age of Decline, which takes up where Baum left off.  These two books share a common theme, namely, the idea that people who identify themselves through their ownership and use of guns are not just ‘nuts’ or ‘weirdos,’ but are making an objective and conscious choice to define their lives through immersion in the gun culture, which invariably means walking around armed.

All three books make the argument that members of the gun culture agree that carrying a gun is an expression of their ‘freedom,’ but DeBrabander’s book is the only contribution to this genre that attempts to view the concept of ‘freedom’ through a two-dimensional lens. One dimension is created by taking these gun owners at their word which basically means listening to a jumbled argument about the no-good government which is a mélange of Tea Party, Limbaugh and Fox News.  The other lens is the anti-government philosophical tradition that comes out of Locke, winds its way through populist political eruptions like Shays’ Rebellion and now is manifested in the rhetorical anger of the Occupy movement.

But what sets the pro-gun movement apart from other expressions of anti-government dissent, according to DeBrabander, is the fact that it is armed, and in that respect becomes a threat to the peaceful and orderly demonstration of free speech and free expression on which a true democracy depends. It is the potential for violence and the frequent calls for violence that lead DeBrabander to insist that guns make us less, not more free.  It’s an interesting and provocative thesis, and makes this book a different and much more interesting text than other books that try to explain gun culture to the literate (read: non-gun) crowd.

I’m going to give this book five stars but there’s one point that needs to be raised.  The NRA does a masterful job using the member’s love of guns to wrap their support around other socio-political issues, but there are many people who hate taxes, hate Obama, hate liberals, but don’t necessarily own guns.  To solve the problem of gun violence, we need to figure out why some folks do and some folks don’t.  Because people who believe that guns are the answer to their greatest fears need to see that those fears are shared by others who don’t need to pick up a gun.

 

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A New Book On CCW That Deserves To Be Read.

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.

holsterw                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.