One of the big takeaways from the Guns in American Life survey that I talk about on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, at least for researcher Margaret Kelley, is the formation of Gun Culture 2.0, which she describes as much more self-defense oriented than the hunting and sporting-driven Gun Culture 1.0. The vast majority of people buying firearms today say they’re doing so for self-defense, not recreation, but that change has been underway for decades. In fact, Kelley traces the formation of Gun Culture 2.0 to the 1960s, when civil unrest, riots, and growing violent crime (along with the Gun Control Act of 1968) made many Americans start to consider the need for owning a gun for self-defense for the first time.
In my opinion, there’s plenty of room for both versions of Gun Culture, and many gun owners move easily between the two worlds. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t voices in both cultures, however, who are downright sick and tired of the other. Complaining about Fudds or tacticool bros is a time-honored tradition in the 2A community, so self-proclaimed “gun nut” Brian Sexton isn’t exactly treading new ground in his column complaining that Gun Culture 2.0 is driving him away from support for the Second Amendment.
One of the gun stores I visited recently boasted a back wall lined with assault-style rifles, pistols and defensive shotguns, all black except for a choice few in hot pink “for the ladies.” The staff mostly wore black as well.
Their T-shirts for sale featured some amalgam of the American flag and warnings such as “Don’t Tread on Me” and “Molon Labe,” an ancient Greek phrase roughly meaning “come and take them.” Everybody — and I mean staff and other customers — was packing holstered pistols. I felt out of place and time.
In my sleepy Oregon town, sentiments like this don’t stop at a gun store. A trip to the supermarket is not complete without several sightings of men or women packing a pistol on their hip.
It is as if we are living in a fetishized version of the Wild West. Some of these folks probably envision themselves as the white-hat cowboy, a character prepared to defend against marauders.
My town boasts one of the oldest independent newspapers in Oregon, but the readership is a quarter that of the Facebook page for the local police scanner. Every crime committed is conveniently pinged to each follower’s cell, providing a steady feed of this world’s ills. But when we see the world through a lens of fear, it is no wonder that we look at our neighbors with suspicion. Maybe that explains the amazing statistic last year from Axios that “an estimated 5 million Americans bought their first gun.”
That’s actually an out-of-date statistic. There were really more than eight million new gun owners last year, which I’m sure only makes Sexton feel even more out of place and time.
Again, though, this isn’t new. It’s the continuation of a trend that began in the 1960s and the rise in violent crime. Handgun ownership is up by more than 70% since 1994, and the right to carry revolution kicked off a decade before then. Has Sexton really been unaware of these shifts in gun culture, or is he just using Gun Culture 2.0 to as an excuse to bash conservatives?
Dana Loesch, the former spokeswoman for the bankrupt National Rifle Association, talked about this free-floating fear: “The government has proven it cannot keep us safe, yet some people want to disarm all of us.”
This new group of men and women who wear guns as political statements apparently no longer experience weapons as tools for hunting or for sport. Even claims of defense are suspect. What type of threat necessitates military firepower?
Somehow, guns have become identified as symbolizing freedom, individuality or just plain cantankerousness. It makes me miss the old days when a gun was just a tool — albeit sometimes a beautifully crafted one.
The irony of the modern gun movement is that a take-no-prisoners stance on gun rights might just turn into a groundswell of support for tighter regulations of guns. But when the patriots start to lose gun nuts like me, they teeter on the brink of irrelevance.
Well, that answers the question about Sexton’s motivation. He’s just looking for an angle to go after folks on the right, and gun culture’s the tool he decided to use.
Again, I think there’s room in the 2A community for both Gun Culture 1.0 and 2.0, but if Sexton’s ready to walk away then don’t let the door hit ya where the good lord split ya. It’s laughable for Sexton to try to claim that because he’s offended by Gun Culture 2.0 and its focus on self-defense and defending the right to keep and bear arms, the 2A movement is teetering on the “brink of irrelevance.”
It wasn’t Gun Culture 1.0 that brought more than 8-million Americans to a gun store for the first time in their lives last year. While I’m thrilled that hunting participation numbers were up in 2020, the vast majority of new gun owners bought firearms to protect themselves and their families, not to put meat on the table. It’s also somewhat embarrassing for Sexton to complain about the surge in gun ownership, given that the biggest increases in gun purchases last year were by African Americans.
Firearm ownership is also increasingly diverse as sales among women accounted for 40 percent of all sales, and purchases by African Americans increased by 56 percent compared to 2019.
“We’ve seen a trend of more African Americans choosing to express their Second Amendment rights to own a firearm, especially for personal protection,” said Philip Smith, President and founder of NAAGA. “Purchasing a firearm is one step to protecting your family, but it also means safely storing your gun away from children, so they don’t hurt themselves.”
Times change, and both firearms and the Americans who own them change with them. Brian Sexton may be sad that Winchester Model 70 has been replaced by the AR-15 in the hearts and minds of most gun owners, but given the gun’s utility and the ease of personalization, it’s no surprise why the modern sporting rifle is the most commonly sold center-fire rifle in the country today. Sexton doesn’t have to like it, but if he truly cares about the Second Amendment then he should be bothered by Joe Biden’s idea of banning them; not the fact that he can’t understand why anyone would want or “need” one.
As for Sexton being bothered by the symbolism of the gun as freedom or security, I’d remind him of Ida Wells’ famous dictate that the Winchester repeating rifle deserved a “place of honor in every Black home.” The Winchester repeating rifle was the AR-15 of its day, and I’m sure that Wells would have gladly taken possession of one when she was living in Memphis in the 1890s and passionately crying out for security for the Black community from the lynchings and mob violence taking place. It doesn’t speak well of Sexton’s supposed “gun nut” status that he’s seemingly oblivious to the long history of firearms as a means of protecting individual freedom as well as human life.
Are there some members of Gun Culture 2.0 who make me cringe? Of course there are. But there are also members of Gun Culture 1.0 who make me do the same. Some guy storming the Capitol in an NRA hat isn’t helpful to the cause. Neither is running a huge poaching scheme that raked in tons of cash while ignoring state and federal game laws. In both cases I think that violations of any laws should be prosecuted, and the Second Amendment community should remind people that these are outlier cases, not representative of 99.9% of the more than 100-million Americans who exercise their constitutionally-protected right to keep and bear arms.
I don’t support free speech only for those who agree with me, and I don’t support the right of the people to keep and bear only those arms I don’t find “icky.” To do so would be contrary to the spirit of the Bill of Rights and the idea of individual liberty itself. I don’t have to like or agree with everyone else who’s lawfully exercising their Second Amendment rights, but as a fellow self-proclaimed “gun nut,” I believe I must support their right to do so.
With all due respect to Brian Sexton, I don’t think he’s the “gun nut” he claims to be. Gun aficionado? Sure. Gun nut? Not if he’s supportive of banning some of the most commonly-owned arms and ammunition in the country because he hates that they’re also political symbols of freedom for some of the millions of Americans who own them. That’s nutty, to be sure, but it’s not the position any real “gun nut” would take.
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