I’ve never met David Yamane in person, but I’ve had a few exchanges on Twitter with the Wake Forest sociology professor in the past, and he’s never struck me as the typical frothing-at-the-mouth anti-gun activist. In fact Yamane says that his research “begins with the foundational premise that guns are normal and normal people use guns,” which he says runs counter to the work of most academics who “view gun owners as deviant and focus exclusively on negative outcomes associated with guns such as crime, injury and death.”
So I was a little disappointed to read Yamane’s latest column at The Hill, in which he lays out the argument that Kyle Rittenhouse doesn’t represent gun owners today.
I have spent the past ten years researching American gun culture. During that time, I have found gun culture and ownership to be more diverse than is often portrayed. Kyle Rittenhouse does not represent American gun owners today, either in his actions or his person.
It is true that the center of gravity of American gun culture has shifted definitively toward self-defense, what I call Gun Culture 2.0, and that AR-15 style rifles are favored among defensive rifle owners. But of the millions of gun owners who own approximately 20 million AR-15 style rifles, very few choose to publicly patrol with them during periods of social unrest. Fewer still end up using them in self-defense incidents as a result.
By that metric, anyone using a firearm in self-defense isn’t representative of gun owners. Yamane’s then notes that gun owners are taught to avoid putting themselves in dangerous situations, which is a much better argument (in my opinion) that Rittenhouse was acting contrary to what most legal gun owners would do if a riot and looting were to break out in or around the places they live and work. I’m sure that the vast majority of gun owners in Kenosha were hunkered down in their homes or businesses last August as the city burned. But if that means that Kyle Rittenhouse wasn’t representative of most gun owners the night he acted in self-defense, neither was Gaige Grosskreutz, who was carrying a handgun on an expired concealed carry license that same evening.
Yamane then bizarrely delves into Rittenhouse’s race, gender, and sexual identity, and makes a lot of assumptions along the way.
Furthermore, although Rittenhouse might literally be put on a poster by the NRA someday soon, he does not represent the significant racial, gender, sexual, political, or attitudinal diversity that characterizes Gun Culture 2.0.
The statistically average gun owner in America has long been a conservative white male. The problem with averages is they hide underlying diversity. The average human being has approximately one testicle and one ovary, after all. Although the most typical gun owner may be politically conservative, the majority are not. As Jesse DeDeyne, Alonso Octavio Aravena Méndez, and I show in an article published in 2020, 20 percent of gun owners in America self-identify as politically liberal. Another two in five see themselves as politically moderate. New gun owners are even less conservative.
How can Yamane claim to know Rittenhouse’s political stances, and why would he automatically assume that the teen is a conservative? Rittenhouse expressed support for the BLM movement and its right to protest during his interview with Tucker Carlson on Monday night, and said that his own experience has given him a newfound appreciation for criminal justice reform and those who complain about prosecutorial abuse.
Gun owners are a diverse mosaic and, consequently, more like you than you might think. Your relative, friend, or neighbor who keeps firearms for home defense or legally carries a concealed handgun in public is much more representative of gun culture and gun owners today than Kyle Rittenhouse is. By a long shot.
Clearly Yamane is writing for a non-gun owning audience, and I honestly believe that his intention was to try to point out the growing diversity of American gun owners. It’s how Yamane did it that’s troubling to me. I can buy into the premise that Kyle Rittenhouse, who was 17-years old at the time he acted in self-defense, is not a statistical representative of the average American gun owner. But intentional or not, Yamane’s argument reeks of condescension towards those average gun owners, who are (as he acknowledges) still likely to be conservative white males. I have no problem with the increasing diversity of gun owners. In fact, I think it’s a good thing and we’ve repeatedly celebrated it here at Bearing Arms. But Yamane seems to be telling liberal gun owners that they shouldn’t be too worried about those scary conservatives because more liberals are owning guns.
Finally, Yamane gets one thing very wrong in terms of Rittenhouse being representative of the average gun owner. Whether or not you think Rittenhouse should have been armed in Kenosha that night, according to a jury of his peers he defended himself appropriately when he was attacked. The vast majority of gun owners will never be convicted of a criminal offense, and in that sense Rittenhouse is very much representative of American gun owners across the political, ideological, racial, and socio-economic spectrum.