Americans have ‘complicated’ views on guns


Too often, our conversations about guns fail to account for the complex ways that gender and race shape how Americans relate to guns and the gun debate.

This often means silencing the vantage points of Americans—including racial minorities, women, members of the LGBTQ community, and other marginalized Americans—who have complicated relationships with guns that do not fit into the neat categories of “gun rights” or “gun control.” Meanwhile, race and gender shape which kinds of gun violence are emphasized and how—and which kinds are overlooked.

For example, popular media often takes for granted that almost all mass shootings are perpetrated by men, and mostly white men. Although gang violence and mass shootings do not comprise the majority of gun deaths in the US, they are nevertheless over-represented in coverage of gun violence. Particularly with regard to gang violence, this disparity in coverage opens the door for racialized fears—especially regarding crime and criminality—to be used to promote particular agendas in the gun debate.

How might we be better informed about gender and race in the context of guns? To put it as simply as possible, race and gender shape who owns guns and why; who dies by guns and how; and what Americans think about issues related to gun rights and gun control.

On one hand, consider this nation’s unusually high rates of gun deaths. African-American men are disproportionately likely to be the victim of gun homicides. White men are disproportionately likely to die in gun suicides. While men are well over-represented as victims of gun violence as compared to women, this only holds with respect to strangers. Among gun homicides involving intimate partners, women are over-represented.

On the other hand, consider gun ownership. Americans from different social backgrounds turn to guns for personal protection, hunting, collecting, and many other reasons. Men—especially married men—are over-represented among gun owners. My research on gun carriers suggests an important reason for this: guns mesh with deep cultural connections between protection and masculinity. Thus, even though we might expect single men to be more vulnerable to crime, married men are more likely to own guns—perhaps because of their greater investment in protecting not just themselves but also their families.

Meanwhile, we know that whites are much more likely to own and carry guns, but the gap reduces for handgun ownership and in the context of concealed carry, suggesting that racial differences erode in the context of protective gun ownership.

In fact, I found that African-Americans and whites in Michigan, for example, are equally likely to hold concealed pistol licenses. While this contradicts popular associations of gun rights politics with white, conservative men, it actually reflects the broader history of guns in America. While guns have been, and continue to be, used as tools of racial terrorism by white supremacists, they have also served as potently symbolic and—in cases like the Deacons for Defense—very practical tools of defense of self and community by African-Americans and other people of color.

It is important to note that most gun owners and gun carriers are not involved in organized armed groups. Instead, they see guns as a more commonplace, everyday tool enhancing their personal safety. Surveys from Pew and Gallup suggest that Americans—even across gender and racial differences—increasingly feel safer with guns than without guns since the early 2000s.

So, while who owns guns and who is impacted by gun violence may still follow striking racial and gender dynamics, it is critical to take seriously that attitudes on guns have converged in unexpected ways.

This text is published here under a Creative Commons License.
Author: Nick Prevenas-Arizona
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