Global gun cultures

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Gun cultures are found around the world, and evidence various attitudes towards guns in such places as the United States, Honduras, El Salvador, Australia, Canada, the Philippines, Germany, and Switzerland.[1] "Gun culture" is defined as the attitudes, feelings, values, and behavior of a society, or any social group, in which guns are used.[2] Among the most studied and discussed global gun cultures is that of the United States.[3]

Gun cultures in North and Central America[edit]

Gun cultures in the United States[edit]

The term "gun culture" in the United States has historical and political connotations. In 1970, historian Richard Hofstadter used the phrase "gun culture" to describe America's long-held affection for guns, embracing and celebrating the association of guns and America's heritage.[4] In 1995, Robert Spitzer (political scientist) said that the modern American gun culture is founded on three factors: the proliferation of firearms since the earliest days of the nation, the connection between personal ownership of weapons and the country's revolutionary and frontier history, and the cultural mythology regarding the gun in the frontier and in modern life.[5]

American attitudes on gun ownership date back to the American Revolutionary War, and find an origin also in the hunting/sporting ethos, and the militia/frontier ethos that draw from the country's early history.[6]

Calamity Jane, notable pioneer frontierswoman and scout, at age 43. Photo by H.R. Locke.

The American hunting/sporting passion comes from a time when the United States was an agrarian, subsistence nation where hunting was a profession for some, an auxiliary source of food for some settlers, and also a deterrence to animal predators. A connection between shooting skills and survival among rural American men was in many cases a necessity and a 'rite of passage' for those entering manhood. Today, hunting survives as a central sentimental component of a gun culture as a way to control animal populations across the country, regardless of modern trends away from subsistence hunting and rural living.[6]

The militia/frontiersman spirit derives from an early American dependence on arms to protect themselves from foreign armies and hostile Native Americans. Survival depended upon everyone being capable of using a weapon. Prior to the American Revolution there was neither budget nor manpower nor government desire to maintain a full-time army. Therefore, the armed citizen-soldier carried the responsibility. Service in militia, including providing one's own ammunition and weapons, was mandatory for all men—just as registering for military service upon turning eighteen is today. Yet, as early as the 1790s, the mandatory universal militia duty gave way to voluntary militia units and a reliance on a regular army. Throughout the 19th century the institution of the civilian militia began to decline.[6]

Closely related to the militia tradition was the frontier tradition with the need for a means of self-protection closely associated with the nineteenth century westward expansion and the American frontier. There remains a powerful central elevation of the gun associated with the hunting/sporting and militia/frontier ethos among the American Gun Culture.[6] Though it has not been a necessary part of daily survival for over a century, generations of Americans have continued to embrace and glorify it as a living inheritance—a permanent element of the nation's style and culture.[7]

The gun has long been a symbol of power and masculinity.[8] In popular literature, frontier adventure was most famously told by James Fenimore Cooper, who is credited by Petri Liukkonen with creating the archetype of an 18th-century frontiersman through such novels as "The Last of the Mohicans" (1826) and "The Deerslayer" (1840).[9]

A handbill for Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World

In the late 19th century, cowboy and "Wild West" imagery entered the collective imagination. The first American female superstar, Annie Oakley, was a sharpshooter who toured the country starting in 1885, performing in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. The cowboy archetype of individualist hero was established largely by Owen Wister in stories and novels, most notably The Virginian (1902), following close on the heels of Theodore Roosevelt's The Winning of the West (1889–1895), a history of the early frontier.[10][11][12] Cowboys were also popularized in turn of the 20th century cinema, notably through such early classics as The Great Train Robbery (1903) and A California Hold Up (1906) -- the most commercially successful film of the pre-nickelodeon era.[13]

Gangster films began appearing as early as 1910, but became popular only with the advent of sound in film in the 1930s. The genre was boosted by the events of the prohibition era, such as bootlegging and the St. Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929, the existence of real-life gangsters (e.g., Al Capone) and the rise of contemporary organized crime and escalation of urban violence. These movies flaunted the archetypal exploits of "swaggering, cruel, wily, tough, and law-defying bootleggers and urban gangsters."[14]

With the arrival of World War II, Hollywood produced many morale boosting movies, patriotic rallying cries that affirmed a sense of national purpose. The image of the lone cowboy was replaced in these combat films by stories that emphasized group efforts and the value of individual sacrifices for a larger cause, often featuring a group of men from diverse ethnic backgrounds who were thrown together, tested on the battlefield, and molded into a dedicated fighting unit.[15]

Guns frequently accompanied famous heroes and villains in late 20th-century American films, from the outlaws of Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and The Godfather (1972), to the fictitious law and order avengers like Dirty Harry (1971) and RoboCop (1987). In the 1970s, films portrayed fictitious and exaggerated characters, madmen ostensibly produced by the Vietnam War in films like Taxi Driver (1976) and Apocalypse Now (1979), while other films told stories of fictitious veterans who were supposedly victims of the war and in need of rehabilitation (Coming Home and The Deer Hunter, both 1978).[16] Many action films continue to celebrate the gun toting hero in fantastical settings. At the same time, the negative role of the gun in fictionalized modern urban violence has been explored in films like Boyz n the Hood (1991) and Menace 2 Society (1993).

Central America[edit]

Countries in Central America that have a long and difficult history of colonialism and dictatorships are particularly susceptible to destabilization caused by guns. Christian Parenti, in Tropic of Chaos (2012), singles out Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, all countries that saw counterinsurgencies and the extensive killing of civilians by government forces; in those three countries, says Parenti, are found "a gun culture with large populations of unemployed men habituated to violence, discipline, secrecy, pack loyalty, brutality", and violence is everywhere.[17]

Gun cultures in Europe[edit]


The Swiss gun culture was born of its diminutive size and geopolitical location. Historians say Switzerland avoided German invasion during World War II because its men were armed and trained.[18] In Switzerland compulsory militia conscription and rifles (but not ammunition) in the home of all militia members reflect a relatively positive view of firearms. Although Swiss firearm restriction laws are on par with many other European countries in terms of requiring a legally valid reason for owning firearms, and although open carry is generally disallowed, militiamen carrying their small arms to and from military bases is not an unfamiliar sight.[citation needed]

United Kingdom[edit]

There is no gun culture in the United Kingdom in the American (U.S.) sense. The civilian, U.K. gun culture is represented by shooting sports.[19]

Gun cultures in Oceania[edit]


Although anglo settlers used guns to defeat Indigenous Australians in 19th century, much as westward-bound pioneers did to defeat Native Americans, the similarities end there, according to journalist Phillip Knightley. Land grabs pitted Americans not only against natives, but against each other. "In contrast," says Knightley, "Australians are basically a social people and have developed a car culture rather than a gun one." He says guns in Australia are traditionally farmers' tools.[20]

Gun cultures in Asia[edit]

Especially South-East Asia is being destabilized by a gun culture in which legal and illegal arms are trafficked widely throughout the region and are contributing to an increase in overall violence, with drug lords, criminal syndicates, and separatist movements having access to guns and thus being able to inflict the kind of violence previously exerted only by the state. Weapons trafficking is one of the most lucrative business in Cambodia, the region's main source for illegal weapons (with Thailand being the main conduit), and China is one of the most important external suppliers.[21]


A gun culture in the Western sense never developed in Japan. According to David Kopel, weapons there "always were, and remain today, the mark of the rulers, not the ruled." He wrote: "In short, while many persons may admire Japan's near prohibition of gun ownership, it is not necessarily true that other nations, such as the United States, could easily replicate the Japanese model. Japan's gun laws grow out of a culture premised on voluntary submission to authority, a cultural norm that is not necessarily replicated in Western democracies."[22]


Gun ownership, especially in the mountainous northwest, is part of traditional Pakistani culture. Rifles are handed down from generation to generation for hunting and for celebratory fire. In the 21st century, increases in terrorist threats, and particularly in urban kidnappings, extortions, and robberies, has led to an increase in civilian demand for guns for self-protection.[23]


The Filipino gun culture is the result of an enormous proliferation of legal and illegal handguns, sold at arms markets and used in complex and long struggles involving "local despots, colonial rivals, post-colonial territorial disputes, communist and ethnic insurgency, Cold War superpower competition, organized crime, and Islamic extremists".[24] Especially since the 1960s, with the Philippines in economic and political turmoil, the country has become known as a gun culture, with widespread violence and threats of violence, and "weaponry was in common use among the citizenry".[25] The problem appears to have gotten worse in the 21st century,[26] and the plentiful availability of legal and illegal small arms "[tears] at the social fabric" and fuels banditry and violent crime.[21] The Small Arms Survey also cites a long history of "craft production of small arms" dating back to Spanish colonial rule,[27] and gun ownership is also linked to particular images of masculinity.[28]

Gun cultures in Africa[edit]

Guinea-Bissau illegally provides old Soviet weapons to many conflicts in West Africa. Smuggling is also carried out off the coasts of Cameroon and Gabon.[29]

South Africa[edit]

Black South Africans sometimes state that a gun is a signal of citizenship in post-apartheid South Africa. This portrayal of guns and gun violence has been dubbed "consumerist militarism".[30]

Gun cultures in South America[edit]


Most guns in Argentina are obtained in the black market by trading them for manaos. The main dealer is known as Palermo manaos.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Global Gun Cultures". Thomson Reuters. 2012. Retrieved January 25, 2014. 
  2. ^ Collins English Dictionary. Collins. 2014. 
  3. ^ Fisher, Max (December 15, 2012). "What makes America's gun culture totally unique in the world, in four charts". Washington Post (Washington D.C.). Retrieved January 25, 2014. 
  4. ^ Hofstadter, Richard (October 1970). "America as a Gun Culture". American Heritage Magazine (American Heritage Publishing) 21 (6). Retrieved January 25, 2014. 
  5. ^ Spitzer, Robert J. (1995). The Politics of Gun Control. Chatham House Publishers. 
  6. ^ a b c d Spitzer, Robert J. (1995). The Politics of Gun Control. Chatham House. ISBN 9781566430227. 
  7. ^ JERVIS ANDERSON, GUNS IN AMERICA 10 (1984), page 21
  8. ^ Sidel, Victor W.; Wendy Cukier (2005). The Global Gun Epidemic: From Saturday Night Specials to AK-47s. Praeger Security International General Interest-Cloth. p. 130. ISBN 0-275-98256-4. 
  9. ^ "James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)". Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  10. ^ "American Literature: Prose, MSN Encarta". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. 
  11. ^ "New Perspectives on the West: Theodore Roosevelt, PBS, 2001". 1919-01-06. Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  12. ^ ""Owen Wister (1860-1938)", Petri Liukkonen, Authors' Calendar, 2002". Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  13. ^ ""Western Films", Tim Dirks, Filmsite, 1996-2007". Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  14. ^ ""Crime and Gangster Films", Tim Dirks, Filmsite, 1996-2007". Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  15. ^ Digital History, Steven Mintz. "Hollywood as History: Wartime Hollywood, Digital History". Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  16. ^ Digital History, Steven Mintz. "Hollywood as History: The "New" Hollywood, Digital History". Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  17. ^ Parenti, Christian (2012). Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence. Nation. p. 34. ISBN 9781568587295. 
  18. ^ Bachmann, Helena (December 20, 2012). "The Swiss Difference: A Gun Culture That Works". Time. Retrieved January 26, 2014. 
  19. ^ "The British Association for Shooting & Conservation". BASC. Retrieved January 26, 2014. 
  20. ^ Knightley, Phillip (January 1, 2000). "Gun culture" (blog). Retrieved January 26, 2014.  Knightley also says that the mythic Australian western, Mad Max, is about cars more than guns.
  21. ^ a b Chalk, Peter (2002). "Regional Transnational Security Challenges". In Vaughn, Bruce. The Unraveling of Island Asia?: Governmental, Communal, and Regional Instability. Greenwood. pp. 121–48. ISBN 9780275974589. 
  22. ^ Kopel, David B. (1993). "Japanese Gun Control". Retrieved January 25, 2014. 
  23. ^ Wonacott, Peter (January 6, 2009). "For Middle-Class Pakistanis, a Gun Is a Must-Have Accessory: With Kidnappings and Violence on the Rise, Demand for Weapons Permits Grows". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 26, 2014. 
  24. ^ Miani, Lino (2011). The Sulu Arms Market: National Responses to a Regional Problem. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. p. 4. ISBN 9789814311113. 
  25. ^ Jolly, Margaret; Ram, Kalpana (2001). Borders of Being: Citizenship, Fertility, and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific. U of Michigan P. p. 155. ISBN 9780472067558. 
  26. ^ Woodier, Jonathan (2009). The Media and Political Change in Southeast Asia: Karaoke Culture and the Evolution of Personality Politics. Edward Elgar. p. 136. ISBN 9781848446199. 
  27. ^ Small Arms Survey 2003: Development Denied. Oxford UP. 2003. pp. 33–35. ISBN 9780199251759. 
  28. ^ Leavitt, Sandra Ruth (2007). Persuasion, Coercion, and Neglect: Understanding State Policy and the Mobilization of Muslim Minorities in Asia. ProQuest. p. 26. ISBN 9780549618348. 
  29. ^ Khakee, Anna Obia. (2005) “Gun Culture in Nigeria: Removing Small Arms and Increasing Safety in the Niger Delta Region”. United Nations Mandated University for Peace, Geneva, Switzerland, 2005.
  30. ^ Cock, Jacklyn (2004) Rethinking militarism in post-apartheid South Africa. Crisis States Research Centre working papers series 1, 43. Crisis States Research Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.

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