Gun cultures in the USA
||The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with Western culture and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (February 2013)|
The gun culture is a culture shared by people in the gun politics debate, generally those who advocate preserving gun rights and who are generally against more gun control. In the United States, the term is used solely to identify gun advocates who are legitimate and legal owners and users of guns, using guns for self-defense, sporting uses, hunting, and recreational uses (target shooting). By contrast, the term is used differently in the UK and Australia, where it refers to a growing use and ownership of guns by criminals.
In a 1970 article titled America as a Gun Culture, the noted 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.
According to political scientist Robert Spitzer, the American gun culture as it exists today 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. Spitzer writes that:
- Two elements of the modern American gun culture have survived since the earliest days of the country; the hunting/sporting ethos and the militia/frontier ethos.
- The Hunting/Sporting ethos emerged when America was an agrarian nation in which hunting was a valuable source of supplying food for settlers, guns were a means of protection from animal predators, and the market for furs could provide a source of income. Acquiring shooting skills was connected with survival, and acquiring these skills was a "rite of passage" for boys entering manhood. The role of guns as marks of maturity persists to this day. Today, hunting survives as a central component of the gun culture.
- The Militia/Frontier ethos emerged from early Americans' dependence on their wits and skill to protect themselves from hostile Native Americans and foreign armies. Survival depended upon everyone carrying a weapon (excluding blacks, and in a large part, women). In the late Eighteenth Century, there was neither the money nor manpower to maintain a full-time army; therefore the armed citizen soldier carried the responsibility of protecting his country. Service in militia, including providing your own ammunition and weapons, was mandatory for all adult males.
- Closely related to the militia tradition was the frontier tradition, with the westward movement closely associated with weaponry. In the Nineteenth Century, firearms were closely associated with the westward expansion. Outlaws and Indians necessitated an armed citizenry ready to defend themselves.
- Today, this veneration of firearms has left a deeply felt belief that guns are both an integral part of, and a force responsible for, America as it exists.
Present-day gun culture in the United States
Erik Luna, Associate Professor at the University of Utah College of Law, describes the differences between a "pro-gun culture" and an "anti-gun culture" in the United States and describes some traits of a "pro-gun culture" as follows:
- They share a belief that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution enumerates an individual right, (as further elaborated by Justice Antonin Scalia of the SCOTUS). Generally they see people as trustworthy and believe that citizens should not be prevented from having guns unless they have done something to show that they are not to be trusted with them.
- They share a belief that guns provide some level of protection against criminality and tyranny. This ranges from a feeling that it is good to have a gun around the house for self-protection, to an active distrust of government and a belief that widespread gun ownership is key to protection against tyranny.
- They are generally responsible with respect to firearms handling. They have an awareness (or internalization) of either Jeff Cooper's Four Rules or the NRA's Three Rules, providing for safe handling of guns and try to abide by them when handling firearms.
- They support, widely and in principle, the gun rights associated with hunting and other outdoor sports activities, although these activities are not always practiced by all within the gun culture. Some members of the gun culture remain avid collectors and shooters but this is not universal.
Present day gun culture outside the United States
|This Section may contain previously unpublished synthesis of published material that conveys ideas not attributable to the original sources. (July 2008)|
Some aspects of gun culture are different in other countries. Gun politics in Australia consists of just the two sides of gun control versus the gun rights of sportsmen, with no inclusion on the gun rights side of self-defense rights as in America, as there is no Second Amendment equivalent. Nonetheless, Australia has historically had a well-established gun culture focused on sporting and farming requirements. In Australia, the minimum age for owning or purchasing a gun with a permit is 18. Those aged 12–17 may have a junior licence to shoot under supervision and is usually updated to a full license when turning 18.
In the UK, massacres in Hungerford in 1987 and Dunblane in 1996 were followed by stricter laws on firearms. It is an offense for anyone to be in possession of any gun without a valid firearms certificate. In principle, a certificate may be obtained by anyone aged 18 or over who has a valid reason such as hunting or target shooting and can provide suitable referees and satisfy background checks. Self-defense is not a valid reason. Firearms certificates are divided into two categories: section 1 (Firearms) and section 2 (Shotgun). It is easier to acquire section 2 certificates, and successful application for section 1 requires further criteria be met. Conventional handguns and automatic weapons are prohibited to members of the general public and require a section 5 certificate, meaning legal possession is effectively impossible.
In New Zealand, the minimum age for possessing a firearms or gun license is 16. At this age, one may legally own a gun. New Zealanders can also own fully automatic weapons with a license, though this is restricted to collectors and security personnel.
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.
The term "Gun nut" has been used to describe firearms enthusiasts who are deeply involved with the gun culture. It can have different connotations depending on how it is perceived and the intention of the person using it. To some gun owners, it is embraced affectionately, such as in the popular outdoors magazine Field and Stream which has a column called "The Gun Nut". However to others it is regarded as a pejorative stereotype cast upon gun owners by anti-gun advocates as a means of implying that they are fanatical, exhibit abnormal behavior, or are a threat to the safety of others. The term has additionally been used at times by some law enforcement agencies to describe a profile to categorize criminal suspects.
- Spitzer, Robert J.: The Politics of Gun Control, Chapter 1. Chatham House Publishers, 1995.
- Hofstadter, Richard: America as a Gun Culture. American Heritage Magazine, October, 1970.
- "The .22 Caliber Rorschach Test" by Erik Luna, article in Houston Law Review]
- Linder, Doug (2008). "DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., PETITIONERS v. DICK ANTHONY HELLER". Exploring Constitutional Law. University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School. Retrieved 2008-07-26.
- "Four Rules". Thegunzone.com. 2002-06-15. Retrieved 2012-04-18.
- "Three Rules". Coyneparkrange.net. Retrieved 2012-04-18.
- DAVID B KOPEL. "Japanese Gun Control".
- The Gun Nut blog at Field & Stream
- "Shoot-out Confirms Foreign View of America as 'Gun Nut' Country" by T.R. Reid, The Buffalo News, July 26, 1998
- "Massacres Fail to Sway Gun Nuts and their Lobbyists" November 7, 1991, Press-Telegram (Long Beach, CA)
- "Small steps on gun control" Los Angeles Times, June 17, 2007
- "Gun nut fired over pics" by Jamie Pyatt, The Sun (UK)
- "'Terror in Capitol' No Surprise to World" By T.R. Reid, Washington Post, July 26, 1998
- " 'Gun nut' loses his jail sentence appeal" in Cambridge Evening News, July 12, 2007
- "Pistol duel ended rampage" by Richard D. Walton and Tom Spalding, The Indianapolis Star, August 20, 2004