Contrary to what everyone may think, guns have not always served the same purpose for Americans as they do now. The subtle yet controversial outline of a gun within one’s pocket illustrates dignity and patriotism for some, while fear or violence for others. When looking at the United States on the international stage, guns are often the star of the show as it relates to headlines; consequently, leading to different perceptions when it comes to the culture of the land of the free. Gun culture is a term that has only much more recently been used, and relates exclusively to the United States culture built around the Second Amendment.
The Collins dictionary states that gun culture can most easily be defined as “the attitudes, feelings, values, and behavior of a society, or any social group, in which guns are used.” While the United States most certainly qualifies as a society in which guns are used, there is much controversy over to whether or not they should be. Gun culture has come to play a crucial role in the lives of United States citizens, no matter one’s stance on the legality of guns. However, this culture of glorified gun usage has not always existed in the same way, and came into the lives of Americans just after the birth of the United States.
The gun culture that readily promotes modern American patriotism actually came from Great Britain many years ago. The trading of guns was a huge aspect of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, and were used as something to be traded in order to gain slaves. Not only were they used for monetary gain, but they were also used as tools for discipline among slave plantations when they were first brought to America. When slave trade was banned in 1803, the mass trading of guns continued. The British expansion both into the newly discovered United States and into whatever war they were fighting at the time lead to the furthered use of guns in other cultures as well.
The key difference when looking at the United States’ dependency on gun culture is the Revolutionary War and how it affected different cultures. Countries such as Great Britain, India, Africa, and several others tightened their gun laws post-revolutionary war. The United States did not; in fact, much of the “American” ideals stating that one needs a gun in order to be a real patriot stems from the concept of never wanting to give up the right to bear arms in order to fight further tyranny (whether real or perceived).
The concept of gun culture in the United States today doesn’t look too much different from what it was back in the 1800’s, but the elements that make up modern day gun culture have certainly changed the way United States citizens live their day-to-day life. Guns occupy a large amount of time and space within the North American agenda. Whether it is for better or for worse is for the American people to decide.
As previously noted, there are many elements that go along with this extremely active gun culture, one being the region in which someone is from. Different regions of the United States tend to sway closer to a certain view when it comes to gun rights. This typically goes hand-in-hand with political views and how they differ between states. Each individual state is given the power to control a majority of their laws regulating firearms. A study by Claire Boine states that there is a definite correlation between whether a region is rural or urban, and the gun laws within that region. “The recreational [gun culture] element is associated with politically conservative states with large rural areas, little racial diversity and few firearm regulations.” (Boine, C). While more rural areas are prone to fewer gun laws and more gun usage, the opposite can be said for urban areas where gun laws are more stringent.
Another widely recognized element of gun culture is the intent for which one would need to use a gun, whether it is for recreational use or for protection. A hobby unique to the United States would be hunting animals for sport, something that has become somewhat of a family-based tradition or lifestyle for more Southern states. Guns are something shown to children at young ages, whether through hunting or pretend guns meant for shooting each other playfully with foam bullets. This creates a casual environment for gun use to live in, therefore increasing the usage of guns in the lives of every day Americans.
On the other hand, there is a population of gun owners who possess firearms solely for the purpose of protecting them and their loved ones. With this in mind, an estimated 49% of gun owners have guns inside of their homes. The reasons for owning a gun for protective purposes in a lot of cases means keeping a gun inside of one’s home, but more recently has come to include concealed carry. Concealed carry is when one acquires the appropriate licensing for the specific state’s requirements, when someone is able to carry a gun with them as long as it is concealed. The details surrounding the law differ from state to state; However, there are nationwide restrictions on what kind of gun someone is allowed to carry.
One of the final elements of gun culture is the controversy is it has sparked within the United States culture as a whole. The topic of guns has become a political battleground for two specific political parties, the Republican (conservative) and Democrat (liberal) parties. With many instances of gun violence, racial injustice, and mass shootings plaguing the country, it has come into question whether or not the country as a whole needs stricter laws and more regulations in regards to gun ownership/usage. This argument is essential when looking at gun culture and how it has affected the United States.
Gun violence has been seen throughout the media increasingly over the last decade within the United States, and has propelled organizations such as Moms Demand Action to take a stand in their views of how gun culture is negatively affecting the United States. These groups and organizations have helped to further propel the idea of gun control and attaining stricter federal gun laws.
Racial injustice has played a prominent role within gun culture inside of the United States, and how it has negatively impacted many Americans. With many deaths of African Americans throughout the last several years resulting from misuse of guns from police, including the infamous death of Breonna Taylor in 2020, it has called on the American people to discern whether or not the use of guns within professions such as police work need to be more heavily monitored and/or ceased completely. This topic correlates with police brutality and how it has shaped gun culture to include an element of gun violence that has consistently affected certain races more than others.
Mass shootings have been a major part of United States gun culture since November of 1920 with the Ocoee massacre, where a mob of white men killed an African American man for wanting to vote. A mass shooting is defined by law as an incident where there are three or more people dead or injured due to being shot. Ever since then, mass shootings have consistently happened all the way up until modern day 2021 with the latest being the Atlanta spa shooting on March 16. Since 1982, 1,246 people have been killed in mass shootings; that number including both adults and 199 children. To say that these massacres have played a crucial role in America’s gun culture is inarguable; however, the argument lies in the political advances the American people see appropriate in order to end or decrease these events. This again leads back to the division of Americans, typically according to political views, and how the push and pull of gun rights has not yet allowed the country to come up with a solution.
Gun culture has been a prominent part of the United States culture ever since the beginnings of the Revolutionary War, with the patriotism in full swing as Americans never wavered in giving up their symbols of freedom. This progressed, or as some may say “snowballed”, into a flurry of modern-day political division and controversy as gun culture has grown to dominate almost all aspects of North American life.
This site will cover gun culture in its entirety; whether it relates to the lifestyle of hunting for game that has made its name in the Southern states, or the deadly increase of mass shootings and racial gun violence. Gun culture has, as it did in the beginning, always included racial injustice. This has only just now been commonly considered a part of gun culture as police brutality has forged its way into international media attention within the last decade. Whether one owns a gun to protect their loved ones or attends gun control protests in order to protect others with stricter gun laws, gun culture has played an essential role of the culture that belongs to the United States. This site will uncover the good, the bad, and the ugly of the United States gun culture.
Boine, C., Siegel, M., Ross, C., Fleegler, E. W., & Alcorn, T. (2020, July 08). What is gun culture? Cultural variations and trends across the United States. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41599-020-0520-6#Sec8
Chotiner, I. (2018, April 19). Where America’s Gun Culture Comes From. Retrieved from https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/04/where-americas-gun-culture-comes-from.html
Nguyen, M. (n.d.). Gun control debate moves forward in wake of recent shootings. Retrieved from