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Gun control: Future hangs on misunderstood majority of gun owners

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Given the heated national rhetoric, both sides of the gun-control debate sometimes seem oblivious to the fact that, in 2008, Ameri-ca quietly became a majority pro-gun country, according to Gallup. Scholars like Ms. Carlson contend that majority is part of a new, emergent social contract in which the balance of power and social responsibility has slipped noticeably toward the citizen, who increasingly feels a need to back up his or her First Amendment right to free speech with its menacing guarantor, the gun.

Though the NRA's power, even before Newtown, was sinking, American gun culture remains ascendant, with 74 percent of Americans – the highest percentage ever recorded – opposed to banning handguns, and 51 percent supportive of allowing assault-style weapons, according to a recent poll by the libertarian Reason Foundation.

The gun as icon of freedom

And folks don't just want their guns for self-defense. In early February, Pew noted that 53 percent of Americans say the federal government poses a threat to personal rights and freedoms – a nod in part, experts say, to the post-Newtown gun-control push and fears that Democrats are laying a covert path to gun confiscation.

That dynamic of "tying guns to the identity of the country sort of becomes a way to avoid debating who we are and what we will do as a society, and how we will deal with certain kinds of problems," says Carole Emberton, a historian at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York.

Nevertheless, as 44 percent of American households now stash firearms, the stereotype of gun owners as camo-wearing rednecks in pickup trucks is being challenged in new ways, especially given the 8 million Americans – many of them women – carrying concealed weapons, and the gun-rights groups emerging with names like The Liberal Gun Club and the Black Man With a Gun blog.

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