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The Problem of the Development of Gun Culture in the American Society

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Today’s media highlights current news events that are controversial while also imposing their personal bias of the event. This influences the audience’s behavior by significantly increasing the rate of public conversation on these topics. Public conversation and controversy can initiate social movements like protests, activism groups, and incite the continuous division between political parties. The general public is usually quick to adhere to one of two sides, based on information solely presented through biased media. This may give rise to the misconception that traumatic events, such as kidnappings and gun homicides, happen only to other people. Recently gun legislation has been a hot topic for debate since the occurrence of mass shootings have skyrocketed. What people are unaware of, is that the frequency of all forms of gun-related deaths, including suicide, are continuing to grow in the US. Gun homicides are commonly thought of as unpredictable and random events, however recent data suggests a sociological based theory to better understand gun culture trends in the U.S.

It has been reported that between 2003 and 2015, the US firearm death rate increased by 24.9% (Grinshteyn, 2019). This study provided connections between firearm death rates and gun legislation in each state to infer why this trend was being observed. The political climate, or conservatism, surrounding the qualifications for legally obtaining a gun, are vastly different in each state. Gaining access to a firearm will differ depending on the state, specifically more lenient gun legislation, such as conservatism, is thought to result in easier access to guns. Previous data suggests that states with more residents who voted Republican had greater access to firearms and higher rates of firearm suicide (Augustine, 2013). Easier access to firearms does not entirely explain why there is a rise in gun homicides and suicides. The 2015 National Firearms Survey found 63% of respondents indicated “protection against people” to be a primary reason for owning a firearm. The dramatic liberalization of gun laws over the past four decades reflects and facilitates the development of Gun Culture (Yamane, 2017). People are aware that gun prevalence is increasing, and the only way to maintain self-protection, is to match the adversary and own a gun themselves. Gun exposure explains the increasing gun violence trend, gun access directly (alone) explained 33.9% of the differences in suicide rates and 55.4% of the gun suicide rates (Augustine, 2013). Now that more people are owning guns, the likelihood of a gun being involved in direct confrontation and accidental death are higher. The gun industry also promoted guns as objects of (typically masculine) desire through the mass advertising that was increasingly embraced by corporate America to fuel consumer capitalism (Yamane, 2017). Divided political opinions, public conversation, and gun legislation are found accountable for the increase in gun homicides and gun suicides since 1999.

Not only is the incidence of gun homicide and suicide increasing, gun culture and violence are now happening more than ever before. Gun violence is considered any violent act committed with the use of a gun. Depending on the act committed, it could be considered criminal violence, in which the violent act is the objective. For this analysis, gun violence is based on homicide and death rates where a firearm was the weapon. Other industrialized nations do not exhibit the same trends in gun violence, which leads us to question how the current social structures and cultures influence the rate of gun violence. Statistics comparing gun suicides between nations confirms the U.S is the highest in the world, “Few countries parallel the rates of gun suicide in the United States; for example, the U.S. firearm suicide rate is 1.25 times the next closest nation (Finland) and 200.8 times Japan’s firearm suicide rate” (Augustine, 2013). The next closest nation is almost 1.5 times lower than the U.S.; this huge difference reflects the prevalence of gun violence. Compared with the US, Norway has about one-third of the number of guns per 100 civilians — and about one-tenth of the rate of gun deaths per 100,000 people (Grinshteyn, 2019). Concrete analysis on gun violence leads researchers to question why gun violence is solely predominating in the U.S.

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In the U.S. it was found that there is a cultural significance in owning a gun, an ideal that relates personal responsibility to the broader concept of citizenship. A term used to emphasize this connection is, the “citizen soldier”—gun carriers as citizen‐protectors are morally upstanding citizens exercising their historically masculine duty to protect their families and others (Yamane, 2017). As explained earlier, exposure, and easier access to firearms directly influences gun homicides and suicide rates. Therefore, the cultural value of being the form of protective masculinity leads to an increase in gun owners. In the past it is seen that, gun carrying for men as being strongly connected to their cultural conceptions of masculinity (Yamane, 2017). Drawing on previous conclusions, when people begin buying guns, it perpetuates a cycle of obtaining firearms, for fear of everyone else and their firearm as a method of protection. The pressure of personal responsibility in the U.S. drives the division between communities, specifically the government and the public. There is a strong distrust in law enforcement, and the justice system, which can create a sense of self advocacy as a citizen – to protect one’s family and themselves, they must be the ones to do it. Other nations, such as Norway, do not exhibit the same gun violence trend because their governments go to great lengths to build trust in local communities. Sociologists who study the Nordic model have found that social cohesion between citizens and the government goes a long way toward ensuring a (mostly) peaceful society (Grinshteyn, 2019). Its apparent that unity as a nation is very influential when it comes to gun violence. Today, the U.S. is not united, the political controversy and genuine distrust in our legal systems is the source for explaining why gun violence is so prevalent in U.S. society compared to other industrialized nations.

Evaluating rates of gun-related incidents in populations and the groups within them can be used as a predictor for gun violence. Previous data on gun violence suggest that social distance is related to gun victimization: the closer one is to a gunshot victim, the greater the probability of one’s own victimization (Papachristos, 2012). Interestingly, most people experience clustering of their social networks on socio-demographic characteristics, primarily because people generally have significant contact only with others like themselves; this phenomenon is called “homophily” (Kalesan, 2016). Social network homophily based on race has also been also well-documented, this is where people establish friendships based on race and race-specific biases (Kalesan, 2016). Social scientists can apply this information when developing an understanding about what types of people are most likely to experience gun violence. Its been found that non-Hispanic whites have a likelihood of 97.1% of knowing at least one-gun violence victim within their SN while blacks have a 99.9%, Hispanics have 99.5% and other racial groups have an 88.9% likelihood (Kalesan, 2016). Different ethnic groups experiencing varying amounts of gun violence emphasizes social network homophily.

However, there must be an explanation to why blacks and Hispanics experience a higher incidence of knowing a gunshot victim, and potentially being one themselves. It’s thought that socioeconomic determinants, and the availability of firearms are factors that place these minority groups at a higher risk. Research tells us that racial/ ethnic minorities are experiencing the trauma of gun violence to such an extent that their ability to cope is compromised These stressful and traumatic events contribute to mental states and overall quality of life that is disrupted by emotional changes, and those are passed on through generations (Mitchell, 2019). In addition to racial minority groups facing increased risk of victimization, males are at risk as well. Studies have found that men completed 87% of the firearm suicides in 1998 and had a firearm suicide rate more than 6 times the rate for women in the same year (Augustine, 2013). This might correlate with evidence that relates masculinity to the cultural significance in owning a gun. Men are more likely to be gunshot victims because they are more likely to be in proximity of a gun. Though there is still much to be learned about gun violence trends, there is evidence supporting potential theories as to why gun violence continues to persist as a social issue in the U.S.

Works Cited

  1. Augustine J. Kposowa, Association of suicide rates, gun ownership, conservatism and individual suicide risk, Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 10.1007/s00127-013-0664-4, 48, 9, (1467-1479), (2013).
  2. Felson RB, Berg MT, Rogers ML. Bring a gun to a gunfight: Armed adversaries and violence across nations. Social Science Research. 2014;47:79-90.
  3. Grinshteyn, E., & Hemenway, D. (2019). Violent death rates in the US compared to those of the other high-income countries, 2015. Preventive Medicine: An International Journal Devoted to Practice and Theory, 123, 20–26.
  4. Kalesan, B., Weinberg, J., & Galea, S. (2016). Gun violence in Americans’ social network during their lifetime. Preventive Medicine: An International Journal Devoted to Practice and Theory, 93, 53–56.
  5. Mitchell, Yolanda T, and Tiffany M Bromfield. “Gun Violence and the Minority Experience: NCFR.” Gun Violence and the Minority Experience | National Council on Family Relations, NFCR, 10 Jan. 2019.
  6. Osborne, G. B. (2010, June). Taylor, Jimmy D. American gun culture: collectors, shows, and the story of the gun. CHOICE: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, 47(10), 2022.
  7. Papachristos, A. andrew. papachristos@yale. ed., Braga, A., & Hureau, D. (2012). Social Networks and the Risk of Gunshot Injury. Journal of Urban Health, 89(6), 992–1003.
  8. Yamane, D. (2017). The sociology of U.S. gun culture. Sociology Compass, (7).

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