When I was a kid, which was back in the last Stone Age (the 1950’s), the only people who were allowed to carry handguns were cops and a few guys employed as ‘armed’ security guards. If you wanted to do anything with a gun other than use it for hunting, or just fooling around, you upped for the military, because that’s where you could spend all day shooting guns.
The earliest home movie of me was taken by my father on my 6th birthday. I was standing in front of my grandfather’s little grocery store in Rockaway Beach, Queens wearing the birthday present I had just received, which was a cowboy hat and matching belt and holster containing a plastic revolver - a toy version of the gun carried by Roy Rogers in the movies and on TV.
In this 8mm color home movie, I was standing on the sidewalk, twirling the gun with a big smile on my face. This was what it meant to be self-armed in the 1950’s; in other words, acting out a complete fantasy which had absolutely nothing to do with the why, where or when of carrying a self-defense gun.
I have just finished reading Angela Stroud’s book, Good Guys With Guns, The Appeal and Consequences of Concealed Carry. In 35 interviews of Texas residents who took the course required in Texas in order to walk around with a gun, she discovered that much of the fantasy which I acted out with my Roy Rogers six-gun outfit when I was a kid, continues to define the decision by many of the adults whom she met when she took her concealed-carry course.
However, there was or is one major difference between the fantasy which I acted out in front of my grandfather’s grocery store and the motivational thoughts of the concealed-carry population described by Professor Stroud (who teaches Sociology at Northland College) in her clever and though-provoking book; namely, the identity or the supposed identity of the people whose presence represents a threat that can be mitigated or vanquished by using a gun.
In my childhood, I acted out the pretend confrontation between myself and some bad guys like the bad guys I saw in cowboy movies like Shane. I must have gone to the RKO-Keiths’s movie theater in my neighborhood a dozen times to watch Alan Ladd pull out his gun and mow down Jack Palance.
The adults whom Angela Stroud met in her concealed-carry course, on the other hand, weren’t spending any time practicing their fast-draw techniques against some nasty, hired gun who was white, by the way. Professor Stroud’s classmates, as well as the instructors she met, in the main believe they need to carry a gun in order to respond to the possibility of an assault or some other crime about to be committed against them by someone who is black.
Here’s the prescient statement from Stroud’s book: “… my analysis suggests that danger is a social construction based largely on perceptions that are shaped by race, class, and gender rather than by an objective assessment of risk.” [p. 109] And of the three perceptual categories, her book clearly shows that the issue of race stands out above the other two issues in terms of generating the fears which motivate some of the adults among us to walk around carrying a gun.
If I have one caveat about this book which isn’t so much a criticism as simply a concern, it is the lack of comparative interviews with people who are also concerned about personal safety and threats of crime but decide to deal with such feelings by not arming themselves with a gun. Notwithstanding the fact that the number of concealed-carry licenses has gone up by a factor of five since such licensing became common beginning in the 1970’s, a majority of Americans do not see concealed-carry of handguns as an effective or necessary personal response to crime.
Is the concealed-carry population more sensitive to issues of crime and race than the population which doesn’t walk around with a gun the way I walked around with my Roy Rogers six-shooter outside of Grandpa’s store? Are there other factors, for example, geography or community culture, which may play determinant roles in how people make up their minds about whether they need to carry a gun?
Early in her narrative, Professor Stroud confronts one of the most persistent attitudes which circulates amongst the gun-carrying population, which is the idea that a gun is an ‘inanimate’ object no different from any other way which people might get killed. Whether it’s cars, or knives, or even swimming pools, the end result is the same. [p. 23.]
This is a very important argument because the whole issue of concealed-carry turns on whether guns make things better in terms of community safety, or make things worse.
The author of this timely book hits this nail squarely on its veritable head when she says that we can be sure of one thing: “more guns might only equal more guns.” [p. 46]
Perfect, just perfect. Thank you, Professor Stroud.