Introduction to “In The Crosshairs,” an interdisciplinary blog about U.S. firearm violence and the social landscape and inequalities that make it so difficult to eradicate. I’m a historian who studies the enduring power structures that render particular populations more at-risk for homicide, suicide, and injuries involving firearms. I’ve long been fascinated with our national obsession with and investment in firearms – our unique “gun culture” – alongside an on-going, largely unsuccessful struggle to mitigate what some have called an epidemic of gun violence. Like so many at the forefront of gun violence research and resistance, I frame gun violence as a public health issue, meaning that firearms and their frequent misuse result in devastating health consequences for thousands of Americans each year. According to the Gun Violence Archive, 2020 was our deadliest year to date, with over 43,500 gun related deaths, of which roughly two-thirds were suicides. Compare these alarming statistics to 2019, in which we witnessed 39,389 gun deaths, 23,941 of them suicides, and it’s clear that the problem of gun violence is not going away.
Rage-fueled appeals to women’s armed empowerment drive a market in civilian-owned firearms and related commodities while fortifying deregulatory gun policy. Drawing from Achille Mbembe’s (2003) concept of necropolitics, I unpack the intersecting racial and gender logics of women’s armed response to patriarchal violence as a means by which the state “attribute[s] rational objectives to the very act of killing.” In spite of its facial appeals to all women’s empowerment, the “good woman with a gun” remains an exclusionary trope that neutralizes women’s rage in the service of deregulatory governance and the efficient, cost-effective outsourcing of state violence. The emphasis on stranger danger masks the number-one threat to women’s safety—their own male acquaintances and intimate partners— while effacing the disproportionate impact of structural violence on Black, Brown, and Indigenous women and girls.
Today’s radically sovereign Armed Citizen®—a commodity fetish trademarked by the NRA—derives his representational and ethical power from fantasies of self-defensive heroism rooted in historical distortions that obscure the traces of armed settler colonialist violence and racial capitalism. Such historical “overdose” flattens anti-racist civil rights activism, making us “complaisant hostages” of a selective memory that serves self-destructive, necropolitical structures today.
This essay represents an effort to uncover the dynamics of reverse victimhood on which law-abiding citizenship rests, a dialectic of white masculine vulnerability and disenfranchisement, while “Black people [signify] terror’s embodiment.” I explore the ways in which implicitly racialized and gendered perceptions of terror mobilize state action in the service of expanding the right to carry lethal weaponry for those perceived as law-abiding citizens. The state’s invocation of natural disasters as “states of exception” necessitates the expansion of DIY Security Citizenship, the spread of neoliberalized self-care in the absence of state protection, and the deputization of the “law-abiding citizens” to protect property from racialized and gendered figures of perceived “stranger danger.” This project examines the dismal underside of American exceptionalism, the facilitating apparatuses of our nation’s exclusionary nationalism, and the pernicious historical amnesias on which they’re based.
Based on my review of Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz's recent publication Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, this essay interrogates the historical silences implicated in contemporary appeals to gendered and raced "Armed Citizenship."
In the aftermath of the Parkland school shooting of February 14, 2018, scholar Danielle McGuire invited historians on Twitter to propose readings that would provide resources for gun control activists. In response, Public Books reached out to scholars Caroline Light and Lindsay Livingston to develop a Gun Studies Syllabus.
There are an estimated 310 million firearms in the United States today—more than one gun per person—and while the US comprises about 5 percent of the world’s population, its inhabitants possess over 40 percent of the world’s guns. The US also experiences more gun deaths than any economically comparable nation: more than 38,600 in 2016, with nearly two-thirds of them suicides. How did the nation get here, and what is it doing to prevent gun violence? To answer these questions, this syllabus provides an interdisciplinary introduction to America’s unique “gun culture.”
Stand Your Ground explores the development of the American right to self-defense and reveals how the original “duty to retreat” from threat was transformed into a selective right to kill. In her rigorous genealogy, Light traces white America’s attachment to racialized, lethal self-defense by unearthing its complex legal and social histories—from the original “castle laws” of the 1600s, which gave white men the right to protect their homes, to the brutal lynching of “criminal” Black bodies during the Jim Crow era and the radicalization of the NRA as it transitioned from a sporting organization to one of our country’s most powerful lobbying forces.
“It has ever been the boast of the Jewish people, that they support their own poor,” declared Kentucky attorney Benjamin Franklin Jonas in 1856. “Their reasons are partly founded in religious necessity, and partly in that pride of race and character which has supported them through so many ages of trial and vicissitude.” In That Pride of Race and Character, Caroline E. Light examines the American Jewish tradition of benevolence and charity and explores its southern roots.
Light provides a critical analysis of benevolence as it was inflected by regional ideals of race and gender, showing how a southern Jewish benevolent empire emerged in response to the combined pressures of post-Civil War devastation and the simultaneous influx of eastern European immigration. In an effort to combat the voices of anti-Semitism and nativism, established Jewish leaders developed a sophisticated and cutting-edge network of charities in the South to ensure that Jews took care of those considered “their own” while also proving themselves to be exemplary white citizens. Drawing from confidential case files and institutional records from various southern Jewish charities, the book relates how southern Jewish leaders and their immigrant clients negotiated the complexities of “fitting in” in a place and time of significant socio-political turbulence. Ultimately, the southern Jewish call to benevolence bore the particular imprint of the region’s racial mores and left behind a rich legacy.