Claire Boine is an expert on American gun culture. She defines it as the “social, durable, and layered pattern of cognitive and normative systems embodied in firearms as both artifacts and vehicles of that culture. Gun culture encompasses how both individuals and institutions consciously and unconsciously interact with firearms, through beliefs, thoughts, behaviors, social and legal norms, as well as the social structures they project onto them. It includes the social interactions elicited or transformed by the existence of firearms, as well as the reciprocal influences between individuals, groups, and institutions in regards to firearm ownership and use.”
There are multiple subcultures. The recreational one (“gun culture 1.0"), historically dominant, has been declining in the past few decades. The self-defense one (“gun culture 2.0”) has been rising continuously. There is a third subculture, which is very present in the media although only a minority of gun owners adhere to it: the insurrectionist subculture (“gun culture 3.0"), This cultural variation relies on the idea that all individual freedoms stem from gun ownership, and has in great part been popularized by the NRA. Gun culture 3.0 is associated with masculinity, the symbolic meanings projected onto guns, and the politicization of firearms.
Although firearm research sounds very controversial, there is actually an overwhelming consensus between gun owners and non gun owners on firearm policies. Claire's main finding is that this apparent stalemate relies on a gap between perceived and actual public opinion. In fact, most gun owners present in the media and at the state houses belong to a vocal minority associated with gun culture 3.0. In a survey of 2,000 gun owners, she and Dr Siegel found that the overwhelming majority of gun owners report that they are not typical gun owners, while a minority (8%) report they are typical. This contradiction comes from the disconnect between who gun owners actually are and their stereotype.
However, this misunderstanding can only persist because the majority of gun owners, who support firearm violence prevention policies, are remaining quiet about it. Dr Siegel found that gun owners are not speaking up because they are feeling alienated by initiatives that seem to disrespect gun culture.
Claire has since been working on communication and policy strategies to involve gun owners into firearm violence prevention. She has been individual interviews, leading focus groups, and a longitudinal survey.
In a report that Claire and Dr Siegel co-authored, they found that laws about who can buy guns work, laws about which guns you can buy don’t. With a roadmap for policy makers, they hope to help reduce firearm homicides in the U.S. by 36%.
Three priority pieces of legislation would have the greatest impact in reducing overall firearm homicide rates:
- Universal background checks.
- Prohibition of gun possession by people with a history of any violent misdemeanor, threatened violence, serious alcohol-related crime, or subject to a domestic violence restraining order. This must be accompanied by: (1) a requirement that firearms already in their possession be surrendered; (2) a procedure for confiscating guns if they are not relinquished voluntarily; and (3) procedures for confiscating guns in situations where a person becomes prohibited from owning firearms after having passed an earlier background check.
- Extreme risk protection order laws that allow removal of firearms from an individual who, after due process, is deemed to represent a threat to themselves or others
These legislations are also the one with the highest support from gun owners.
Find out the dominant gun culture in your state