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Gun culture in the United States

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Title: Gun culture in the United States  
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Gun culture in the United States

Visitors at a gun show

The term gun culture in the United States has historical and political connotations. The gun culture is a culture shared by people in the gun politics debate, generally those who advocate preserving gun rights and who are generally against more gun control. In the United States, the term is used sometimes to include gun advocates who are legitimate and legal owners and users of guns, using guns for self-defense, sporting uses, hunting, and recreational uses (target shooting).[1]


  • Origins 1
  • Terms of derision 2
    • Gun nut 2.1
    • Hoplophobe 2.2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Firearms became readily identifiable symbols of westward expansion.

In his 1970 article "America as a Gun Culture,"[2] historian Richard Hofstadter used the phrase "gun culture" to describe America's long-held affection for guns, embracing and celebrating the association of guns and America's heritage. In 1995, Robert Spitzer (political scientist) said that the modern American gun culture is founded on three factors: the proliferation of firearms since the earliest days of the nation, the connection between personal ownership of weapons and the country's revolutionary and frontier history, and the cultural mythology regarding the gun in the frontier and in modern life.[3]

American attitudes on gun ownership date back to the American Revolutionary War, and find an origin also in the hunting/sporting ethos, and the militia/frontier ethos that draw from the country's early history.[4]

Calamity Jane, notable pioneer frontierswoman and scout, at age 43. Photo by H.R. Locke.

The American hunting/sporting passion comes from a time when the United States was an agrarian, subsistence nation where hunting was a profession for some, an auxiliary source of food for some settlers, and also a deterrence to animal predators. A connection between shooting skills and survival among rural American men was in many cases a necessity and a 'rite of passage' for those entering manhood. Today, hunting survives as a central sentimental component of a gun culture as a way to control animal populations across the country, regardless of modern trends away from subsistence hunting and rural living.[4]

The militia/frontiersman spirit derives from an early American dependence on arms to protect themselves from foreign armies and hostile Native Americans. Survival depended upon everyone being capable of using a weapon. Prior to the American Revolution there was neither budget nor manpower nor government desire to maintain a full-time army. Therefore, the armed citizen-soldier carried the responsibility. Service in militia, including providing one's own ammunition and weapons, was mandatory for all men—just as registering for military service upon turning eighteen is today. Yet, as early as the 1790s, the mandatory universal militia duty gave way to voluntary militia units and a reliance on a regular army. Throughout the 19th century the institution of the civilian militia began to decline.[4]

Closely related to the militia tradition was the frontier tradition with the need for a means of self-protection closely associated with the nineteenth century westward expansion and the American frontier. There remains a powerful central elevation of the gun associated with the hunting/sporting and militia/frontier ethos among the American Gun Culture.[4] Though it has not been a necessary part of daily survival for over a century, generations of Americans have continued to embrace and glorify it as a living inheritance—a permanent element of the nation's style and culture.[5] In popular literature, frontier adventure was most famously told by James Fenimore Cooper, who is credited by Petri Liukkonen with creating the archetype of an 18th-century frontiersman through such novels as "The Last of the Mohicans" (1826) and "The Deerslayer" (1840).[6]

A handbill for Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World

In the late 19th century, cowboy and "Wild West" imagery entered the collective imagination. The first American female superstar, Annie Oakley, was a sharpshooter who toured the country starting in 1885, performing in Buffalo Bill's Wild West show. The cowboy archetype of individualist hero was established largely by Owen Wister in stories and novels, most notably The Virginian (1902), following close on the heels of Theodore Roosevelt's The Winning of the West (1889–1895), a history of the early frontier.[7][8][9] Cowboys were also popularized in turn of the 20th century cinema, notably through such early classics as The Great Train Robbery (1903) and A California Hold Up (1906) -- the most commercially successful film of the pre-nickelodeon era.[10]

Gangster films began appearing as early as 1910, but became popular only with the advent of sound in film in the 1930s. The genre was boosted by the events of the [11]

With the arrival of World War II, Hollywood produced many morale boosting movies, patriotic rallying cries that affirmed a sense of national purpose. The image of the lone cowboy was replaced in these combat films by stories that emphasized group efforts and the value of individual sacrifices for a larger cause, often featuring a group of men from diverse ethnic backgrounds who were thrown together, tested on the battlefield, and molded into a dedicated fighting unit.[12]

Guns frequently accompanied famous heroes and villains in late 20th-century American films, from the outlaws of Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and The Godfather (1972), to the fictitious law and order avengers like Dirty Harry (1971) and RoboCop (1987). In the 1970s, films portrayed fictitious and exaggerated characters, madmen ostensibly produced by the Vietnam War in films like Taxi Driver (1976) and Apocalypse Now (1979), while other films told stories of fictitious veterans who were supposedly victims of the war and in need of rehabilitation (Coming Home and The Deer Hunter, both 1978).[13] Many action films continue to celebrate the gun toting hero in fantastical settings. At the same time, the negative role of the gun in fictionalized modern urban violence has been explored in films like Boyz n the Hood (1991) and Menace 2 Society (1993).

Terms of derision

The terms that gun rights and gun control advocates use to refer to opponents are part of the larger topic of gun politics.

Gun nut

The term "gun nut" has been used to describe firearms enthusiasts who are deeply involved with the gun culture. It can have different connotations depending on how it is perceived and the intention of the person using it. To some gun owners, it is embraced affectionately, such as in the popular outdoors magazine Field and Stream which has a column called "The Gun Nut".[14] However to others it is regarded as a pejorative stereotype cast upon gun owners by anti-gun advocates as a means of implying that they are fanatical, exhibit abnormal behavior, or are a threat to the safety of others.[15][16][17][18][19] The term has additionally been used at times by some law enforcement agencies to describe a profile to categorize criminal suspects.[20][21]


Hoplophobe is a term generally used to describe gun control advocates. Hoplophobia is described as an "irrational aversion to firearms, as opposed to justified apprehension about those who may wield them."[22] It is sometimes used more generally to describe the "fear of guns"[23] or the "fear of armed citizens."[24]

See also


  1. ^ Gahman, L. Gun Rites: Hegemonic Masculinity and Neoliberal Ideology. Gender, Place, and Culture.
  2. ^ Hofstadter, Richard (October 1970). "America as a Gun Culture". American Heritage Magazine (American Heritage Publishing) 21 (6). Retrieved January 25, 2014. 
  3. ^ Spitzer, Robert J. (1995). The Politics of Gun Control. Chatham House Publishers. 
  4. ^ a b c d Spitzer, Robert J. (1995). The Politics of Gun Control. Chatham House.  
  5. ^ JERVIS ANDERSON, GUNS IN AMERICA 10 (1984), page 21
  6. ^ "James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)". Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  7. ^ "American Literature: Prose, MSN Encarta". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. 
  8. ^ "New Perspectives on the West: Theodore Roosevelt, PBS, 2001". 1919-01-06. Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  9. ^ Owen Wister (1860-1938)", Petri Liukkonen, Authors' Calendar, 2002""". Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  10. ^ Western Films", Tim Dirks, Filmsite, 1996-2007""". Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  11. ^ Crime and Gangster Films", Tim Dirks, Filmsite, 1996-2007""". Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  12. ^ Digital History, Steven Mintz. "Hollywood as History: Wartime Hollywood, Digital History". Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  13. ^ Digital History, Steven Mintz. "Hollywood as History: The "New" Hollywood, Digital History". Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  14. ^ The Gun Nut blog at Field & Stream
  15. ^ "Shoot-out Confirms Foreign View of America as 'Gun Nut' Country" by T.R. Reid, The Buffalo News, July 26, 1998
  16. ^ "Massacres Fail to Sway Gun Nuts and their Lobbyists" November 7, 1991, Press-Telegram (Long Beach, CA)
  17. ^ "Small steps on gun control" Los Angeles Times, June 17, 2007
  18. ^ "Gun nut fired over pics" by Jamie Pyatt, The Sun (UK)
  19. ^ "'Terror in Capitol' No Surprise to World" By T.R. Reid, Washington Post, July 26, 1998
  20. ^ " 'Gun nut' loses his jail sentence appeal" in Cambridge Evening News, July 12, 2007
  21. ^ "Pistol duel ended rampage" by Richard D. Walton and Tom Spalding, The Indianapolis Star, August 20, 2004
  22. ^ Cooper, Jeff (1990). To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth. Boulder, Colorado: Paladin Press. pp. 16–19.
  23. ^ Ninan; Dunlop (2006). Contemporary Diagnosis and Management of Anxiety Disorders. Pennsylvania: Handbooks in Health Care. p. 107. ISBN 1-931981-62-0. "Names of Some Phobias"
  24. ^ Kopel, David (2005). "The licensing of concealed handguns for lawful protection: support from five state Supreme Courts" (PDF). Albany Law Review 68 (2): p.305.

External links

  • "Gun Culture".  
  • Pilkington, Ed (10 January 2011). "US gun crime: death for sale". London:  
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