Rights, Revolvers, and Reforms: Guns and Gun Culture in America

There are over 400 million guns in the US, more guns than people: 40% of the world’s guns in a nation with 5% of its population. The US also has more gun-related deaths than any other comparably developed nation. And still, gun sales are rising. Over 4 million guns were purchased during the first few months of the pandemic alone, 40% of which were new gun owners. Of these new gun owners, 40% were women, 58% were Black, and many were politically left-of-center. And most of these new gun owners are buying firearms as an answer to feelings of insecurity.

What is the history of gun culture in the United States and how did it develop? What role did the gun play in the colonization of the West? Who benefits and who loses in contemporary interpretations of the Second Amendment’s “right of the people to have and bear arms?” How do ideas of gender, race, class, and sexuality formulate popular understandings of “good guys” and “bad guys” with guns? Through considering studies of history, law, public health, sociology, criminology, and journalism, this class will explore the historical roots, contemporary trends, political and social implications, and ideological dimensions of gun ownership and use in the United States.