Want to know why we can’t make any progress on the gun debate? Because this isn’t just a debate over policy. It’s a debate over people’s core identity — what it means to be a provider, a protector, a citizen, a man.
Jennifer Carlson is a sociologist at the University of Arizona and the author of Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline. The book emerged from an epiphany she had: Her discipline had missed a major social transformation. Americans weren’t just buying guns for hunting or home protection. Guns had become part of their everyday lives, structuring how they saw the world, their country, and their role in it.
So she dove deep into the experiences of gun carriers in Michigan, becoming a gun carrier and even a certified instructor herself, examining how the National Rifle Association’s training programs construct new models of citizenship, and digging into how gun ownership interacts with race, gender, economic decline, and class.
I don’t believe that empathy alone offers a way forward in the gun debate. But I do believe that understanding the identities at play here — among both those who own guns and those who want to see gun ownership restricted — is the only way to have a debate that makes sense. This conversation helped me, at least, see those identities much more clearly.