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Clinging to their Guns? The New Politics of Gun Carry in Everyday Life

  • Author(s): Carlson, Jennifer
  • Advisor(s): Ray, Raka
  • et al.
Abstract

Alongside a series of high-profile massacres over the past decade, Americans continue to turn to guns as the solution to, rather than the cause of, violent crime. Since the 1970s, most US states have significantly loosened restrictions on gun carrying for self-defense, and today, over 8 million Americans hold permits to carry guns concealed. Contrary to popular images of gun culture, this is not a white-only affair: in Michigan, whites and African Americans are licensed to carry guns at roughly the same rate. And while women are licensed at rates far lower than men, their numbers are increasing. This dissertation presents an in-depth analysis of the new politics of concealed carry and asks: Why do Americans not just own guns but also carry them? What role does the NRA play

in enabling people to carry guns? And finally, how do different kinds of gun carriers enact the model of citizenship advocated by the NRA?

Through intensive ethnographic fieldwork and interviews with gun carriers and pro-gun advocates in the Metro Detroit area, it shows how suspicion of the state's power to police, combined with the embodied practice of gun carry, sustains a new politics of policing, crime and insecurity. Situating the appeal of guns in contexts of neoliberal decline facing Michigan, this book analyzes how, with the help of required NRA training, gun carry becomes an embodied, everyday practice through which gun carriers embrace a moral duty to protect not only oneself but also others (usually family, but sometimes strangers). I show how this moral duty is enacted differently by different groups of gun carriers: while all of the gun carriers I interviewed turned to guns to supplement what they viewed as inadequate police protection, gun carriers of color also mobilized gun rights as a way to defend against police abuse and assert their political rights, echoing the anti-statist position of groups such as the Black Panthers. Meanwhile, male gun carriers embraced their duty to protect self and others as a way to assert their social relevance as male protectors amid their declining status as breadwinners, while female gun carriers tended to emphasize their individual right to self-defense as an act of empowerment.

Overall, this dissertation argues that for pro-gun Americans, the carrying of guns is a means of practicing good citizenship amid perceptions of social disorder. This understanding of American gun politics helps to clarify both why Americans so vociferously 'cling to their guns' as practical and symbolical tools of policing, and it also sheds light on the NRA's hidden power as the primary organization that trains and certifies Americans to carry guns.

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