Update 14 June 2017: Re-releasing this Gun Control Podcast from 2015 as the stories break on Alexandria and the San Francisco UPS. I support gun control and a ban on the weapons used in today’s shootings.
I recorded this gun control podcast October 2015 for a Natalia Reagan project titled “Science for Social Change.” At the time, the gun control podcast responded to the campus shootings and laws permitting concealed carry on campus. Reagan’s project was postponed. I released the gun control podcast in the light of ongoing mass shootings. This gun control podcast is part of a series on gun control. There are links after each question as well as links to the complete series at the end of the post.
1. Why do you think America is more gun obsessed compared to other first world nations?For this answer I draw on analysis from Gun Violence: New Guns or New Gun Control? and conversations with anthropologist Daniel Lende. Regarding the issue of race and gun control laws, see The Slave-State Origins of Modern Gun Rights (thank you to Discuss White Privilege for the link).
2. How can anthropologists be of use in the gun control debate?I have long-running concerns about the public stereotyping of anthropology. I previously noted that arguments against gun control are “shoddy anthropology.” Some anthropologists also deploy a misguided notion of cultural relativism. On the issue of cultural relativism, Hugh Gusterson’s Making a Killing is worth reading. In the end, we need to seize the four field and comparative cultural strength of anthropology. Anthropologists are the best equipped to talk about gun control in a cross-cultural and historical perspective.
3. Are humans inherently violent? Do you think focusing on this idea that Americans have a “Culture of Violence” is oversimplifying human nature?In this answer I plug the very accessible War, Peace, and Human Nature: The Convergence of Evolutionary and Cultural Views. I revisit my first blog-post on the topic, Gun Culture and Anthropology on Culture. Brian Ferguson’s work is useful to debunk one of the most-cited anthropologists claiming a natural human tendency to violence. See History, explanation, and war among the Yanomami: A response to Chagnon’s Noble Savages.
4. Imagine if there were no guns in our country. What would you imagine America would be like?My proposal is not for a no-gun utopia. In this respect, the emphasis on access is similar to what Nicholas Kristof writes in On Guns, We’re Not Even Trying. I am still interested to investigate the feasibility of a Semi-Automatic Weapons Buyback. In fact as of 2015, 58% of Americans support a ban on semi-automatic weapons. However, a more feasible idea is to make gun regulation much more like automobile regulation. Just like automobiles, there should be Mandatory Gun Insurance:
Gun insurance would work very much like car insurance. You would need it to buy a gun, and the policy would have to include liability coverage in case that gun injures someone. If a gun owner has no accidents, his premiums go down. Someone who wants to “open carry” his weapon would pay more than someone who keeps it locked at home. Assault weapons would be more expensive to insure than hunting rifles because they they have a greater capacity to do harm. But it wouldn’t be government making these decisions, which would be unconstitutional–it would be insurance companies, competing with one another to keep premiums reasonable. (Jean Ann Esselink)
5. What are your thoughts about allowing concealed firearms on university campuses? As a professor, how does that make you feel?Schools and campuses can become targets for gun violence. These issues emerged in my first post-Newtown observations, Semi-Automatic Anthropology: Confronting Complexity, Anthropologically.
6. What do you think it will take to finally push through increased gun control legislation (i.e. more mass shootings, someone significant dying, etc.)? Will a gun control podcast help?Here I borrow from what Frank Rich wrote in December 2012:
So let’s see what happens when the circus folds its tent and we are back in the bitter winds of January, redirecting our attention to the Inauguration and the Super Bowl. By then, we may have a better idea as to whether this is actually a tipping point in the history of our enslavement to the gun culture, or whether it’s just another chapter in the modern history of America bingeing 24/7 on the pornography of other families’ grief, declaring “closure,” and then moving on. (America’s Other Original Sin)
The same words can equally well be applied to all of the high profile mass shootings since then. While the 2012 Newtown seemed like a possible tipping point, it now seems completely futile to suggest Congress will take up anything like gun control after a mass shooting. Here’s the New York Times from 19 January 2017:
“We’re beyond the place where Washington responds to mass shootings,” said Senator Chris Murphy, the Connecticut Democrat who led an angry filibuster a year ago demanding more than “unconscionable deafening silence” from Congress after the shock of the Orlando nightclub gun massacre. Similarly frustrated Democrats had staged a protest sit-in in the House, but this time they were muted about renewing the debate over the nation’s gun carnage.
But let’s not allow the issue to fade. Please share this Gun Control Podcast and bring some sanity to American gun violence.
Gun Control, Gun Reform, Gun Violence: The Series
This gun control podcast is the culmination in a series of linked blog-posts about the need for anthropology to directly address gun control and gun violence. The series includes:
- Shoddy Anthropology & Gun Control: Human Nature, Culture, History (March 2013) underscores how easily-debunked notions, or “shoddy anthropology” contributes to gun control inertia.
- Anthropology, Gun Reform, American Anthropological Association (January 2013) follows on the December 26 round-up, thanking the AAA for a statement on gun violence.
- Anthropology and Gun Violence: New Guns or New Gun Control? (December 31, 2012) is an account of how the Newtown massacre caused more gun buying than gun control.
- Gun Violence Anthropology: AAA and the NRA (December 26, 2012) was a round-up of anthropologists writing on gun control after Newtown and pleading for a gun violence statement from the American Anthropological Association.
- Semi-Automatic Anthropology: Confronting Complexity, Anthropologically (December 19, 2012) made the case that gun control is a relatively simple issue for anthropologists to address.
- Semi-Automatic Weapons Buyback – The Future of Gun Reform (December 18, 2012) was an attempt to urge a forward-looking policy in what seemed to be a moment of potential political change.
- Gun Culture and Anthropology on Culture (July 2012) began the series as a form of reflecting on the use of culture beyond anthropology.