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Anthro, Gun Ownership & Storms in the Blogosphere

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Written by Ashkuff

Quick rundown. First, I'd like to introduce myself and my biases. Then, as an anthropologist that grew up around firearms, I'd like to address some misconceptions in anthro's blogosphere. Lastly, some notes on AAA's statement about gun control.

Me and My Biases
Everybody in this conversation clearly has biases. I'd like to address my own upfront, for reflexivity's sake.

I'm from Florida, and I've earned a Floridian-issue Concealed Weapon or Firearm License. I grew up near firearms, have firearm training, and feel relatively comfortable with firearms. Especially revolvers. Semi-autos aren't my thing. I regularly attend gun shows with my friends. I've been threatened with firearms, but never injured by them. Most of my injuries come from unarmed violence and sports. I once belonged to the NRA. Despite all this, however, I don't consider myself deeply involved in gun culture.

Broadly, I'm comfortable with arms control, but I take my rights seriously and want to see things done Constitutionally. From this point forward, know that I'm offering strictly personal insights as an anthropologist raised around firearms.

2nd Amendment Rights as "Explicit Culture"
Although some anthro blogs basically dismiss the 2nd Amendment as a standalone argument, I encourage others to understand it as a keystone of America's explicit culture. That is, "the culture that people can talk about and of which they are aware." (Spradley & McCurdy, 2006)

Handwritten by the US' founding fathers, the Constitution provides the foundation for all American legislation. Indeed, our courts regularly review legislation, and simply dismiss any that appears "unconstitutional." I'd wager that (an admittedly sometimes vague) awareness of Constitutional rights represents one of the few things that most Americans share in common. Not uncommonly, the Constitution shapes citizens' personal values and behavior.

Within the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights explicitly lists ten things our government cannot do to its People. The second thing on this list, the 2nd Amendment, reads "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

Recently, our courts reviewed and clarified the scope of the 2nd Amendment. District of Columbia v. Heller, 2008, concluded that the right to keep and bear arms extends to private citizens, not just militias in action; note that, historically, militias often consisted of private citizens wielding personally owned weapons. McDonald v. Chicago, 2010, concluded that the 2nd Amendment protects citizens from state legislation, as well as federal legislation.

Indeed, the keeping and bearing of arms are explicit American rights, nearly old as the nation itself, and recently reinforced by our courts. Therefore, gun-owners often feel frustrated when asked to defend gun-ownership; rather, they expect gun control advocates to justify infringement on their rights.

"Othering" Gun-Owners
In freshman year of anthro school, professors warned me against Othering my research subjects - that is, describing them like alien creatures. Mainly for fear of encouraging stereotypes and divisiveness.

Of course, I'm not a perfect anthropologist, and I still Other on my blog sometimes, but I meet just criticism if I push it too far.

Likewise, I challenge anthro blogs to stop Othering gun ownership as sexually fetishistic, akin to street gangs, and something to be "colluded with."

Tyranny, Revolt, and Social Feedback Cycles
In chatrooms, I've heard anthropologists describe gun-owners' desire to maintain arms against a hypothetical future tyranny. Which, out of context, makes them sound paranoid.

Admittedly, though most gun-owners I know shoot for self-defense, sport, or duty, plenty believe the framers wrote the 2nd Amendment so The People could revolt.

In earnest, however, I usually only hear this talk when the government actively considers infringing 2nd Amendment rights! This creates social feedback cycles, wherein (1) offended gun-owners idly discuss armed revolt, which (2) scares gun control lobbyists and causes them to push for more gun control, which (3) offends gun-owners and causes them to idly discuss armed revolt.

Malinowski, Context-of-Situation, and the 2nd Amendment
I've received emails from anthropologists critiquing the 2nd Amendment's context-of-situation. That is, a bygone century of untamed frontier, revolution, and modest firepower. Since then, has the 2nd Amendment become outdated?

Malinowski's ghost and I appreciate this angle!

Firstly, it's entirely possible that the 2nd Amendment has become outdated. Conveniently, the founding fathers anticipated social change, and they drafted a Constitution that could be amended! If the Constitution has become outdated or insufficient, the gun-owners I know describe a patriotic duty to amend it, rather than treading on it.

Secondly, we defend outdated Constitutional rights all the time! For example, in their historical context, the 1st Amendment and freedom-of-speech had nothing to do with today's communication technologies. Leastwise the internet. Worse yet, the internet grants sexual predators, stalkers, and common bullies means to violence unimaginable until recently. Rioters have organized and toppled governments via Twitter. Yet, anthro blogs vigorously defend freedom-of-speech online, even when it might threaten national security.

Gun-owners sometimes wonder aloud why anybody would defend 2nd Amendment rights differently than 1st Amendment rights. (Early hypothesis: perhaps because academics and journalists exercise freedom-of-speech more often than keeping-and-bearing arms?)

Gun control as a "reasonable" safety precaution.
While describing gun control legislation, anthro bloggers sometimes throw around subjectivities like "reason" and "reasonable." (Note: reasonable ≠ logical.)

Put bluntly, merely sounding reasonable isn't enough to infringe anybody's Constitutional rights. That's why they're called rights.

Otherwise, our government could reason away its citizens' rights and force them into internment camps. In fact, we already have. Following Korematsu vs United States (1944,) Justice Robert Jackson described our internment of Japanese-Americans as "reasonably necessary from a military viewpoint." Although the 5th Amendment protects our rights to liberty, property, and due process, the court nonetheless allowed for internment, mainly because "pressing public necessity may sometimes justify the existence of such restrictions." (BLACK, J., Opinion of the Court)

Over 100,000 Americans lost their rights and had their lives uprooted. Since then, our Justice Department released a Confession of Error, describing the internment as a "mistake" in the history of civil rights. Regardless, it all sounded reasonable at the time.

Given anthropology's history of socio-political destructiveness, I'm saddened to meet anthropologists who haven't conducted field research, but remain so quick to reason away peoples' established rights.

Emulating Australian and British Semi-Auto Bans
I've read anthro blogs encouraging America to emulate the Australian and British semi-automatic bans, which are said to have reduced shooting rates.

For starters, I hope anthropologists realize that Australia and Britain are politically and culturally distinct from America.

Furthermore, research suggests these bans didn't correlate with significant reductions in homicide frequency, and in some cases, actually correlated with rises in violent crime. (Malcolm, 2006) (Brookings Institute, 2003) (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2008) The gun-owners I know perceive this as institutionally exchanging one form of homicide for another, and aren't apt to surrender their firearms as violence persists around them. Especially so for the elderly, disabled, and frail - who lack the luxuries of fleeing and fistfighting.

In Conclusion
In conclusion I'd like to repeat that, as an anthropologist raised around firearms, I'm comfortable with arms control. I'd just like to see it done Constitutionally and in accordance with the rights of The People; that means perhaps an amendment updating the Constitutional definition of "arms," rather than poorly informed patchwork legislation. Also, misconceptions about firearms, and the people who own them, clearly persist throughout anthropology's blogosphere. Therefore, I'd like to express my support for the American Anthropological Association's statement on gun policy, which calls for more research. Good legislation comes from good information, and good information comes from good research. We need to establish goals, set hard deadlines, hit the field, and find answers soon.

--- Ashkuff | www.ashkuff.com | How to use anthropology, in business and ADVENTURE!!!!