Both gun rights and gun control advocates have emotional connections and reactions to firearms. Both sides characterize the other side as fearful and too emotional, even using similar language. The film includes the many themes that cut across ideological positions.
Firearms are unlike other tools. They often represent deeper social connections and often cannot be separated from the American narrative. For many, firearms are symbols of personal identity and community, even representing what it means to be an real American. To others, they are a symbolic of racial oppression and violence.
Industrial Revolution and Marketing
In the 19th century, the manufacture of firearms was the first application of interchanging parts, resulting in more supply than demand. Once armies around the world were supplied, American firearms companies used large marketing budgets to create a domestic market. In 1920, for example, Winchester Repeating Arms Company spent over $1 million on advertising, using themes connecting firearms with masculinity, personal home defense, and even protection from highway bandits. That level of marketing continues today.
Mythology, Popular Culture and Hollywood
Through the imagery of Hollywood, history was re-created and an American identity, wedded to the gun, was manufactured. People understand their place in the world through storytelling. It’s also how culture is passed on to the next generation. From Hollywood, the stories of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood epitomized the rugged individual, the frontiersman, the lawman, the iconic American. These on-screen characters taught generations of boys how to be “real men”.
The current period of economic, political and social change, including the loss of blue collar jobs, the first Black president, and the rise of the #Metoo movement, has resulted in an identity crisis for many Americans. The traditional stories of how to be successful no longer reflect reality. Many look to the iconic images of what it means to be an American and find it in the stories of the frontiersmen and the gunslingers of the Old West.
With a shifting economic system, many people leave their community behind for better opportunities. As a result, traditional communities are collapsing. In fact, the gun is often a tool used to reestablish community. Through interviews and public statements, it becomes clear that the focus on the gun in the debate about reducing gun violence is a mistake. The film looks at three organizations, The Minutemen Project, A Girl and A Gun, and the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, that use the object to create a sense of community.
Suicide, Homicide, Domestic Violence
Public mass shootings get intense media coverage, but the vast majority of gun deaths take place without notice. Suicide and domestic violence are the sources of the vast majority of gun-related deaths among White people. For African Americans, homicide in poor urban neighborhoods is most common.
Fear and Democracy
Most gun owners today report having firearms for self-defense, as opposed to hunting (Gallup). However, FBI reports show that outside of inner-cities (particularly Baltimore, Chicago, and Houston) the murder rate today is half the rate it was at its peak in 1991. Yet people are afraid and are buying guns. Because democracy requires discussion, many philosophers question whether an armed society discourages open debate.