The term gun culture in the United States encompasses the behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs about firearms and their usage by civilians. Gun ownership in the United States is constitutionally protected by the United States Bill of Rights. Firearms are widely used in the United States for self-defense, hunting, and recreational uses, such as target shooting. Gun politics is polarized between advocates of gun rights, typically conservative, and those who support stricter gun control, usually progressive. The gun culture of the United States can be considered unique among developed countries in terms of number of firearms owned by civilians, permissive regulations, and high levels of gun violence.
The American hunting/sporting passion comes from a time when the United States was an agrarian, subsistence nation where hunting was a profession for some, an auxiliary source of food for some settlers, and also a deterrence to animal predators. A connection between shooting skills and survival among rural American men was in many cases a necessity and a ‘rite of passage’ for those entering manhood. Today, hunting survives as a central sentimental component of a gun culture as a way to control animal populations across the country, regardless of modern trends away from subsistence hunting and rural living.
The militia/frontiersman spirit derives from an early American dependence on arms to protect themselves from foreign armies and hostile Native Americans. Survival depended upon everyone being capable of using a weapon. Prior to the American Revolution there was neither budget nor manpower nor government desire to maintain a full-time army. Therefore, the armed citizen-soldier carried the responsibility. Service in militia, including providing one’s own ammunition and weapons, was mandatory for all men—just as registering for military service upon turning eighteen is today. Yet, as early as the 1790s, the mandatory universal militia duty gave way to voluntary militia units and a reliance on a regular army. Throughout the 19th century the institution of the civilian militia began to decline.
Closely related to the militia tradition was the frontier tradition with the need for a means of self-protection closely associated with the nineteenth century westward expansion and the American frontier. There remains a powerful central elevation of the gun associated with the hunting/sporting and militia/frontier ethos among the American Gun Culture. Though it has not been a necessary part of daily survival for over a century, generations of Americans have continued to embrace and glorify it as a living inheritance—a permanent element of the nation’s style and culture. In popular literature, frontier adventure was most famously told by James Fenimore Cooper, who is credited by Petri Liukkonen with creating the archetype of an 18th-century frontiersman through such novels as “The Last of the Mohicans” (1826) and “The Deerslayer” (1840).
Political and cultural theories
Gun culture and its effects have been at the center of major debates in the US’s public sphere for decades. In his 1970 article “America as a Gun Culture,” historian Richard Hofstadter used the phrase “gun culture” to describe America’s long-held affection for guns, embracing and celebrating the association of guns and America’s heritage. He also noted that the US “is the only industrial nation in which the possession of rifles, shotguns, and handguns is lawfully prevalent among large numbers of its population”. In 1995, political scientist Robert Spitzer said that the modern American gun culture is founded on three factors: the proliferation of firearms since the earliest days of the nation, the connection between personal ownership of weapons and the country’s revolutionary and frontier history, and the cultural mythology regarding the gun in the frontier and in modern life. In cultural studies, U.S. gun culture has been associated with “individualistic narratives of self-reliance, security, protection, and defence,” and broadly linked with “settler colonialism, whiteness, heteronormativity, enabledness, and nationalism.
The terms that gun rights and gun control advocates use to refer to opponents are part of the larger topic of gun politics. The term “gun nut” has been used to describe firearms enthusiasts who are deeply involved with the gun culture. It is regarded as a pejorative stereotype cast upon gun owners by anti-gun advocates as a means of implying that they are fanatical, exhibit abnormal behavior, or are a threat to the safety of others. The term has additionally been used at times by some law enforcement agencies to describe a profile to categorize criminal suspects. Some gun owners embrace the term affectionately. Hoplophobia is a political term used to describe an “irrational aversion to firearms, as opposed to justified apprehension about those who may wield them.