What guns mean: the symbolic lives of firearms

This article presents an overview of the symbolic tensions underlying depictions of firearms and related violence. The essay frames central questions that deserve further questioning: What broader social and political contexts surround guns? How do narratives about gun rights or shooting trauma relate to broader scripts on topics such as identity, prejudice, racism, or nationalism?

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What do guns mean to individuals and communities when guns don’t fire bullets or cause fatal injuries? The document describes the disciplinary terrain required to address these issues, drawing on expertise in the social sciences, humanities and the arts.

Introduction
Academic gun research often focuses on gun-related injuries and deaths, and for good reason: getting shot has profound consequences in the real world. “Getting shot hurts,” President Ronald Reagan once said after surviving and attempting to assassinate. “No matter how much I breathed, I felt like I had less and less air. I concentrated on that tile roof and prayed ”(Reagan, 2016, p. 157).

Evidence suggests that shootings are increasing in correlation with the growing number of civilian-owned firearms. Scholars use words like “crisis” or “epidemic” to describe the staggering deadly costs of gun-related morbidity and mortality. A 2018 position paper from the American College of Physicians (Butkus et al., 2018) warned that “gun violence remains a public health crisis in the United States that requires immediate attention from the nation.” describing in detail the daily cost of gun violence “in neighborhoods, homes, workplaces, and public and private places across the country.”

Firearm-related injuries and deaths are a pressing problem that is increasingly manifesting throughout the world and often particularly in the United States, a country that has less than 5 percent of the world’s population but more than forty. percent of your civil property. pistols (Small Arms Survey, 2018).

However, solutions remain elusive. Gun advocates reject research that suggests political solutions to gun-related morbidity and mortality because of what they call a “tainted public health model” skewed against their interests (Faria, 2001). Pro-gun communities therefore encounter public health research in the context of a backlash against findings that highlight the risks of having too many guns or the hypothesis of gun policy failures (Gun Owners of America (2009); Lott, 2014; Hsieh, 2016), without addressing the broader contexts of gun ownership. Meanwhile, important public health organizations and medical groups denounce the lack of funding for weapons research and the silencer that gives knowledge (Metzl, 2018).

The result is an often predictable tug of war between the research community, on the one hand, and critics attacking anti-gun biases in academia, on the other. Policy-level approaches that aim to stem the tides of rising rates of firearm injuries and deaths, then struggle to develop strategies to bridge polarized political divisions over gun ownership and gun-related trauma. Additionally, weapons researchers often fail to communicate with people in communities where there are many weapons (Metzl, 2019).

Improving such communication requires understanding the complex valences that weapons accumulate for individuals and communities when these weapons do not fire or cause fatal injuries; in other words, focusing not only on death data, but also life data. For example, how do people in gun-dense regions narrate the role firearms play in their daily lives? Is it a pleasure to have a gun? What stories do people tell about their weapons? Why do some people feel they need guns in their homes or neighborhoods, while others reject them a priori?

Guns also invoke broader questions of politics. What broader social and political contexts surround guns? How do narratives about gun rights or shooting trauma relate to broader scripts on topics such as identity, prejudice, racism, or nationalism?

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