Changing the Gun Culture

America is awash in guns.  With a little over 4 percent of the world’s population, Americans own 42 percent of the world’s guns.  Gun purchases across the country have skyrocketed.  Restrictions on the carrying and permitting of firearms have eased in many states; making it almost commonplace in some areas to see people sporting handguns in holsters or rifles slung over shoulders.

America is awash in guns.  Which means there is a greater likelihood of guns getting into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them (so many of the recent mass shooters hadn’t yet reached the legal drinking age, or had a record of mental health challenges).  Which means there is an increasing risk of accidents by guns  (too many children are wounding or killing one another with unsecured weapons at home).  Which means that there is a strong profit incentive for gun manufacturers to make weapons that are more accurate, efficient and user friendly for people who are seeking to buy the latest model.

All of which means that more people die.  As reported in the New York Times, the incidence of death by guns is 33 per million people in the United States.  In Canada the rate is 5 per million; and in the United Kingdom it is .7 per million inhabitants.

In the several podcasts I have done with gun rights owners, they bring a consistent message:  that the second amendment is under siege; that the media exploit and exaggerate the issue; that the mental health system in our country is woefully inadequate; that a correlation of certain data (which is usually challenged)  does not mean causation– and that most gun owners are highly disciplined in the storage and use of firearms; in short, that they are deeply committed to gun safety.

We invariably disagree on the second amendment, the media, mental health, and data– but I have found there is an opportunity to build on our mutually expressed interest in enhancing safety.  How to do that is a source of endless debate and, in some quarters, a fool’s errand.

What I have learned in my engagements with people in the gun rights arena is that there is, in fact, a gun culture.  A culture that goes back to the founding of the United States, and has continued unabated since.   Efforts to reform gun laws, ban assault weapons and restrict gun ownership is perceived to be an assault on the culture itself; which then causes the gun rights advocates to double down in their resistance.  As this happens, I find that more and more people in the gun violence prevention space become more indignant and intentional about erasing the gun culture.

Which won’t work.

Instead of trying to upend or even destroy culture, there is another way:  it is called the diffusion of innovation.  Introduced in 1962 in a book by the same name, Everett Rogers, then a professor of communication at Ohio State, suggested that changing a culture requires 18-21 percent of that culture who are committed to bring about lasting transformation.  Short of that level of support, the overriding culture swallows up the proposed change and the system reverts back to its original homeostasis.  He outlines a Bell curve:  moving from innovators (2.5%) to early adopters (13.5%) to early majority (34) to late majority (34% ) to laggards (16%).  Getting a slice of early majority is critical to effecting lasting change.Distribution.png

It is well known that the majority of people in the gun rights world are interested in gun reform, in enhancing gun safety.  But the laggards – led by the NRA, the National Shooting Sports Federation (NSSF) and others, have thwarted most every effort to change.

Those of us who live and operate in the gun violence prevention space can and should work for more sensible gun laws and restrict the manufacture of certain weapons.  But what is perhaps more important – and potentially more effective, is to encourage, support and guide people whose lives are embedded in one of the many gun cultures – Hollywood, hunters, gangs, target shooters, gun instructors, public safety officials (including the police), to join with innovators and early adopters to bring about change in the gun culture.   Those of us who live outside those many gun cultures would do well to tone down our arrogance, righteousness, and tendency to engaging in shaming – and acknowledge that gun cultures exist, that we can’t wish them away;  and instead to find opportunities to build relationships across the gun divide.  To help change the culture.




Whose Land is It?

A couple of weeks ago, I came across this passage from my daily reading:     “From the wilderness and the Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates,all the land of the Hittites, to the Great Sea in the west shall be your territory.   No one will be able...

Ep 12 – “The Church Cracked Open” with The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers

Amy shares about her journey of faith, path to ordination as an Episcopal priest, passion for and vocation of studying scripture, and the blessings and challenges she has experienced along the way.

Dealing With Fear

Tornados of fear are swirling around the world, many of them invading our psyches.  Wars in Ukraine and Gaza, not to mention Sudan and Myanmar; escalating climate change; unrelenting gun violence; immigration crises.  To my mind, the storms of fear are particularly...

The Different Layers of Campus Anger

I lived a block away from a campus protest that erupted in November, 1974.  I was a teaching fellow at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan, and the campus was about to be shut down in opposition to Gerald Ford’s visit to the city, the first time an American President...

Campus Protests: What We Bring to What We See

In the past week I have had several conversations with friends about our respective opinions on what is happening on college campuses across the country, as students have set up encampments to protest the war in Gaza and insist that their university divest any...

Passover and the Importance of Remembering and Honoring Pain

I write this post on the first day of Passover, an annual commemoration of the Exodus story, when the Israelites escaped their slavery in Egypt, traveled through the parted waters of the Red Sea, spent forty years in the Sinai wilderness, and crossed the Jordan River...

Cherry Blossoms and the Denial of Death

While Spring is officially on the calendar, it is still inching into southern New Hampshire, where I live.  Some daffodils are emerging, taking their time after a surprise snowstorm earlier this month.  This long wait for spring calls to mind my two-year sojourn in...

Scams: Preying on Vulnerability and Violating Trust

I fell for a scam last week.  My computer froze, a pop up alarm appeared and said needed to call Microsoft immediately to protect all that was stored on my desktop, lest foreign hackers steal my data, documents and identity.  The Microsoft number was prominently...

Easter: Breaking Through a Contraining System

He broke out.  He got up.  In faith Christians proclaim that Jesus rose from the grave:  Alleluia!  Christ is Risen.  What follows are hymns of praise, expressions of joy, a profusion of flowers – all offered to gatherings that are double the size of a normal Sunday...

Ep 11 – “Passion and Patience” with The Rev. Dr. Amy Peeler

Amy shares about her journey of faith, path to ordination as an Episcopal priest, passion for and vocation of studying scripture, and the blessings and challenges she has experienced along the way.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join my mailing list to receive the latest blog updates.

You have Successfully Subscribed!