This article was original written for Key 64‘s Guns, Dope, and Fucking in the Streets PDF zine. I have no idea when the zine will see the light of day, so I’m running this here now.
If you have a fixed idea of what a “typical gun owner” looks like, the coffee table book Armed America may surprise you. If your main exposure to “gun culture” is the mainstream media, or magazines like the American Rifleman or Guns and Ammo, you could be forgiven for thinking all gun owners are rural, middle aged white men who dress in cammo and are desperately worried about protecting the families from gun toting “urban youth.” Armed America, a collection of photographs of gun owners by Kyle Cassidy, includes Montana survivalists and young urban black men, but also tattooed punk rockers, single moms, and American families who couldn’t look any more normal without being creepy.
It turns out, in the United States anyway, the typical gun owner could be just about anyone. According to the introduction of Armed America, 39% of the US population owns guns. Chances are, even if you did have a stereotype in mind for the “typical gun owner,” you actually know a few people who don’t fit the stereotype. Guess what? Those people aren’t the exception: they’re the rule.
So with such a large and diverse range of people owning guns, why is the gun culture – the magazines, shooting clubs, lobbying organizations, etc. – seemingly so homogeneous? Partially because most people who happen to own guns don’t make a lifestyle of it. Partially because some gun owners are quiet about it because they belong to communities that frown on firearms. Cassidy told ESPN.com “There was a guy in California I really wanted to photograph. He eventually declined. He said, ‘It’s like you’re asking me to pose with my pornography collection.’ It was something he just didn’t want to be known as owning.”
And partially because the established gun culture’s authoritarian and socially conservative agenda alienates many unapologetic gun owners. There are many proud gun owners interested in fighting for the 2nd amendment, promoting individual gun ownership, reading about guns, and socializing with other gun owners. Ostracized by the established gun culture, they are creating their own.
Take the Pink Pistols, for example. According to their web site they were established in 2000 to sponsor shooting courses for sexual minorities, and help them get concealed carry licenses. There are now 45 Pink Pistols chapters in the US (and one in Canada), and each group sponsors monthly shooting outings.
They even gained a bit of notoriety with a bizarre mention on Fox News. On the June 21, 2007 episode of the O’Reilly Factor, “gang expert” Rod Wheeler warns viewers of the “Pink Pistol-Packing Group” – a dangerous lesbian gang active all over the country. In an article on their web site, the Southern Poverty Law Center note that while Wheeler claims there are over 150 active lesbian gangs in the DC area alone, other crime experts say there are only 150 to 175 gangs TOTAL in the entire DC area. According to SPLC, Wheeler now claims he wasn’t referring to the law abiding, gun advocacy group known as the Pink Pistols, but to some other group using the same name (that no other law enforcement agency in the US seems to have ever heard of).
The alternative gun culture now has their own voice, a zine called The American Gun Culture Report. AGCR provides an alternative to culturally conservative, authoritarian gun magazines. In the introduction to the first issue, AGCR editor Ross Eliot writes “Supporters of censorship, unaccountable court systems, secret prison camps and torture have claimed gun rights as their private issue far too long. It’s time to take it away from them.” AGCR publishes views from the likes of socialists, libertarians, pagans, and queers – anyone alienated by the mainstream gun press.
The pages of AGCR feature articles on “unexpected gun owners” such as Eleanor Roosevelt, analysis of the political positions espoused by the mainstream gun press, accounts of discrimination at shooting clubs, impassioned defenses of gun ownership, and much more. Eliot, who describes himself as a “non-doctrinal socialist,” says he publishes many things he does not agree with. “I’m not the best writer or editor,” Eliot says, “But I’m putting together a magazine I want to read, which is why I’m not pushing a specific social agenda.”
The zine was conceived one day in mid-2005 when Eliot was reading an issue of Guns and Ammo in the break room of the factory he works in. He says the magazine was “pissing him off” and he decided it was time for an alternative. He’d never made a zine before, but “There was this huge void not being filled, so I figured I might as well fill it.” Ross published the first issue in 2006 and the second in 2007. Both are available from zine and book stores across the US, or from their web site.
Eliot bought his first gun, a Mossberg 12 gauge shot gun, in late 2004 because “I was feeling more and more socially irresponsible for not having a gun.” The Rwandan Genocide changed how he viewed social violence, he says. “It was the most effective genocide in recorded history, about a million people were killed in three months. There have been have been much larger genocides, but this happened with unprecedented speed, and it was done with machetes. One person with a gun could have made a difference.”
Surprisingly, Eliot has received no negative responses to the zine from the left, even though he distributes it at anti-war protests. “The only negative response is from the mainstream gun press and their audiences.”
Eliot says he hasn’t really considered writing for the mainstream gun press, citing the plight of writers like
Dean Spier Dean Speir who were blacklisted from the mainstream gun press after criticizing major advertisers. Instead, he’d rather grow AGCR to the point where it can compete with mainstream gun magazines.
Update/Correction 9/28/09: Dean Speir commented below correcting both the misspelling of his name and my description of him as “blacklisted.” The error is my own, and not Eliot’s. Speir writes:
It’s important to note that calling my absence from the “gunzines” a “blacklisting” isn’t really accurate.
I spent the better part of three years trying to get a gunzine byline, and discovered it was pretty much a closed shop.
Then I got my foot in the clubhouse, and everyone wanted whatever I could provide.
But once “inside,” it became apparent that, like the special interest ‘zines which appeal to the automotive, boating and photography hobby-ists, there was precious little critical writing being done.
And after 12-13 years of trying to get something other than “puffery” in the “mainstream gun press,” and with the advent of the Internet as a more direct conduit for free expression, I retired, bloody but unbowed.
Is there one published who wouldn’t touch my byline with a 12-foot Chechnyan? Absolutely! Harris (Combat Handguns) in NYC.
But I still get inquiries from other Editors wondering if I’m working on anything that might interest their readers.
For the past nine-plus years, whatever fit that category, is self-published at http://www.thegunzone.com, free of advertiser interference and nervous editorial oversight.
And competing with, or ignoring, the mainstream may be their only choice. The Pink Pistols actively try to build bridges with the established gun culture. The August 2001 issue of Guns and Ammo featured a short article about the Pink Pistols and concluded “Once again, maybe we need to shrug off the things that don’t affect shooting and gun rights and step up to the firing line with our fellow shooters.” Nearly seven years later, that hasn’t happened yet. Not that it matters much for the Pink Pistols or the American Gun Culture Report. They’ve proven they need no acceptance or approval from the mainstream to build successful communities.