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Want to know why we can’t make any progress on the guns debate? Because this isn’t a debate over policy. It’s a debate over identity.
After last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I remembered a book Evan Osnos recommended on this show, called Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline by Jennifer Carlson.
Carlson, a sociologist, realized that her discipline had missed a major social transformation: that Americans weren’t just buying guns for hunting or home protection. Guns had become part of their everyday lives, structuring how they saw the world, their country, and their role in it. And so she dove deep into the experiences of gun carriers in Michigan, becoming a gun carrier and even certified instructor herself, examining how the NRA’s training programs construct new models of citizenship, and digging into how gun ownership interacts with race, gender, and class.
I don’t believe that empathy alone offers a way forward in the guns debate. But I do believe that understanding the identities at play here — both among those who own guns and those who want to see gun ownership restricted — is the only way to have a debate that makes sense. This conversation helped me, at least, see those identities much more clearly.
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