Liberals generally think of Second Amendment types as gun crazies, intent on saving their rocket-launching M-16s at the cost of schoolchildren. And certainly the gun rights movement, in making ambiguous statements after tragedies like the Columbine massacre and the Virginia Tech shootings, does itself few favors. A new book gives a 360-degree look at the movement’s views, which give basis to opinions of others, like Vice President Joe Biden (during a debate as he campaigned for President), who think some gun rights supporters need professional help.
Scott Melzer’s Gun Crusaders: The NRA’s Culture War (New York University Press, 2009) offers one of the best contemporary subcultural studies available, about the NRA or otherwise. His study, the result of numerous interviews with NRA hard-core and general-support membership, is unlikely to change progressive or conservative perceptions of the organization or its participants. However, his excursions into this alternate universe, where gun control is seen as a left-wing culture war salvo in a crumbling society, are eye-opening explanations of the severity of these social schisms.
Melzer conducted research at NRA events, finding interviewees among the true believers, as those who stood by the NRA on all issues and actively supported the group, to casual supporters, who attended an event because it was in the area, but might differ on some NRA topics. His subjects, by the author’s admission, were overwhelmingly white, male and conservative; he chalks this up to the NRA’s base (at one point, Melzer recalls being able to count the number of people of color among an attendance of thousands on just two hands). What brings them together is a unified vision of the world, one in which each is called on to save America from threats foreign and domestic. Such a vision is almost apocalyptic in its fear and seriousness, and must be acknowledged in the political discourse today.
Most fascinating here are Melzer’s interviews, which paint a picture of white male views of American status, race and equality. Amid fundamental changes in the country, from immigration to global power shifts to Affirmative Action to feminism to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered rights, the power, status, values and identities of white, heterosexual, middle-class men is seen as under attack. Melzer points out many interviewees see themselves as victims of liberal culture, marginalized second-class citizens who now come together as patriots, defending the last vestiges of individual rights and constitutional freedoms.
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