Previous Post
Next Post

Who invented the phrase “gun culture,” anyway? And what the hell does it mean? No one knows who used the phrase first, but it was popularized by a historian named Richard Hofstadter. Hofstadter [above] started his career as a typical Ivory-tower Communist, but he eventually drifted into mainstream academia, which is the far-left wing of American political thinking. He claimed that Americans have a special affection for firearms due to the association of guns with America’s revolutionary past and frontier heritage. Its sounds plausible, but was it true then, and is it true today?

Let’s start with today. Right now, in the Bronx, an immigrant bodega owner keeps a 9mm pistol to protect himself and his store from thugs that might rob him and take his life. Does he feel any cultural connection with the American Revolution? Unless he studied hard for his citizenship test, he doesn’t even know when it was. No insult intended to the bodega owner; he probably knows more about the Revolutionary War than the average American high school student.

Does a Pennsylvania hunter, stalking a big buck with his .30-30, look upon the bodega owner as his brother in arms? Not a chance. Does a California target shooter with her custom-tuned Wilson 1911feel any kinship with a Montana rancher who protects his livestock with a well-worn .223 “varmint” rifle? I am doubtful. Can the rancher relate to the eastern trap shooter and his ten thousand dollar engraved Beretta shotgun? I don’t think so.

Those individuals, all gun owners, have nothing in common. Their purposes for utilizing firearms are different. Their locations are different. Their gun choices are as different as chalk and cheese. Politically, they may as far apart as I am from, say, magoo. Yet they are all presumed by the left to be part of some mystical, magical and frightening gun culture. Like Hillary’s claim of a mysterious “vast right wing conspiracy” to bring down her philandering husband, it is absolutely rubbish.

Hofstadter’s theory of a culturally-based “love” of guns, which he believed is central to the American identity, has been taken as a matter of faith by the left. But don’t blame the left exclusively. The right bears just as much responsibility for this misperception.

The “cultural heritage” of guns has been aggressively promoted and marketed by the NRA and many gun manufacturers. So whether nor not Hofstadter was or is correct, the “us against them” battle lines have been drawn. It’s a cultural battle that’s as old as the nation and as American as cherry pie.

The first “gun control” laws were addressed exclusively to ownership of firearms by blacks, both free and slave. These laws became increasingly popular after Nat Turner’s Rebellion in 1831 and were adopted by every Southern state and some Northern ones as well.

The next round of laws attempted to prevent not open carry, but rather concealed carry, which was thought to be sneaky and indicative of a criminal mind. The real targets of Jacksonian-era gun controls were Easterners. With nothing to hide, Westerners, as honest and stalwart Americans, wore rough clothes and wore their guns in the open.

Easterners, caricatured as being garbed in suits and silk weskits, were slick and dishonest and carried their guns concealed. It was all ridiculous, of course. Henry Deringer, father of the eponymous concealed carry pistol, made his bones manufacturing Kentucky rifles. The first Deringer (one “r”) pistols were marketed as self-defense guns and adopted swiftly by the cavalry as a back-up weapon on the prairies and plains. If Easterners carried concealed pistols and secret sword-canes, it was because such implements were more suited to gentlemen’s fashions of the period.

The Westerners’ fear of untrustworthy Yankees was indicative of a cultural divide along geographic lines, not an animus toward firearms. It was based on mythology rather than fact.

The next round of gun control laws were focused exclusively on freed black slaves. From every record, it appears that freed slaves were more than content with leading productive lives as freemen, tilling the soil, raising crops and caring for their families. However, a lot of whites lived in the unreasonable fear of freed blacks arming themselves and taking revenge against their former tormentors. It was this racism that was the root cause of the Reconstruction Period of Second Amendment disenfranchisement of blacks. Naturally, whites retained all their gun rights.

New Yorkers, who customarily think of themselves as the most culturally enlightened of Americans, helped to initiate the next wave of gun control measures. New York’s “Sullivan Law” was aimed squarely at newly-arriving Italian immigrants, all of whom were presumed to be thieves, murders and members of the Black Hand. The same irrational and racist fear gripped Chicago and other big cities, where politicians demonized new arrivals and sought to disarm them. The gun rights of the establishment were retained. Sound familiar?

The “Federal Period” of gun control went into high gear with the National Firearms Act of 1934. Of all gun control measures ever enacted in the United States, the NFA is perhaps the only one that did not target any particular racial, regional or ethnic group. To that extent, the motivation of Congress may have been only to remove certain firearms from the hands of criminals. Was it laudable? Maybe, but the incorporation of local gun ownership into the definition of Interstate Commerce was one of many historic overreaches by the Roosevelt regime.

The process of federal intrusion based upon an expansive reading of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause accelerated with the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. From that point forward, the Federal government became the avowed enemy of guns, and the secret enemy of gun culture.

A turning point in the culture war began in 1985. When Florida took the lead in restoring gun rights to honest citizens, the crime rate in the Carjack & Cocaine Capital of the World began a precipitous and unabated drop. Other states, seeing the results of Florida’s successful experiment, followed suit. During the last twenty-five years, the American crime rate has dropped just as quickly as the “Right to Carry” has expanded into one jurisdiction after another. Cause and effect? Not so fast, my friend.

Any statistical cause-and-effect correlation between expanding gun rights and lowered crime rates might be suspect, because the outcome of studies – any studies, by the left or the right, on any subject — may depend on the bias of the statistician. However, it cannot be denied by anyone in his or her right mind that expanded gun rights have not led to a rising crime rate anywhere in the United States. Not in cities, nor in rural or suburban settings, nor on campuses. Nowhere.

Yet, the anti-gun politicians and those who make a living pursuing their agenda to destroy the gun culture continue to recycle the fears and trot out the prejudices that spurred the early gun control measures. No, I am not claiming that the anti-gun flacks hate blacks or Italians or other ethnic minorities. Nevertheless, I do maintain that the anti-gun forces are seeking to destroy what they perceive as the gun culture.

Gun owners are vilified as “gun loons.” People who aren’t from New York or Washington, D.C. are objects of scorn who “cling to their guns and religion.” The cultural libels go on and on.

Hofstadter’s vision of a gun culture, whether correct or incorrect, has no relationship to the perception of a gun culture today. In modern America, the gun is no longer part of historical iconography. There are no more cowboys. Gun owners are culturally diverse. And modern-day “revolutionaries” from Timothy McVeigh to William Ayers used bombs made from fertilizer.

The truth is that the right views the gun as a unique symbol of American culture, a symbol of American values and a symbol of the soul of the American nation. The dirty little secret is that the left does too, and they don’t like it.

The attack on gun owners has little to do with guns as guns and everything to do with the gun as a symbol of a detested culture that is distinctly American. So, it isn’t just gun rights that need to be defended. We are fighting against the left’s goal of obliterating American culture.

Previous Post
Next Post


  1. Succinct and spot on, well done Ralph. Is it me or does this Hofstadter fellow look like Don Knott’s long lost brother?

  2. Ralph, only since you dragged me into it, I will tell you straight: you are far too biased to the right to perform objective (which is to say useful) political analysis. In the U.S. there has always been a broad, vibrant spectrum of political thought and this stuff is like using only half your brain.

    You’ll never get Hofstadter right because you can’t hear him, don’t want to. Did he ever claim that gun culture was based solely or even primarily on revolutionary war ethos? No. You just sorta made that up in your head. Actually, he made the obvious point that firearms were woven into our national fabric, part of our frontier heritage… which is also the exact perspective of the NRA. (Hofstadter’s essay appeared in American Heritage magazine.) Since you ultimately acknowledge this to some degree, it would seem that Hofstadter appears in your piece mainly as a scarecrow.

    You write “‘Gun owners are vilified as “gun loons.’” No, the American public can easily recognize that there are gun owners and there are gun loons. I’m a gun owner. You guys are the gun loons. My gun-owning friends would be amazed and repulsed by the anti-social, essentially anti-American rants on display at TTAG every day — including yours, Ralph, where you routinely libel all police officers as thugs and all politicians as criminals. The cruelest indictment of your point of view does not come from the left. It’s in your own statements. You’ve marginalized yourself.

    This stuff will find agreement among people of like minds to yourself, namely gun loons, but submitted to the broad range of American thought, it will be dismissed as what it is: hopelessly slanted, fatally overheated, totally self-interested. You guys are talking to yourselves. The question is, can you even hear yourselves? Gun owners as victims of “cultural genocide”? Really?

    • Gun owners as victims of “cultural genocide”? Really?

      Since some are still making serious attempts to imprison us and to “educate” future generations that anyone like us belongs in prison – ayuh.

      y gun-owning friends would be amazed and repulsed by the anti-social, essentially anti-American rants on display at TTAG every day — including yours, Ralph, where you routinely libel all police officers as thugs and all politicians as criminals.

      Cops behave in the manner of thugs. Politicians act in the manner of criminals. These are not exceptions – these are the rules. How is it “anti-American” to point out that the people in positions of power are corrupt criminals? Seems to me that’s the defining element of “American” – the vocal dissent against power. Your subservience is not American – it’s British.

      • Well, there you are. So the cops are all thugs and the politicians are all criminals. Hmm. Take that message to the American people and see how it flies. Please understand: I am totally in favor of maximum bandwidth for your views. Then everyone can have a good look at them, and they will be sent back into the woodwork where they belong.

        This is all part of a grand tradition in American politics, but not with the founders and framers. This is the screwball and sorehead division. It’s always been around. It periodically pops to the surface in the national discourse, then sinks back out of view again. The overt issues change with the times, but the underlying elements are constant. Richard Hofstadter wrote a book about this, too. It’s called The Paranoid Style in American Politics. I can recommend it.

        • Take that message to the American people and see how it flies.

          I am the American people, or part there of. My views are shared in a wide variety of demographics, especially in the persecuted racial minorities and poor people. I remember quite clearly the first time I heard an upper middle class respectable white grandmother say “F the pigs” (she didn’t censor herself) and realized that the establishment is losing it’s support base.

          It’s called The Paranoid Style in American Politics. I can recommend it.

          I found it online. Like most examples of conspiracy denial there is no attempt to consider the evidence presented for the claims of conspiracy and instead there is a complex long winded strawman argument that goes to great lengths to portray those who talk about the truths of people in power as though they were lunatics. Classic means of discrediting those you wish to ignore. I do like that he mentions Frank Chodorov and his wonderful book “The Income Tax: The Root of All Evil”. I recommend that book and all others by Chodorov, I believe they are all available at

          • What conspiracy was Hofstadter denying?

            He denies several, most of which are conspiracy theory fodder, but he also denies the Communist takeover of this country. That one is exceptionally well documented as academics love to write down their thoughts and their plans in detail and at length.

    • The question is, can you even hear yourselves? Gun owners as victims of “cultural genocide”? Really?

      Not too long ago there were many British gun owners such as yourself who embraced “gun control”. Now they are arrested for possessing a fruit knife with fruit, and for saying mean words to their muggers, and for fighting back against the young hooligans who assault them and their attackers are free to keep roaming the streets. That would seem to be the precedent you wish to follow. WHY?

      • I am sure that you can provide some evidence of these claims. Beyond isolated incidents, that is.

        • I am sure that you can provide some evidence of these claims. Beyond isolated incidents, that is.

          Read the British newspapers for six months to a year. How many thousands of “isolated incidents” does it take to demonstrate a pattern of tyrannical government?

          • I read the BBC website daily, and have for years. Can’t say that I have read thousands of reports of British gun-owners having their weapons confiscated, or people being arrested for pen-knives.

            When I do read about a particular incident where something like that happened, it is usually a case of overzealous prosecution or public panic rather than an organized campaign.

            Maybe you are British and have access to more news sources than I do. Are you British?

            • I lived in the UK for 18 years. Take it from me, the guns are already gone. Well, except for the ones used by the criminals.

    • What makes you believe that you are somehow the arbiter of objective political opinion? Your post sounds distinctly like the pot calling the kettle black.

    • Magoo,

      I always end up cringing when reading your comments. It’s the undiluted arrogance on display. You open your comment with an attack on Ralph’s bias and dismiss his essay as useless analysis…because it doesn’t conform to your bias? You misdirect with your comment about the “broad, vibrant spectrum of political thought” and the accusation that “this stuff is like using only half your brain.” It’s a subtle insult I suppose, but ultimately founded in ignorance. Or do you contend that the broad, vibrant spectrum is held all of a piece in the minds of those who use their whole brains and only the half-brained fall in particular categories along that spectrum? I would think the spectrum is made up of many people holding many ideas from many perspectives, and as such Ralph is one of the multitude. It’s always an error in logic to believe in the homogeneous elite, and a presumption to include oneself in that homogeneity.

      You compound this by isolating all those who disagree with you on the loon side and yourself as a gun owner on the side of the American public. It’s the homogeneity thing again. The “American public” is not a monolithic entity that can be held to be in your camp. It’s back to that vibrant spectrum, a significant portion of that spectrum can be counted on to disagree with you on any given issue. And to be assured, they disagree with me as well.

      It’s worth noting that what you’ve written will find agreement among people of like minds to yourself, namely elitists, but submitted to the broad range of American thought…well, it’ll be part of the fabric of our public discourse, and of significant value as such. I think it might be difficult to claim the position of our entire culture as your own, however. No matter how many times you position yourself as the rational, intelligent, amusedly tolerant adult in the room.

      And if TTAG is talking to themselves, how have they engaged you?


      • Let me put it to you this way: Which is the better vantage point, a keyhole or a picture window? ‘

        What is your take on the proposition that gun control regulations are “genocide”? Would you say this claim might exhibit a certain narrowness of vision?

        • I certainly wouldn’t argue against a broader view, but that’s not what was being intimated. Being able to see the broader view does not preclude choosing the narrower political philosophy you agree with. And holding to a political philosophy does not negate your ability to see the broader view. It’s a disingenuous argument to imply otherwise.

          No, gun control regulations are not genocide. But, again, that’s not what was said. The argument was that they were cultural genocide. Is that hyperbole? Absolutely. It’s an accepted narrative technique. I think it’s perfectly appropriate to wonder what the effects on American culture would be if control advocates succeeded. And I think it’s perfectly appropriate to question whether some control advocates are interested in seeing American culture changed or destroyed, given the discourse to be found. I think it would be wildly inaccurate to say all control advocates are…anything.

          Broad generalizations are always subject to inaccuracies when we look closer at individuals. As is the broad view, if you never look at the details.


  3. No, I am not claiming that the anti-gun flacks hate blacks or Italians or other ethnic minorities.

    I am. They (liberals) live in large, ethnically diverse cities. They are terrified of the neighbors but refuse to take personal responsibility for the safety of themselves and their families.

  4. Leftists always hate their own traditions and cultures and wish to obliterate them. This is universal. In Spain and Latin America, leftists decry bullfighting. In Korea, they decry eating dog meat. In– but I could go on and on, couldn’t I?

    They’re nihilistic spoiled children who spend the rest of their lives trying to get even with Daddy for not buying them a pony when they were nine years old. They want to see the world burn.

  5. Why does the “left” want to “destroy” the gun culture? For some, it may be a culture war motive. However, for the vast majority, it is simply that advocacy organizations against gun rights are respectful to the values of those on the left. In doing so, they are able to manipulate the fears that most honest Americans tend to have of things that they do not understand. Since most progressives living in cities do not have a knowledge of or exposure to guns outside of crime and “nutty right-wingers” that they see on tv (people bringing ARs to presidential events and talking about Second Amendment remedies to policies they dislike), their fears are easily exploited by anti-gun advocates. Why does the right show such utter disrespect to things that the left holds dear?

    The political environment for the foreseeable future prevents the anti-gun activist minority of the left from taking any action against gun rights beyond the state level. Progressives have an extremely wide range of issues that are of far greater importance to them. However, in order to ensure the long-term safety of Second Amendment rights, the right needs to stop using gun rights as a culture war wedge issue. Maybe the right doesn’t really care about gun rights as much as they say, but rather use it in order to ensure that wide swaths of rural white america keep voting (R) all the way down the ticket. Maybe we as gun rights advocates can try to use language that is respectful of liberal Americans. Maybe we can reach out to them and let them shoot our guns and pay for the ammo?

    I’m a well left of center pragmatist and avid firearms enthusiast, and people like me are essential to the long-term security of gun and self-defense rights. However, I could never really bring myself to join the NRA or especially GOA, because of the culture war image and tactics that they use.

    • Fair point. Most gun owners are pretty sane, affable, reasonable people but unfortunately those who speak for gun rights tend to be a bit, shall we say, intense. So people who aren’t friends with a responsible gun owner are basically being asked to choose between left-wing loons who want everyone to be helpless sheeple parroting The Cause and right-wing loons who obviously believe they’re destined for a shooting war with their own government. Not a recipe for success.

      I also think the OP is onto something about geographical/cultural bias. I’ve always detected a lot of Ivy League snobbery in the anti-gun crowd…”ohs look at those silly people and their guns, if only they’d gone to the right school and been in the right clubs like me they would be socially enlightened and solve all their problems by talking at them and/or letting Daddy’s army of lawyers take thier money away.”

Comments are closed.