[White resistance to gun control] is consistent with the studies of Dr. Jonathan Metzl, a psychiatrist and sociologist at Vanderbilt University, who has documented both the history and the symbolic meanings of guns. In particular, he investigated how publicly carrying a gun was entwined with and “coded as white privilege.”
Today, “Advertisers have literally used words like ‘restoring your manly privilege’ as a way of selling assault weapons to white men.” Drawing on that history of expanding borders (violent displacement of Indigenous people) and exploiting labor (violent enslavement of Black people), Metzl pointed out that:
“John Brown’s raid was about weapons. Scholars have written about how the Ku Klux Klan was aimed at disarming African Americans. When African Americans started to carry guns in public – think about Malcolm X during the civil rights era – all of a sudden, the second amendment didn’t apply in many white Americans’ minds. When Huey Newton and the Black Panthers tried to arm themselves, everyone suddenly said, ‘We need gun control.’ … Who gets to carry a gun in public? Who is coded as a patriot? Who is coded as a threat, or a terrorist or a gangster? What it means to carry a gun or own a gun or buy a gun – those questions are not neutral. We have 200 years of history, or more, defining that in very racial terms” (“’Dying of whiteness’: why racism is at the heart of America’s gun inaction”)
This is making a diagnostic point, rather than a prescriptive one. Metzl even acknowledges that he came to respect some “gun ownership traditions,” and that many gun owners are deeply committed to gun safety and heartbroken about gun deaths and mass shootings. But those gun owners are not the whole story, and they can’t be used as an excuse to avoid healing a terrible history that continues to spill into the present, killing tens of thousands of people each year in the USA alone.
That is, understanding why it is so difficult to make progress on gun violence includes understanding the racial tensions underlying the gun debate. The deeply polarized opinions about gun politics have emerged in the context of race, and guns came to symbolize those deep wounds. This is why Metzl insists that, “When we’re talking about guns, we’re also talking about race.” (“‘Dying of whiteness’”) …
Not long ago, Henry Giroux made an impassioned and important plea for us “to change the deeper structure of life in the US” in order “to end mass shootings.” He described “a culture awash in guns and violence, a society that nourishes and rewards the gun industries, and values the accumulation of profits over human needs,” connecting that economic interest with the priorities of neoliberal economics. And it is no joke; the largest 100 weapons and military service companies in the world recorded $531 billion dollars in sales in 2020. …
This deep structure of neoliberal violence has other consequences, not least of which is preventing meaningful action on climate change while profiting off the destruction of the very planet that is a home to us all. But the economic interest alone doesn’t account for why it is so difficult to transform this nation’s violence and its morbid and deadly fascination with guns.
As Giroux pointed out, neoliberalism “feeds on self-interest, inequality, cruelty, punishment, precarity and loneliness,” which, in turn, it helps to perpetuate and uses to protect its interests. But neoliberalism also inherited these qualities, and it relies on pre-existing injustices. Untangling all the threads isn’t something to be completed quickly, if ever. But some of the threads are more like ropes or chains, and chief among them is the role of white supremacy and racism in the development of the United States’ gun culture.
— Roger Ray in Racism Drives American Gun Addiction