Culture clash

by Andrew Gelman on May 2, 2013 · 14 comments

in Blogs

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I had no idea this sort of thing even existed:

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I’m reminded of our discussion of Charles Murray’s recent book on social divisions among Americans. Murray talked about differences between upper and lower class, but I thought he was really talking more about differences between liberals and conservatives among the elite. (More discussion here.)

In this particular case, Murray’s story about irresponsible elites seems to fit pretty well. At the elite level, you have well-connected D.C. gun lobbyists opposing any restrictions on personal weapons. As Murray might put it, the elites (Phil Spector aside) may be able to handle their guns, but some lower-class Americans cannot—-they do things like give real rifles to 5-year-olds (!). As Murray writes, it’s a combination of cultural ignorance and a permissive ideology: I assume the senators who voted against the recent gun control bill wouldn’t give live weapons to their kids (or live in neighborhoods in which kids have access to guns at home), but they don’t feel right about restricting the rights of others to do so.

{ 14 comments }

Jay Livingston May 3, 2013 at 7:42 am

Elite or no, you have to teach kids your culture, the earlier the better. So we effete liberals give our kindergarteners Suzuki violins. Other parents give their kids Suzuki rifles.

Andrew Gelman May 3, 2013 at 8:57 am

Jay:

I know you’re kidding, but . . . just to be clear, I don’t think conservative senators give guns to their 5-year-old children and grandchildren. That’s my point: I’m guessing that they can’t really imagine these things happening to their friends and family.

Matthew May 3, 2013 at 11:02 am

What an odd assumption. Of course they do.

Oh, not “give” in the sense that the child has responsibility for taking care of the gun. That would be ridiculous (and not even what happened in this tragedy). But I’m totally ready believe that they would purchase a child-sized gun for their grandchildren to use under close supervision as a way of introducing them to firearms from an early age. With responsible adult guidance and control, it’s not particularly unsafe.

I think you’re bringing a lot of your own unexamined assumptions to the table here.

Adam May 3, 2013 at 9:00 am

Maybe a conservative senator doesn’t give his 5 year old a gun, but he probably gave his 8 y

adano May 3, 2013 at 11:11 am

Am I the only one laughing at Crickett’s mailing address on “Sodom” road? Here’s a business that caters to conservative families, and it’s located on Sodom road. The jokes right themselves.

Eric May 3, 2013 at 12:18 pm

I think you are incorrectly assuming all conservatives are religious. One can be considered conservative by the left simply because they follow conservative fiscal policy or believe in the right of gun ownership yet have a non-ecumenical view of the world.

The joke, in fact, might not really be that much of a joke at all.

Jay Livingston May 3, 2013 at 11:23 am

I don’t think I am joking. In fact I thought you were joking, or at least being ironic, about Murray. I just blogged this (here ) at greater length. But I think that the pro-gun senators think that guns for kids is OK as long as everyone takes the proper safety precautions. That’s basically the position of the NRA: guns are not dangerous as long as you use them correctly (“guns don’t kill people, kids whose parents don’t take the proper safety precautions kill people”).
We’re both just speculating on what the pro-gun elites think, do, or say. It would be nice to have some actual information.

Adam May 3, 2013 at 12:04 pm

I disagree. Having grown up in a state with a big hunting culture, I think many members of Congress from similar states or who grew up in a rural area are comfortable (or at least familiar) with the idea of kids getting rifles for hunting and target practice. 5 year olds are probably on the extreme low end. But I recall having friends who got their first rifle at age 8 to 10, and these were middle to upper middle class families. Maybe the fact that the parents gave a gun to a 5 year old would shock some conservative elites, but I think the more shocking aspect, for them and lower class gun owners, too, would be the irresponsibility of the parents in having a rifle laying around the house (unloaded or otherwise).

Just looking at a comment feed that I found when Googling “When should you give your son his first rifle,” it looks like the mean suggested age is about 8, but people mention getting and/or shooting guns with their parents at age 5.

You’re right that there’s a culture clash–and it’s huge. But I don’t think it’s upper class vs. lower class, bur rather urban/suburban with urban roots vs. rural/suburban with rural roots. Ask anyone who grew up on a working farm how old they were when they first started driving tractors and trucks on the farm or went off on over night hunting trips with their siblings and without adult supervision.

Eric May 3, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Excellent points. I might add that as a doctoral candidate political scientist and gun owner who knows many gun owners as well as non-gun owners the culture clash is definately rural versus urban. Though far from scientific, I notice that those who come from urban areas, especially from poor urban areas, tend to look in disbelief at those who own firearms. However, I do know former urbanites who happily own guns, though they may have been inclined to own them in the first place and simply left urban America.

A second point to note, as a gun owner who has been in gun shops in both red and blue state, and maybe even a few purple ones, those who sell firearms are very serious people when it come safety. I have seen owners take away unoaded display weapons from those who freely point them at individuals in a playful manner and refuse to do further business with them.

A final point, anyone who is serious about gun ownership takes on a heavy responsbility. This responsibility ranges from training to storage, and it is something gun dealers actively discuss. Unfortunately, just like a car dealer can’t enforce good driving practices on those who buy cars, gun dealers and those who practice safety can’t ensure a stupid gun owner will not leave a gun acessiable to a five year old or a person with obvious mental issues as the killer in Newtown.

Jay Livingston May 3, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Cars are dangerous. In recognition of that danger, in most states, before you can drive legally, you have to pass a test and be licensed, and cars must be registered with the government. I don’t understand why gun owners — at least many of them and their organizations — oppose similar precautions.

Eric May 3, 2013 at 3:50 pm

The similarily you make between cars and guns is not necessarily correct. For one, cars are quite dangerous considering the speeds at which one can drive, the number of moving parts that can malfunction, the quality or skill of the operator, and how the proximity of these variables are in relation to others. While a driver of a car is likely not malicious, because one can harm others with a car one needs to learn how to drive and to ensure their car meets minimum safety requirements.

Guns, on the other hand, are quite different, and not for reasons most would expect. First, they are far easier to operate than cars so one does not really need to take exams. Most training for guns is merely safety related. The only classes required to take regarding firearm operation (to my knowledge) is if one wants to obtain a concealed handgun licence. Second, whenever one purchases a gun at a registered gun store all prospective buyers are checked with a national registry to determine if they meet the minimum critera. Over the last few years millions were rejected seeking to purchase weapons. Third, while I am free from blame if someone steals my car and harms someone, I could be held responsable in both civil and criminal court if someone steal my gun and harms someone, depending on the ease of access to my weapons (I leave a gun laying around). Moreover, if I drive a faulty car down 6th avenue in midtown Manhattan many people might be in danger yet I would not be arrested unless something goes wrong. If I brandish a gun out at the same location I am in direct violation of the law and I am no longer a good gun owner and I should be arrested. Finally, because of these background checks, many in the gun community feel that these are enough and that it is no business of government what they own. Many argue since they are not required to register steak knives, baseball bats, and fireworks with the government, and because of the fact that they passed a background check, then why criminalize people who are not going to take their gun out on 6th avenue.

Chaz May 3, 2013 at 6:49 pm

A large proportion of gun deaths and injuries come from people who clean their gun while loaded* and kids accessing guns. Plus idiots who don’t realize bullets go through walls and fall back down after they go up. There will always be idiots but I think mandatory training would help clue people in on these basic things. People assume this is all common sense, but in any field you’ll be shocked at the seemingly obvious things practitioners aren’t aware of. Also it puts you in a room with a hardass instructor so you can see how seriously he takes gun safety.

Plus, if people are too lazy to follow minimal safety precautions maybe they’ll be too lazy to take the certification course. And you can set a minimum age for the kiddies to get a firearm usage license. You can set a minimum legal age for kids to hold guns anyway but the dummies won’t be as aware of it as they would with explicit permitting.

*And I’m not a gun owner, but surely the proper cleaning procedure does not include pointing the gun at yourself in the first place, right? And I expect it includes checking the chamber, but of course people will skip that because they know it’s empty.

Chaz May 3, 2013 at 6:53 pm

A Crickett rifle costs $115. The cheapest rifle locker at Walmart is $130. $245 is way too much to spend on a present for a five year old. Best to just get the gun for now. We’ll get the accessories when we can afford to splurge.

Chaz May 3, 2013 at 7:07 pm

I love how Little Jake’s Big Bowhunt doesn’t state an author. It must be such a comprehensive work that it has too many authors to list!

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