Search This Blog

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Guns and American Exceptionalism

Our chapter on civic culture talks about cultural differences between the United States and other nations, citing crime and gun control as examples.  Dylan McLean, of the State University of New York at Buffalo, has a new paper on the topic.  Here is the abstract:
This paper attempts to extend three leading schools of thought on the nature of Canadian and American political differences to other countries with a common English heritage, namely Australia and New Zealand. In so doing it will use the political-culture surrounding gun regulation and gun ownership to critically evaluate these theories. The theories of Can-Am differences of interest in this paper are Lipset’s ‘Origins Thesis,’ the ‘deep structures’ approach from Grabb and Curtis, and the legal-culture approach taken by Kaufman. The theories will be reviewed and the possible ways they may be extended will be outlined. The cases under review are Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. For each of these cases three questions will be asked and broadly reviewed: 1) what does the current firearms regulatory environment look like, 2) what historical path led to the contemporary environment, and 3) what does firearm ownership represent to the citizens of these countries. The answers to these questions will show that gun control is most severe in the United Kingdom and Australia, while it is least restrictive in the United States. It will also be shown that the gun culture is most developed, by a fairly wide margin, in the United States. The findings will lend strong support to Lipset’s thesis, moderate support for Kaufman’s work, and no support for the deep structures approach. America is clearly exceptional on this issue and it is quite possible that, as Lipset would suggest, this American exceptionalism has its roots in the American Revolution. Also, the values that gun ownership represents for many Americans are the same values that Lipset suggests makes American political-culture unique. Americans stand apart from the commonwealth countries in the contemporary relationship of firearms with self defense and with the tendency to attach symbology to guns and gun ownership which is not directly related to their instrumental purposes. For example, it is common for Americans to tie concepts such as freedom, liberty, and individualism with their decision to own guns. It will be shown that this is clearly not the case in the members of the commonwealth realm to be examined here. This paper presents the broad outline of a research agenda which will likely prove to be quite fruitful and it displays the value of extending theories of Canadian and American differences to other countries with a similar heritage.