Book Reviews

The Gun Control Movement
Twayne/Prentice Hall International, 1997. 166p bibl index afp ISBN 0-8057-3885-1

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In recent years Twayne Publishers has done a fine service for the study of social movements through a series of now twenty-five short studies. These have included such movements as the American Peace Movement, the Antinuclear Movement and the Creationist Movement. While varying in analytical content, they have provided an unusually valuable basis for describing and thinking about the variety of objects contained in the term “Social Movements.”

Gregg Lee Carter, Professor of Sociology at Bryant [University], has added another highly useful volume to that series. Carter’s emphasis is largely on two gun control organizations, Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI) and the counterorganzation, the National Rifle Association (NRA). Carter also analyses some of the issues and thinking about guns in the U.S., such as their relation to violence, the impediment to gun control in the Second Amendment, and what he describes as the “myth of the frontier legacy.”

Carter opens with a chapter on the relation of violence to guns and finds the data and research ambiguous. In concluding the chapter he poses what he calls the central question for the rest of the book? “Why the gun control movement has seen so little success. Why does the United States lack strict national gun control laws?” Much of the remainder of the book attempts to answer this question by a closer analysis of the two organizations: the HCI and the NRA.

Carter’s analysis of the Second Amendment and the alleged role of a frontier legacy convinces him that these often cited explanations have little factual basis; yet the limited victories of the gun control movement and the successful opposition of the NRA remains a problem. The question is deepened by his analysis of polls. Large majorities support control measures although their intensity and commitment may not be deep.

The author emphasizes that while the public appears supportive of gun control, they did not approve of banning guns. This reluctance, as he describes it, has been a defining issue in the gun control movement. From its formation in 1974, the HCI has broken with prior organizations that had advocated banning guns. In 1977 a “palace coup” in the NRA transformed that organization from being a spokesman for hunters and rifle users. Prior to that it was unopposed to controls, a sharp contrast to its present fierce antipathy toward all such efforts. Since 1977, it has been highly successful in preventing national legislation for controls. While the HCI, on the other hand, has had some successes, such as the Brady bill, in the main it has not achieved most of its goals.

Carter also reviews a number of polls concerned with the sources of gun control support and opposition. While he points to sources of financial support and lobbying activities of the NRA he has no clear analysis of why the organization has been so overwhelmingly opposed to any gun control measures, why its membership is so intense in their support, and why legislators are so readily influenced by them. Perhaps there is no ready answer, but to attempt one is essential to more effective analysis. Other lobbying groups have not had intense support like that of the NRA. Perhaps the virtue of shortness is also the vice of limiting analysis.

It is fate of studying ongoing movements to be overtaken by events after being written. Currently the movement is seeking its goals on local playing fields and in the courts. Nevertheless the author’s historical and sociological data make it a necessary study for social movement analysts and for those concerned with the issues of guns and their control in America.

—Joseph Gusfield, University of California, San Diego, Social Forces (June 1999)


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Carter’s ... book provides a useful introduction to issues related to gun control in the U.S.. Among the critical questions he examines are American attitudes toward gun control and the degree to which these attitudes correspond to the agendas of key organizations such as Handgun Control Inc. and the National Rifle Association. In addition, this book explores conflicting interpretations of the Second amendment, the effect of the frontier legacy on American views of guns, and the connections among society, politics, and the gun control movement. In a very well balanced assessment, the author analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the pro- and anticontrol arguments and the organizational capacities of Handgun Control Inc. and the NRA. The introduction includes some valuable cross-national comparisons related to gun violence and gun control. The book also contains some important demographic profiles of typical pro- and anticontrol individuals, and examines the internal contradictions within each camp. In sum, this is a helpful overview situated in the broader context of social movement theory.

Peter Seybold, Indiana University, Choice (February 1998, p. 1070)

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The Gun Control Movement, the latest addition to the Social Movements Past and Present series, provides a map of the social and political landscape of the gun control movement in the United States. It analyzes the relationship between guns and violence, American attitudes about gun control and how those attitudes affect and reflect the movement, and the future of gun control in the United States. Author Gregg Lee Carter discusses at length the letter and spirit of the Second Amendment to the Constitution. He focuses on the mid-1970s to the present, but also introduces a historical context for guns and gun control in Western cultures, with many cross-national comparisons concerning gun laws, gun prevalence, and gun violence.

The Gun Control Movement is accessible not only to all academic levels but also to activists on both sides of the gun-control debate and to the general public. Carter does not present any easy solutions to the problems of gun violence. This lucid introduction to the key issues surrounding the movement will stimulate readers' careful consideration. Supplementing the text are a preface, tables and figures, notes and references, selected bibliography, and index.

Blackwell Reviews (September 2005)


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