Armed intimacy: in pursuit of security and self with gun rights activists in Southern California
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date06/08/2021
Anderson, Joseph Jonathan
This thesis explores how a desire to own guns is constituted within locally situated human lives in an attempt to explain why firearms have become such important objects of contestation in the United States. I spent a year conducting ethnographic fieldwork in Southern California with two organisations - the San Diego County Gun Owners and a pro-LGBTQ+ firearms advocacy group called the Pink Pistols. These activist organisations hold monthly meetings, regular social events, fundraisers, and encourage direct campaigning. Arriving in the field just two months prior to the 2016 United States general election, I found the members of these organisations actively engaged in public debate and recruitment. I accompanied gun owners to shooting ranges across the county, learned to shoot, travelled with them to defensive handgun courses and gun-rights conventions, and engaged in long conversations about why firearms have come to occupy such a central role in their lives. I examine how people understand their use of firearms, particularly for the reason of self-defence, to show how the terms of a national debate about guns can come to feed into the subjective embodied experiences that people have of their gender identity, their sense of belonging in a country, and their understanding of existential safety. Important to this is the ethnographer’s own journey of learning to feel comfortable around firearms and with his interlocutors. Throughout the thesis I engage with anthropological debates on embodiment and technology; how contemporary gendered and national identities are shaped and reformed in a dialogue between a remembered history and subjectively experienced present; and the limits and potential for an anthropological gaze that reserves an important place for empathy in the fieldwork process, even if this empathy is at times hard to give.