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The “Great American Gun Debate” isn’t really one debate but two (Kates & Kleck, 1997). The first is empirical. Gun-control supporters argue that the ready availability of firearms diminishes public safety by facilitating violent crimes and accidental shootings; control opponents reply that the ready availability of guns enhances public safety by enabling potential crime victims to ward off violent predation (Duggan, 2001; Lott, 2000). The second debate is cultural. Control opponents (who tend to be rural, southern or western, Protestant, male, and white) venerate guns as symbols of personal honor, individual self-sufficiency, and respect for social authority. Control supporters (who are disproportionately urban, eastern, Catholic or Jewish, female, and African-American) despise firearms, which to them symbolize the perpetuation of illicit social hierarchies, the elevation of force over reason, and collective indifference to the well-being of strangers (Dizard, Muth, & Andrews, 1999; Slotkin, 1998; Tonso, 1982; Hofstadter, 1970; Kleck, 1996; Kahan, 1999). Conducted in legislative chambers and courtrooms, on street corners and op-ed pages, the gun debate alternates between clashing positions on what guns do and what guns mean.
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