Overcoming the Fear of Guns, the Fear of Gun Control, and the Fear of Cultural Politics: Constructing a Better Gun Debate

41 Pages Posted: 11 Jul 2012 Last revised: 16 Apr 2013

See all articles by Donald Braman

Donald Braman

George Washington University - Law School; Cultural Cognition Project

Dan M. Kahan

Yale University - Law School

Date Written: 2006


The question of how strictly to regulate firearms has convulsed the national polity for the better part of four decades, and in this article Donald Braman and Dan M. Kahan conclude that the best way to engender productive debate is to investigate deeper than the statistics and address the competing American social attitudes on guns themselves: guns symbolizing honor, human mastery over nature, and individual self-sufficiency on the one hand, and guns creating the perpetuation of illicit social hierarchies, the elevation of force over reason, and the expression of collective indifference to the well-being of strangers on the other. Braman and Kahan posit that purely instrumental arguments lack the power to persuade either side because they ignore what really motivates individuals to favor or oppose gun control — namely, their competing cultural worldviews and identities. They claim that the only meaningful gun control debate is one that explicitly addresses whether and how the underlying cultural visions at stake should be embodied by American law. Therefore, to improve the quality of the U.S. gun control debate and break its impasse, Braman and Kahan argue for the constructive of a new, culturally pluralistic vocabulary, which embraces the cultural meanings of public policy, rather than eliding or suppressing them.

Keywords: gun control, gun debate, cultural politics, firearms, pro-control, anti-control, guns, public safety, cultural theory of risk, risk perception, statistical arguments, cultural worldview, American society, partisan values, cultural identity, cultural conflict, culturally pluralistic

JEL Classification: D1, D71, D78, I1, J18, K1, K32, K39, Z1

Suggested Citation

Braman, Donald and Kahan, Dan M., Overcoming the Fear of Guns, the Fear of Gun Control, and the Fear of Cultural Politics: Constructing a Better Gun Debate (2006). Emory Law Journal, Vol. 55, 2006, GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2012-58, GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 2012-58, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2103759

Donald Braman (Contact Author)

George Washington University - Law School ( email )

2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States

Cultural Cognition Project ( email )

2000 H St NW
2000 H Street
Washington, DC 20052 20052
United States
202-491-8843 (Phone)
202 491-8843 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.culturalcognition.net/braman

Dan M. Kahan

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.culturalcognition.net/kahan

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