You Are Killing Our Kids

December 16, 2012 | Blog

It’s impossible to tuck our kids in tonight, seeing the complete and utter excitement in their eyes about their futures (my daughter, age 2, said “I need to eat more foods so I can get tall and be allowed to go on the bus with my brother to school!”), without understanding that it is our responsibility as the adults to DO something to make them safer.  Enough already with the childish fear of the NRA!  The tobacco lobby was once all-powerful too.  Then we woke up and realized cigarettes were killing us all, and we put a stop to it.  Smoking is way down, including among teens.  The tide can turn. It’s on us to make it happen.

Wherever there’s a powerful lobby there are powerful wealthy backers. The strength of the NRA lies not in the many average fools who think that having guns in their homes makes them safer (tell that to the gun-toting mama whose boy killed her before shooting those 20 children in Connecticut), but in the obscene wealth possessed by the gun manufacturers. Who are these people, and how have they managed to twist the 2nd amendment into some rationale for the right for regular people to bear assault rifles?

I’m far from an expert on this topic, but what I do know is that social movements require individuals that get informed enough to be smart, inspired actors. And since I can’t stomach sending my kids off to school even one more day without knowing that I DID SOMETHING to try and make them even a little bit safer, well, I’ll take this one on.  And I hope you will too.

The tiniest bit of research tonight led me to learn a few things I had no idea about:

(1) Gun stocks are on the rise.  Smith & Wesson, among other gun manufacturers, is more profitable than ever.  At a growth rate of 10% per year on average, and much higher for the top sellers, business is booming.

(2) The industry is promoting gun use successfully among women and children.  Just like cigarette manufacturers, this mature industry is constantly seeking to expand its market and thus has encouraged an explosion of so-called shooting shows, including for audiences at the History Channel and the Discovery Channel.  The number of “shotgun” and “rifle” badges given to the Boy Scouts of America is up nearly 30 percent in the last decade, and the participation of women in shooting shows has experienced similar growth.

(3) Manufacturers of “high-capacity clips” — which should remind you of extra-nicotine added cigarettes times 10 — are major donors to the NRA and hold two board seats.  Why these high volume clips are considered requisite for self-defense is beyond me. What I do know is that each of the 20 six and seven-year-old children in Connecticut was riddled by between 3 and 10 bullets.

Guns and cigarettes go hand in hand.  It took America nearly a century to stand up to tobacco, but it happened.  The time is now for guns. Call it what it is– profitting on the backs of dead children.   And put a stop to it.  Join us.


  1. Reply


    December 16, 2012

    Interesting comments, but I fear that your passion for this issue is trumping your scholarly sensibilities. It would seem as a scholar you would want to begin with questions then seek data that can answer your questions, rather than starting with an answer and then mining data you think supports it.

    Here are some points that caught my eye as problematic in particular:

    1. You mention "the many average fools who think that having guns in their homes makes them safer." The inappropriate characterization of your fellow citizens as "average fools" aside, what is the empirical basis for the claim that it is foolish to think that having guns in their homes makes them safer? Do you know whether having guns in the home makes a person safer or less safe (or neither)? I bet you do not. This is pure bias.

    2. You mention "the obscene wealth possessed by the gun manufacturers." What is your definition of "obscene wealth"? Relative to businesses in other manufacturing sectors, are gun manufacturers particularly wealthy? What is the market capitalization, profit, cash on hand, etc. of Smith & Wesson and how does that compare to other publicly traded firms? Or is any wealth generated by a gun manufacturer by definition obscene? Again, this smacks of pure bias.

    3a. "The industry is promoting gun use successfully among women and children." You imply this is a problem, but why? Is the desire of women to use guns irrational and/or illegitimate? Are women who enjoy shooting guns “fools”? Do you know how many women use guns annually in self-defense? Do you wish that those victims of crime not have the means of defending themselves? You should speak to a woman who has prevented herself from being raped or killed by using a firearm. It is very enlightening.

    3b. With respect to children, does it matter whether the earning of shotgun and rifle badges makes Boy Scouts more responsible users of guns? Or is any gun use by children by definition a problem? Do you know whether Boy Scouts who earn shotgun and rifle badges have higher or lower rates of deviant/criminal activity than other children? I would bet lower.

    [I have reached the post limit for comments so will continue in a separate comment.]

  2. Reply


    December 16, 2012

    [continued from previous comment due to space constraints]

    4. You say that the shooting industry “has encouraged an explosion of so-called [why ‘so-called’] shooting shows.” This seems a bit like a simplistic base-superstructure understanding of the relationship between industry and media content. Perhaps what has most encouraged the explosion of gun-related television shows is audience interest in such shows. Advertisers don’t pay for and networks don’t broadcast shows that don’t draw an audience. So, it seems the pertinent question is who watches these programs and why? Any data on that?

    5. I am most sympathetic to your third point regarding the need for high-capacity magazines (not “clips”) for self-defense purposes, perhaps because it is the one point on which you admit to your lack of understanding. But even here you should be more careful in what you write publicly, to help maintain your credibility as a commentator on the issue. Brownell’s is a supplier not a manufacturer of high capacity magazines. Also, Brownell’s sells a lot of stuff, so the business would do fine even if all high capacity magazines were banned. Thus, you might consider treating Pete Brownell’s views on them as his sincere views rather than merely a politically and/or profit driven position. Looking at it that way might get your further in an attempt to understand why some people see these as requisite for self-defense. It is a question I would like to know the answer to as well. Why, for example, did the mother of the murderer in Connecticut own a rifle with high cap magazines?

    6. Part of the problem, I think, is that by beginning with an answer you end up with a blanket indictment of all guns and gun owners. Is that what you really intend to do? It is hard to know because you don't say what, in particular, you are rallying against. Possession of military style rifles? Possession of high capacity magazines? Possession of any gun at all? These are quite different goals and will garner quite different levels of support.

    None of this is to defend the NRA or oppose gun control, but to suggest that scholars -- of all people, scholars -- ought to be bringing light rather than heat to important issues such as this. If "social movements require individuals that get informed enough to be smart, inspired actors," you might want to get a bit more informed about this very important issue lest your inspiration outrun your smarts.

  3. Reply

    Jacqui Knowles

    December 16, 2012

    My sentiments exactly. I will not sit idly by and listen to another BS argument made by the NRA in support of murderous weapons being owned with little restriction by non-military citizens. The bastardized interpretation of the Second Amendment needs to be loudly challenged so that changes can be implemented quickly.
    It's PAST time to DO SOMETHING!

  4. Reply

    Sara Goldrick-Rab

    December 17, 2012

    Dear gunculture--

    I believe I was careful to point out that this post is NOT part of my scholarly work. This blog is part professional, part personal. And this issue, as a mom to an almost 6-year-old, is incredibly personal. I agree that I need to get better informed-- but I can also guarantee that my overall stance will not shift on this one. I want to be as effective as I can be at getting guns off the streets, and given some time to learn more, I will improve. Then, watch out world-- we effectively "armed" parents will conquer this mountain.


    ps. I did actually spend 3 years working on criminal justice policy about 15 years ago, and the studies then were quite clear that the deterrence effects of guns and the death penalty were quite lacking. I'd be shocked if anyone had yet proven the "effectiveness" of keeping a gun under the pillow. If you disagree they are selfish, I think my fellow citizens who do so are indisputably selfish. They protect one or but a few at the expense of far many more.

  5. Reply


    December 19, 2012

    Thanks for taking the time to follow up. I am interested to see that you distinguish between view you put forward as a professional and those that are personal. I was led to believe you were writing as a sociologist/scholar in reading your original post because you said you did some "research" (albeit the "tiniest bit"). I also believe that I cannot bifurcate my personal views from my training and worldview as a sociologist. And I wonder if you fully accept the consequence of such a bifurcation yourself. It is interesting to consider your use of DIFFERENT standards (professional vs. personal) for forming opinions about education policy (being a scholar, objectively analyzing data to help inform such decisions) and criminal justice policy (being personally interested, having a conclusion formed in advance and simply seeking to validate that conclusion). I would bet you do not look so fondly at those who would seek to influence education policy based on their personal opinions without respect to solid empirical research and scholarly reflection.

    In terms of the substance of your response, I note that the specific policy goals you have in mind are not altogether clear. You want to be effective at "getting guns off the streets." Does that mean you would like a wholesale ban on all civilian gun ownership? Or are you trying to eliminate the criminal use of guns? Or are you trying to eliminate certain types of guns?

    The former I think is going to be a political and legal non-starter. GSS and Gallup polls shows that some 35%-45% of the American adult population own firearms (handguns, rifles, shotguns) – that is roughly 70 million adults. They own upwards of 300 million guns. The overwhelming – truly overwhelming – majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens and the vast majority of guns are used only for legal purposes.

    No one other than criminals opposes eliminating the criminal use of gun. But it is not clear that gun control measures will eliminate the criminal use of guns, because criminals do not care what the laws are (by definition). You should listen to the NPR Fresh Air interview with David Kennedy, author of "Don't Shoot: One Man, a Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner City America" (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. When Dave Davies notes there is nothing about gun laws in his book and asks him whether restrictions on access to guns would help address the problem, Kennedy answers emphatically no. Actually he says, laughing because it is ludicrous, “How’s that working for you?” Kennedy actually began his work with the idea that eliminating illegal gun markets was the key solution, but changed his mind.

  6. Reply


    December 19, 2012

    What about banning certain types of guns or accessories (“assault rifles,” high capacity magazines)? Well, we had an assault weapons ban from 1994 to 2004. The gun homicide rate was dropping prior to the ban, and it has continued to drop since the ban expired. The gun accidental death rate was dropping before the ban, and it has continued to drop since the ban expired. Why did the assault weapons ban not have any discernible effect? Because the vast majority of people who own and use these weapons are law-abiding citizens who use them for legal purposes. Criminals who wanted to get and use assault weapons could do so without regard to the ban. Why has the ban on handguns in Chicago not gotten guns off the streets? Again, because the people who have guns on the streets are criminals – and David Kennedy also notes that it is a “fantastically small” number of people who cause the majority of inner city street crimes.

    It may make us feel good to DO SOMETHING in the wake of a tragedy like Newtown. But if what we do isn’t going to be effective, then we are just fooling ourselves. I think this is especially true when we consider mass murders. If a small number of people are responsible for the everyday violence we see in inner cities, an even smaller number of people are responsible for mass murders (with guns, bombs, knives, box cutters, airplanes). Every decent person abhors mass murder, by whatever means. But to think we can eliminate these extraordinarily rare acts by restricting a particular type of gun or gun accessory is again fooling ourselves. Just today, Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox has posted online his top 10 myths about mass shootings. Among the myths he address are that mass shootings are on the rise, that enhanced background checks will keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of these madmen, and that restoring the federal ban on assault weapons will prevent these horrible crimes.

  7. Reply


    December 19, 2012

    The p.s. concerning keeping guns under ones pillow is hard to take seriously as it is once again dismissive of other people’s realities. If someone broke into your home while you and your two kids were there, would you be content to throw issues of Soc of Ed or books at them? To try to reason with them? Your social class probably allows you to live in a community in which this is unlikely to happen – though I have met a medical doctor whose home was broken by armed intruders while she was home with her kids -- but this happens to other people whose realities you dismiss. I know the young mother in Oklahoma whose home was broken into in January 2012 was happy she kept a gun under her pillow.

    In the end, like you, my first response to recent events was to hug my kids and think about how to make them safer. (Not “safe,” mind you, as the reality is there is no pure safety in this world.) My second response was to want to do something. But as I started looking at the data on gun crimes and gun control -- and I admit that I have not looked at it all – I concluded that I didn’t know well enough what should be done. I see that President Obama just today has announced a working group to study ways of reducing gun violence.

    This seems to be a better approach than to rush into policies that are just designed to make us feel better without regard to their likely effects.

  8. Reply


    December 19, 2012

    I just hope that the working group doesn't take the same approach to this issue as you have when you write, "I agree that I need to get better informed-- but I can also guarantee that my overall stance will not shift on this one." I would hope that any professional sociologist or regular person would change their stance on an issue if the information they gathered conflicted with their previously established stance.

    Thank you for engaging in this dialogue with me, in the interest of safer children and a safer world.

    [Sorry for posting this as so many comments. The word limit on the comments requires it.]

  9. Reply

    Sara Goldrick-Rab

    December 20, 2012

    We have a fundamental disagreement over one's right to write a blog that has some posts that are personal (have you read mine on breast-feeding, for example) and some that are political (like mine on Scott Walker), and some that are based on one's scholarship and teaching (like all of mine on financial aid, politics of higher ed, etc).

    I think you mistake my efforts as a mother and an activist from someone who actually seeks to engage in the policy debate and change the discourse based on any level of expertise in the area. In fact, I explicitly do NOT claim that expertise. Most people who critique educational policy and seek to influence it DO make that claim. Everyone thinks they are an expert because they went to a school. In contrast, I am saying "yes, I want guns gone (and yes, I do mean GONE)" but not as an expert, or because I've held one, but because I'm a mom."

    It doesn't have to be rationale, or sociological, or anything else. If you choose to engage in critiquing me on sociological or academic grounds then you've chosen a foil that's essentially false--you're arguing with a mom's perspective, not a scholar's. And no, you won't shame me into reconsidering by insinuating it's a class-based perspective. I don't live in the kind of neighborhood you think I do now, and I lived in neighborhoods full of guns for many years. I still oppose those who claim that have a right to have them to protect themselves. We'd all be safer if they simply vanished.

    As for realistic? Who cares about such limitations? Why bother? If we're constantly forced to be pragmatic on these things, we'll never envision a new world for our kids that's worth achieving. The NRA will make certain of that.

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