Merchants of the Right: Gun Sellers and the Crisis of American Democracy

Princeton Univ. May 2023. 288p. ISBN 9780691230399. $29.95. POL SCI
In a country where there are more guns than people, it is important to understand gun culture and the politics surround it. Carlson (sociology, Univ. of Arizona; Policing the Second Amendment) focuses on the surge of gun sales in 2020, which were up 72 percent over sales in 2019. There were a vast number of first-time buyers, including women and people of color. The author interviewed 50 gun sellers—mostly Trump supporters—of small, independent shops in four states: Arizona, California, Florida, and Michigan. The sellers were generally baffled by the surge in sales. Three elements of the gun culture receive close attention in this study: armed individualism, conspiracists, and extreme partisanship. Concentrating on what she calls a “conservative corner of American gun culture,” Carlson acknowledges that gun owners and gun rights advocates are of various backgrounds, ethnicities, and beliefs; at the same time, however, little in the book addresses this topic. The book concludes with a rumination on democracy, political engagement by gun rights advocates, and the 2021 January insurrection.
VERDICT Carlson’s study will be welcomed by anyone angered, conflicted about, or interested in gun control and devotion to the right to bear arms in the U.S.
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