My friend Michael Bane (along with another friend, Paul Earhardt) came up with the idea of “Gun Culture 2.0” to describe the shift they were seeing in American society. The previous gun culture, version 1.0, was all about hunting and calm, contemplative shooting sports like the clay shooting or Camp Perry. Gun Culture 2.0 is about personal defense and more action-oriented sports like 3 Gun or USPSA. Version 2.0 has been the dominant narrative in guns for at least 30 years, so much so that a 2021 survey found that 72 percent of American gun owners said that personal protection was why they owned a gun.
Since then, there have been rumblings about what “Gun Culture 3.0” might look like. Most of them miss the mark, I think, because they focus on demographics and not the role that guns play in society. The most common version of Gun Culture 3.0 has to do with the amount of women and people of color who are buying guns, which some say represents the next steps. However, the reasons those groups are buying guns are the same as OFWGs* like me: Personal protection. It’d be like saying hunters saying “Gun Culture 2.0 will be all about more Iowans getting into hunting!” or “The next generation of shooters will compete in 25 Yard Free Pistol, not just 25 Yard Rapid Fire!” No one would think that new demographics or a new variant of an existing shooting activity would represent a fundamental shift in how Americans view hunting, yet the same thing keeps popping up with regards to Gun Culture 2.0.
Rather, the transition from 1.0 to 2.0 came because of a shift in American society itself. America got more urban/suburban in the 50’s and 60’s, and hunting became harder to do on a regular basis. As a result, the reasons why we needed a gun changed. On top of this, the societal upheavals and perception of rising crime rates in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s altered our relationship with the police. Society had changed, and therefore, our (perceived) need for a gun had changed as well.
As such, the next gun culture won’t come into being until American society changes yet again, and I believe that change is pointing towards a post nation-state environment that is similar to Belfast during the Troubles in Northern Ireland or Yugoslavia in the 90s. The next “civil war” won’t be North vs. South, it’ll be Marin County vs. Redding, St. Louis vs Springfield or D.C. vs. reality (and so far, D.C. is losing that one, and badly).
Gun Culture 1.0 was focused on hunting, Gun Culture 2.0 is focused on personal protection, Gun Culture 3.0 will be focused on neighborhood protection, as the structures we have relied on to keep the peace start to disintegrate. Gun Culture 3.0 will have more martial elements than either previous versions, with night vision optics and body armor** playing a role similar to how the modern defensive pistol and the AR-15 plays a large role in today’s gun culture. Some of the more… imaginative versions of this future assume a competent and powerful Federal government, such as how the Brits ran Northern Ireland. However, I foresee a less competent .gov, like the Federales in Mexico or at worst, no .gov, like the former Yugoslavia.
It may not be that drastic, and I really hope this doesn’t come to pass. I *love* this country, and I don’t want to see it torn apart. Maybe what we’ll see is something like the posses of the old west or the autodefensas in Mexico, where, yes, there was/is a larger governmental structure, but no, each town/neighborhood is more or less on their own. Or maybe it will be open rebellion instead. I hope not. Either way, I think we will see the individual right of firearms ownership being applied to the collective right of establishing a safe community, and that’s when Gun Culture 3.0 will be born. In a way, it’s American gun culture returning to its roots in the militias of the American Revolution, where colonists took up arms to defend a way of life that the ruling class was not willing to endorse.
Sounds good in theory, but do I really want this? No, not really. I’m all in favor of smaller government, but the upheaval inherent in this sort of thing is painful to contemplate. However, the Blue State Model of government is drawing to a conclusion, and whatever comes next is going to once again alter the reasons why Americans own guns.
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
– Yeats, “The Second Coming”
Consider this: Both George Zimmerman and Kyle Rittenhouse had their encounters while using the individual right to keep and bear arms in the service of protecting a neighborhood.
*Old Fat White Guys. I didn’t used to be this old, and I didn’t used to be fat. The other two will never change.
** Compare gun prices of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s to today. Everything is about the same, except high-quality optics are MUCH more affordable, and items like body armor, night vision gear and red dot sights, uncommon even 20 years ago, are commonplace and getting cheaper by the day.