- - Monday, July 11, 2016


There exist two very distinct gun cultures in America. One is urban and often associated with gangs and drugs. The other is rural and often associated with hunting and sports shooting. The distinction is also largely one based on color: Urban gang culture is often black and brown, and rural hunting culture is mostly white. These very different gun cultures create the great division in American attitudes toward guns and gun control.

Caught between the urban gun culture often related to drug territories and turf wars, and the rural hunting culture where game killed in hunting is often used for food, are the millions of Americans who live in the suburbs and exurbs. Most suburbanites do not hunt their own food. Most do not belong to gangs or seek protection of drug territory. These millions of Americans see the nightly homicide reports and are troubled by gun violence. These millions of suburbanites also have cabins, and family who live in the country. The vast majority of the gun owners they know are good, law-abiding citizens. They see the gangs and drug culture of inner cities and want to protect their homes and families. Millions of Americans see this basic truth about guns: In the hands of a criminal, guns are weapons. In the hands of a hunter and homeowner, guns are tools for food and protection.

Many see the divide on guns in America as a political divide. Republicans support Second Amendment protections and Democrats want some forms of greater gun control. While there is partial truth to this analysis, the fact is that the great divide on guns is largely geographic rather than political. The geographic divide on guns exists both between states and, importantly, within states. The large, urban, eastern corridor between Washington D.C. and Boston has a population that views guns much differently than the rural South or Mountain West. The Western coastal cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle have far different laws and cultural views on guns than communities 100 or more miles inland.

We find these different views on guns within interior states as well. The city of Chicago, with high murder rates and strong gun laws, is vastly different than rural downstate Illinois. The rugged mountainous regions of central Pennsylvania (this is deer hunter country) has a vastly different gun culture than Philadelphia. Rural Ohio and out-state Missouri have a hunting culture quite at odds with urban Cleveland and St. Louis. My native Minnesota has a liberal Twin Cities urban area and a vast track of rural land to its west and north with a proud and strong hunting tradition.

In the years after I graduated from college, I went on a unique journey throughout all 435 congressional districts in America. While this quixotic journey was a great adventure for a political theory major, it forced me to visit every part of America. I walked through Watts and Beverly Hills and spent many a night in the rural areas that dominate much of the interior of America. During my half-decade journey, I learned firsthand there exist few issues with geographical differences as distinct as the issue of guns. Coupled with a strong minority distrust of police, and a largely white fear of urban crime spreading outward from the inner cities, America is largely divided along racial, cultural and geographic lines. What can be done, if anything?

I believe the rural hunting culture of America needs to take an interest in inner city youth. Young men in urban areas are taught gun values from gangsters, not responsible gun owners and hunters. I believe groups like the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America should partner with local urban police departments and arrange hunting and sports shooting trips for youth from minority communities. Responsible gunmanship, trap and sport shooting and, yes, actual hunting trips would be a great way to foster trust between young urban males and protective bodies like police and fire departments. With gun violence in cities like Chicago and Baltimore at epidemic levels, we need to think outside the box. The conservative gun culture of rural America should look at the young men of the inner city as an opportunity, not a threat. And liberals who view all guns as evil and all rural gun owners as hicks in camouflage need to learn that the values taught by hunting and responsible gun ownership can actually help — not harm — young urban males.

We also need to learn to speak honestly about crime, guns, race and men in America without fear of political correctness and thought control. The problem of crime in almost all societies is largely a problem of young men. It always has been. While TV’s “The Real Housewives” can get real catty, it is not well-off, white, suburban housewives who fill the jails or the morgues in our nation’s big cities. Young men like to shoot guns. They always have and they always will. Let’s channel that natural male aggression into positive activities like sport shooting and hunting clubs. Let’s have the natural protective bodies of police departments and veteran groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion help form groups dedicated to teaching young urban males responsible gun ownership. It is far better that young men learn about guns from veterans and police departments than the local drug gang.

We need a new approach to guns and young men in our cities. That approach should not be the false liberal hope of eradicating all guns. It should also not be the conservative abandonment of the inner city for gated communities and gun-friendly rural strongholds. Let’s have the gun culture of rural America help rebuild the inner cities by teaching our young men to be law-abiding protectors and providers. Let’s bridge the divide between urban and rural by using the protective organizations in our communities to foster trust and learning instead of fear and hate. And let’s use the innate desire of young men to hunt and shoot as a tool to unite urban and rural men of all colors instead of fostering more division and death.

Cain Pence is a Minneapolis-based writer.

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