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Disarmed: The Missing Movement for Gun Control in America

Kristin A. Goss
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    Book Description:

    More than any other advanced industrial democracy, the United States is besieged by firearms violence. Each year, some 30,000 people die by gunfire. Over the course of its history, the nation has witnessed the murders of beloved public figures; massacres in workplaces and schools; and epidemics of gun violence that terrorize neighborhoods and claim tens of thousands of lives. Commanding majorities of Americans voice support for stricter controls on firearms. Yet they have never mounted a true national movement for gun control. Why?Disarmedunravels this paradox.

    Based on historical archives, interviews, and original survey evidence, Kristin Goss suggests that the gun control campaign has been stymied by a combination of factors, including the inability to secure patronage resources, the difficulties in articulating a message that would resonate with supporters, and strategic decisions made in the name of effective policy. The power of the so-called gun lobby has played an important role in hobbling the gun-control campaign, but that is not the entire story. Instead of pursuing a strategy of incremental change on the local and state levels, gun control advocates have sought national policies. Some 40% of state gun control laws predate the 1970s, and the gun lobby has systematically weakened even these longstanding restrictions.

    A compelling and engagingly written look at one of America's most divisive political issues,Disarmedilluminates the organizational, historical, and policy-related factors that constrain mass mobilization, and brings into sharp relief the agonizing dilemmas faced by advocates of gun control and other issues in the United States.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3775-5
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  6. CHAPTER ONE The Gun Control (Participation) Paradox
    (pp. 1-30)

    On april 20, 1999, two alienated teenagers armed with an arsenal of semiautomatic firearms calmly made their way into their suburban Denver high school and began shooting indiscriminately. The young gunmen shot fellow students as they ate lunch on the school lawn, as they ran for cover in the school cafeteria, and as they crouched in terror in the school library. When the shooting spree at Columbine High School was over, one teacher and fourteen students (including the shooters) lay dead, and another twenty-one were wounded. With satellite trucks and cameras stationed outside the besieged school, coverage of the massacre...

  7. CHAPTER TWO A Movement in Theory
    (pp. 31-72)

    Earlier, i made two broad claims: that social-movement theories are derived from a research approach that is flawed because it relies only on positive cases, and that the “movement” for gun control is not much of a movement at all. Here I connect those two insights by demonstrating that conventional social-movement theory cannot explain the nonmovement for gun control. Through a brief sweep of history, I show that gun control appeared to have all the makings of a social movement, not just once, but at a handful of pivotal points in time. Yet no movement arose. From this exercise, I...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Socializing Costs: Patronage and Political Participation
    (pp. 73-104)

    Just as public policies impose costs and confer benefits, so does political participation. However, to the individual or group considering political advocacy, the costs and benefits of participation are not everywhere and always equal. Some issues are inherently harder to organize around than are others. Policies that seek to provide public goods pose particular mobilization problems. If most people are rational, and it is rational not to give money or time to a collective cause unless compelled to do so, how do organizations advocating public goods generate the resources needed to accomplish their aims? One obvious way is to secure...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Personalizing Benefits: Issue Frames and Political Participation
    (pp. 105-144)

    I have argued that issue entrepreneurs seeking to build movements around public goods must find ways to socialize the costs of participation. But costs are only one side of the equation. To expand the scope of political conflict—to involve the audience, as E. E. Schattschneider put it²—issue entrepreneurs also must find ways to individualize the benefits of participation. In this chapter, I show how they do so: by redefining the issues at stake in a way that passive sympathizers see it in their immediate self-interest to become actively involved in the political fray. For most of its history,...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Changing the Calculation: Policy Incrementalism and Political Participation
    (pp. 145-175)

    Socializing the costs of participation, and personalizing the benefits, are two ways by which issue advocates can expand political conflict to their advantage. This chapter considers a third mechanism: increasing the expected value of social benefits relative to the expected value of personal costs. The individual’s cost-benefit assessment improves when he calculates that a minor investment of political resources (individual costs) will produce the desired policy outcome (social benefits). This is what I have termed the participation payoff. In a decentralized, fragmented democracy, an expected participation payoff is increased when social-movement organizations pursuepolicy incrementalism: small policy steps that might...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Mobilizing around Modest Measures: Three Cases
    (pp. 176-189)

    For the first two decades or more of its organized life, the campaign for gun control was characterized by a smattering of small, resource-poor, and often short-lived associations of concerned citizens, a larger universe of national religious, civic, and labor groups willing to lend their moral support to the cause, and two or three advocacy organizations in Washington, D.C., whose strategic decisions along the way affected the development (or not) of the gun control “movement.” The decision to pursue a national handgun ban—a position that one national gun control group still holds and another held until the early 1990s...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Conclusion: Politics, Participation, and Public Goods
    (pp. 190-200)

    The modern campaign for gun control began in the early 1960s, when the U.S. Senate’s Juvenile Delinquency subcommittee began assembling the case for tighter regulation of the domestic firearms market. Over the next four decades, as state and national interest groups were established to further the cause, and hundreds of gun control bills were introduced in Congress and state legislatures, a sustained, nationwide citizens’ movement for gun control failed to coalesce. Meanwhile, one president was killed, another one badly wounded, and a third nearly shot by two different perpetrators within two weeks. Other highly publicized casualties of gun violence included...

  13. APPENDIX A Gun-Related Trends
    (pp. 201-203)
  14. APPENDIX B Brief Case Studies of Other Social-Reform Movements
    (pp. 204-207)
  15. APPENDIX C Survey of Million Mom March Participants
    (pp. 208-214)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 215-248)
  17. References
    (pp. 249-270)
  18. Index
    (pp. 271-282)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 283-285)