Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 1–20 | Cite as

Learning to Need a Gun

  • Harel ShapiraEmail author
  • Samantha J. Simon


Millions of Americans feel the need to carry guns with them everywhere they go. They feel this need in their minds as well as in their bodies. Cognitively, they feel their lives are in danger and physically, they feel unease when they are not carrying their guns. In this article, we demonstrate that the practice of carrying guns is constituted by both cognitive schemas about risk and safety, as well as sensory and embodied experiences of comfort, and even pleasure, in holding, shooting, and carrying a gun. As with other social practices, these cognitive schemas and embodied experiences are not innate, but rather learned. Drawing on interviews with 46 people who regularly carry guns, as well as fieldwork at firearms training schools, we examine the process by which people learn the cognitive schemas (how people think about guns) and embodied experiences (how people physically experience guns) associated with the practice of carrying guns.


Guns Embodiment Practice Socialization 



We thank Shamus Khan, Christine Williams, and David Yamane for feedback they gave us on earlier versions of this article. We are also particularly grateful for the insights and encouragements provided by David Smilde throughout the editorial process. This publication was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyThe University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

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