Guns Are For White People

Bloomberg View

Everybody's white. That's the conclusion from a survey of gun magazines I bought the other day. The survey, I admit, was not conducted in accord with the best research practices: I asked the guy at the subway kiosk for as many gun magazines as he could give me before the #4 train pulled in. He handed me three for $17.

All the magazines have ads for, well, guns, and loads of accessories (love the "Sneaky Pete" concealment holster). Naturally, they have stories on guns -- whether "intimidating, big-muzzle looks" or a "Tank-tough Recon Tactical with added strength and reliability for patrol." In addition, there are features on gun life, such as columns in Guns Magazine called "Campfire Tales" and "Odd Angry Shot."

There are pictures of guys with guns, gals with guns, animals with guns, ammo with guns and guns with guns. Curiously absent are pictures of black people with guns, brown people with guns or Asian people with guns. The good guys are white. The bad guys are white. In the Gunworld depicted in these pages, pretty much everyone is white.

This point was so striking, in fact, that I decided to count the faces in the ads and stories, figuring arithmetic would refute a lazy first impression. Including illustrations and photos, here's my tally:

Combat Handguns Magazine, November 2013

Whites: 92
Blacks: 1
Hispanics: 1
Asian: 1

Interestingly, both the (light-skinned) black guy and the Hispanic guy are wearing uniforms -- don't worry, folks, they're on our side! The Asian is dressed in a suit and tie and is clearly presented as a law enforcement or high-end security professional.

Guns & Weapons Magazine, October 2013

Whites: 131
Blacks: 2 (both law enforcement officers, one of whom is accompanied by 4 whites)
Hispanics: 0
Asians: 0

GUNS Magazine, September 2013

Whites: 60
Blacks: 0
Hispanics: 0
Asians: 2 (Does it still count if they're Japanese soldiers from WW II in an ad for military surplus?)

It's hard to know exactly what to infer from this blizzard of white. Gun politics is always racially fraught. Blacks commit firearms offenses at a much higher rate than whites. In 2010, the rate of firearm homicide for blacks was 14.6 per 100,000 compared with 4 for Hispanics, 1.9 for whites and 1.0 for Asians and Pacific Islanders. In general, blacks also support gun control much more strenuously than whites.

Whether the gun magazines figure it's politically safer to make everyone the same color, or whether they're simply catering to a monochromatic readership with a strong hankering for all-white cultural nostalgia -- or both -- is impossible to tell. There is, of course, a hardy strain of racial paranoia coursing through some corners of American gun culture. So it seems unlikely that the overwhelming whiteness is mere coincidence.

It's possible that my numbers are very slightly off. It's not always easy to identify race. For example, there is a picture of a guy taking a nap on a sofa, comfortably armed with a handgun tucked in his pants. We only see him from behind, his hair is dark and I was tempted to count him as Hispanic; it's very hard to tell. But after weighing the totality of the evidence, I figured there was really only one safe way to go: white.

(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)



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