The concluding chapter wraps up the volume by pointing to the explanatory, social, and performative aspects of gun imaginaries, as understood through the various historical contexts and interpretive lenses that the contributors engage. The transdisciplinary American Studies explications of gun debates demonstrate the great significance invested in weapons culture in the United States, be it on societal, cultural, or academic levels. Guns as imaginaries galvanize individuals who are up in arms, while their actions and reactions reverberate into further imaginaries; thus, individuals and communities simultaneously shape and are shaped by the broader power relations that they are necessarily a part of. Ultimately, the exploration of Texas as a gun imaginary and guns as a Texan imagery provides a toolbox and a roadmap for future discussions of the significance of firearms in other geographic contexts beyond the United States.
This chapter examines firearms fetishism as a complex assemblage of gun imaginaries and belief. Understanding fetishism as tightly intertwined with religion and shifts in gun culture over the past half century, the discussion focuses on Texas and its predominant forms of Christianity, and demonstrates the connection between gun ownership and religiosity. Drawing on research materials and interviews with Texas residents at a pair of universities in Austin, the chapter also examines the significance of two shootings in churches in Texas before and after a recent law (Senate Bill 535) that allows concealed and open carry in public places of worship. In this way, the chapter analyzes the nature of the gun owner’s relationship with the object and what it symbolizes. As viewed through the lens of fetishism theory, this may involve an explicitly religious aspect, commodification, or even a sexualized interpretation. Invoking existing gendered ideals of the hero archetype, firearms fetishism is revealed to play a fundamental role in the construction and expression of moral and religious identity in Texas.
This chapter explores the act of political imagining around guns by centering on the temporal imaginaries constructed about the Founding Fathers in gun debates in Texas. It questions how the groups on both sides invoke the Founding Fathers as both objects and subjects of political imaginations. On one hand, political activists have created imaginary historical versions of the Founding Fathers to place them in relation to their own political imaginations in the modern day, to depict their stance as a continuum of a wider arc of history. On the other hand, the debates have touched on the potential limits of the imaginations of the Founding Fathers themselves, sparking discussions and disagreements on what the historical figures could have imagined in their own times. The chapter uses a body of materials drawn from media, activists, and fieldwork interviews to explore these two points and to elucidate through them the larger dynamics of political conflict in the contemporary United States. It asks how the temporal imaginaries of the Founding Fathers constructed around guns are drawn into larger ideological tensions that govern modern politics.
The Tower shooting at The University of Texas at Austin on August 1, 1966 is among the first and most memorable mass shootings in U.S. history because of its wide media coverage. Drawing from theorization of cultural trauma and trauma cultures after World War II, this chapter explores the mediation and narrativization of the Tower shooting as a cultural trauma. In this framing, trauma is a product of history and politics, and subject to reinterpretation. The chapter takes a closer look at the KTBC special news report aired immediately after the shooting, and two narratives: Elizabeth’s Crook’s novel Monday, Monday (2014) and Keith Maitland’s animated documentary film Tower (2016), created in response to a collective need for commemoration several decades later. The narratives reify a particular imagery that shapes the collective trauma and its affective resonance. The chapter focuses on the gendered figures of heroes, victims, and survivors in constituting the collective trauma that emerges as a result of a cultural crisis. How are these figures highlighted in the narratives? What cultural values and concerns relating to mass shootings as traumatizing experiences does the gendered imagery reveal? An analysis of gendered heroes, victims, and survivors brings perspectives on the pervasive cultural mode in which the collective trauma of mass shooting is processed within U.S. gun culture.
This chapter’s presentation of 17 full-color photographs reveals both formal and informal imaginaries of Texas gun culture, providing a visual context for the various subject matters discussed throughout the volume. This set of images was collected during fieldwork in Texas in 2018–2019 during the research project on Campus Carry conducted by the John Morton Center for North American Studies at the University of Turku, Finland. As such, it encompasses the “before and after” of the implementation of the SB 11 legislation, providing an alternative interpretative lens onto the conceptualization and experiencing of firearms in the campus space, as well as related aspects of gun culture in the Lone Star State. These visual materials offer a broader and more complex understanding of the ways in which people take a stand on policymaking, while also giving a useful tool to penetrate official discourses and historical imaginaries that might not be revealed otherwise. This chapter provides an important linkage between theoretical discussion and an experiential component, which focuses on both the research subjects’ and scholars’ spatial maneuvering within and outside of academia and other areas of Texas.
This introductory chapter lays out the themes and research design of Up in Arms: Gun Imaginaries in Texas. It explicates the ways in which imaginaries about guns have significant performative power and ramifications for individuals, communities, and the nation. Conceiving of imaginaries as gateways between the real world and ideological abstractions, it elaborates how they serve various important functions, driving legislative efforts, political agendas, community building, and social divisions. The chapter illustrates how the volume uses both historical and contemporary imaginaries as lenses through which to explore and better understand a range of cultural aspects intertwined with gun debates in the United States, and Texas in particular. As a nexus of gun debates, the Lone Star State has built its history, identity, and cultural mythology on stories that depict how gun culture was imagined into the very core of collective identity, built environment, and popular culture—with tangible, real-world consequences.
This chapter examines visual performances and videos promoting Campus Carry, which were produced during the contestation of the SB 11 legislation at The University of Texas at Austin in 2016. It views the videos as vernacular forms of social imaginaries of Campus Carry. Affecting what we are able to comprehend, through what Jacques Rancière calls the “distribution of the sensible,” our sense of reality, or a “common sense,” imaginaries construct different realities, including Campus Carry; they affect what can be seen, heard, and felt in and through their popular representations. To illustrate the visual performances of gun imaginaries in Texas, this chapter examines two videos produced by supporters of gun rights: one presents a publicly staged mock shooting on the streets of Austin, close to campus premises; the other is a professionally produced short that caricatures a prominent student activist from the “Cocks Not Glocks” group. In this way, the chapter argues that imaginaries shape how public morality and a sense of virtue relate to such contentious issues. They mediate socially constructed meanings and understandings of both security and insecurity, and thereby allow exploration of visions of the political that are contained in them.
This chapter explores radical political imagination in youth-led gun control advocacy groups in Texas, including the types of actions, activist subjectivities, and utopian visions for the future it has produced. It traces how the “absurdist direct action campaign” staged by a group of young women at the campus of The University of Texas at Austin in the fall of 2016 radically reimagined political action in the sphere of gun violence prevention. In the absence of political opportunities, the “Cocks not Glocks” protest used humor as a way to mitigate the precarious experiences and feelings of helplessness the Campus Carry law produced among certain segments of the campus community. Examining how radical imagination has been evoked in the Texas chapters of the national gun control movement March For Our Lives, the chapter discusses how a movement built upon an imagined generational community has led to a confluence of different issue-based groups, facilitating collective processes of imagining larger—even utopian—political projects that are uniquely “American” in nature. These examples of everyday resistance and broader collective action in Texas represent an important moment in the re-emergence of political hope among the Left in the United States that has been missing since “the Long Sixties.”
When Senate Bill 11 was filed in the Texas legislature in January 2015, the talk in Austin was that this time around, it had a distinct shot of passing. Similar efforts had been proposed before, but they had all fallen short. After the news hit the stands, imaginaries related to firearms on campuses took on a life of their own. The campus community, local newspapers, and activist groups tried to make sense of the hypothetical realities of an armed campus. This chapter probes the debates surrounding the Campus Carry legislation before and after its implementation in Texas in August 2016. Drawing on two town hall-style public debates organized at UT Austin and internet responses related to them, newspaper reporting from the Austin American-Statesman, and firsthand experiences from students, faculty, and administrators, the discussion reveals that debates about firearms frequently have little—if anything—to do with guns. And therein lies their power. What may ostensibly strike one as a debate about self-protection on closer look exposes implicit assumptions about race, gender, and class relations. By disentangling the multiple layers beneath the gun debates, we are faced with a heterogeneous community not only grappling with firearms but multiple, loaded social conflicts amplified within the armed campus space.
At the intersection of the American South, West, and U.S./Mexico border, Texas’s gun culture is American gun culture; the mythology of the independent, rugged frontiersman is synonymous with the broader mythology of gun culture in the United States. This chapter addresses the question how Texan identity became so closely tied to gun culture in the United States. The chapter explores the foundational symbols of Texas’s gun culture: the Alamo and the Texas Rangers. Drawing on the scholarship of historical memory and power, the chapter examines how these stories have been remembered and retold by gun enthusiasts as tales of heroic white masculinity, while forgetting the trauma of manifest destiny by negating the history of enslavement and the violent removal of indigenous and Mexican settlers. These symbols also shape contemporary imaginings of Texas and guns, both within the state and in the nation at large. The chapter examines ways that Texans make sense of guns today in state policy and popular and consumer culture, and how Texas figures in the national imagination. Texas continues to represent a space where Americans project both their celebration of gun rights and their fears of gun violence.