An evolving project

I believe most researchers in any given field, sciences, social sciences and humanities alike, acknowledge that well-executed research must be founded on a well-defined question. Without a clear goal in mind, research becomes miss-directed and vague. This is the problem I experienced from the inception of this adventure; I had a general sense of what I wanted to study and a general idea of how I wanted to go about investigating it, and, perhaps predictably, when I tried to begin conducting the research I founded myself ill-equipped to go forward as I didn’t really know in which direction to head. The issue that this paper explores is considerably different then what I originally envisioned it to be, and I believe that its genesis is sufficiently important to understanding the significance of what this paper seeks to achieve that I ought to describe it somewhat.

The general object of the research has been from the beginning a reflection on the role that fire arms have on a nation’s culture. This idea stems from observation of what firearms mean to Americans; whether a man is a supporter of America’s firearms policy or a detractor, he generally has some opinion one way or the other. The role that firearms play in United States’ society is undeniable. There are ninety firearms per one hundred people across the country, used variously for self-defense, hunting, sport shooting, public defense, and crime. The US is singular in this regard, and this is certainly due to the US’s singular protection of firearm propriety.

What is it precisely that makes firearms such a prominent aspect of our county’s identity, where most other countries of the world cannot “boast” of such a tie? Consider just within the scope of Western culture. Great Britain, Spain, France, Germany, and Spain are all examples of liberal, republican democracies that claim heritage from many of the same intellectual ancestors: Voltaire, Rousseau, Jefferson, and Locke among them. Certainly in America firearms proponents point to these men, and the principles of sovereignty and natural right that they embody, as the source and justification of firearms ownership. So why do other Western European countries treat firearms so differently than their trans-Atlantic neighbors? These are the questions that I hoped to answer through my research.

As I wanted to make generalizations about these nations’ cultures, I saw personal interviews as the most effective tool to achieve my end. I would conduct personal interviews with citizens of England, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States (these countries represented a good variety of strictness along the spectrum of firearms regulation), and more specifically with people who are in a position to comment on firearms, namely hunters, police officers, politicians, and firearms vendors. I planned to conduct these interviews during a two month European tour, during which I spent one month and change in Cadiz, Spain, and then three weeks in England and Switzerland.

After a couple of weeks in Cadiz I made an observation that threw a proverbial wrench in the machinations of my project. Cadiz lies in the “Comunidad de Andalucia” (essentially the equivalent of a state or province), which has considerably different cultural characteristics than other Spanish communities like Catalonia or Castilla-Mancha. Given that I only spent one month in Spain and that entire month was spent in Cadiz, no matter how many interviews I conducted I was really not in any position to make generalizations about the culture of the entirety of Spain. Reflecting further on this point, I realized that I would be in even less of a position to make generalizations about England and Switzerland based on just a few interviews.

My solution is particularization. In order to make some broader speculation about the role that firearms play in the culture of Western society, I studied the cultures of Waynesboro, Virginia, and Cadiz, Spain, and the role that firearms play within those cultures. Certainly Waynesboro does not perfectly represent the entirety of America, but Waynesboro can represent America in some ways, at the very least by its nature of being a town anchored by a hard-working middle class. I have seen many parallels to Cadiz in this way. The Gaditanos are distinctly Gaditano and Andalucian, but they are also distinctly Spanish. I can also speak with some authority on both Waynesboro, my home town, and Cadiz, as a Hispanic Studies major and an adopted Gaditano for a month.

The purpose of this comparison isn’t necessarily to evaluate how guns affect Americans versus how guns affect Spaniards. This project is about how firearms can affect the culture of a given people. Hence, the comparison between Waynesboro and Cadiz simply functions as two very different (but yet still similar in many, important aspects) perspectives by which to compare firearms. This project is not about Spain, nor America, but about firearms. Using two places that I understand somewhat and have very different relationships with firearms presents me with an opportunity to use knowledge which I already possess about Spain and about the US to examine guns.