What guns mean: the symbolic lives of firearms

Editor: Professor Jonathan M Metzl (Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Medicine, Health, and Society, Director, Center for Medicine, Health, and Society, Professor of Psychiatry, Vanderbilt University, USA)

Scope: Civilian-owned firearms are particular material objects whose public health implications garner increasing academic and public attention. After years of relative silence, many leading American public health organizations, medical groups, and research universities have now come out against the research blockade put in place by the so-called Dickey Amendment in 1996. Meanwhile, each successive mass shooting highlights the untenable tensions between public demand for expert knowledge to prevent gun death on the one hand, and a government actively engaged in squelching this exact expert knowledge on the other. In response, growing numbers of medical and public health journals publish research articles and special issues that address the health effects of guns and bullets. To date, however, relatively little attention has been paid to larger questions of what guns mean, and how firearms emerge as powerful symbols whose connotations are shaped by history, politics, and culture. This article collection explores these latter associations by looking in depth at guns as particular, and particularly charged, cultural and political symbols. 

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