There's an excellent reason why gun control is one of the most divisive fights in America

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley, fileIn this April 18, 2013 file photo, community gun safety advocates and members of the public hold signs during a rally and vigil to honour victims of gun violence, sponsored by Colorado Ceasefire, on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol, in Denver

No issue seems to divide Americans as much as guns.

An April 2015 Pew Research poll found that 52% of Americans said protecting gun owners’ rights was more important than gun control compared to 46% who held the opposite view.

That was before the most recent mass shootings that reignited a gun debate that tends to lead to nowhere.

In order to understand the gun debate, we need to think about guns as a cultural issue — not just a political one, according to the author Colin Woodard, who has studied extreme cultural differences in 11 regions of the US.

The gun debate is most strongly centered on two of those regions, which Woodward calls Yankeedom and the Deep South (essentially the Northeast and the most conservative parts of the South like Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama).

“There are strong regional differences when it comes to the appropriateness of the use of violent force to settle disputes … once you know where you are coming from, it will help move the conversation forward,” Woodard says.

Woodard attributes the South’s love for guns to its “honour culture.”

“The people who colonised the South hailed from the borderlands of Europe where there was no reliable law and you had to defend your own. It was an honour culture where you stood up for yourself because the government was not trusted,” Woodard explains.

Woodard says the Deep South was colonised by “swashbuckling Cavaliers of noble or landed gentry status, who took their values . . . from the knightly, medieval standards of manly honour and virtue.”

The “honour culture” brought to the Deep South during colonial times has more or less pervaded through the centuries to form the Southern culture we have today where “if a bully is causing you trouble, you stand up for yourself and fight,” according to Woodard.

AP Photo/Mark HumphreyNational Rifle Association members hold hands during the opening prayer at the annual meeting of members at the NRA convention Saturday, April 11, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn.

Yankeedom, on the other hand, abhors this type of culture. Woodard explains that Yankeedom society frowns on individuals taking retribution and protection into their own hands.

Yankeedom was settled by Calvinists who wanted to “perfect earthly civilisation through social engineering, denial of self for the common good, and assimilation of outsiders,” Woodard says. Yankeedom values education, intellectual achievement, communal empowerment, and citizen participation in government as a shield against tyranny. It is comfortable with government regulation — like gun control.

Woodard says these two distinct cultures are constantly competing for the hearts and minds of the other nine regions in America, and that they would “never see eye to eye on anything besides an external threat.”
Keeping Woodard’s definitions in mind, you can see how the modern gun debate is rooted in the competing cultural legacies of these two regions.

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