News Ways to Talk About Guns
To some, the gun is a symbol of a society crumbling into violence and chaos. To others, it’s a necessary tool to protect society from crime and disorder. It’s a subject that invites fierce debate, and, at Amherst this year, close scholarly scrutiny.

For this year’s Copeland Colloquium, a perennial gathering in which invited scholars examine a particular topic, the theme is “The Social Life of Guns.” Alongside this colloquium, the Department of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought will present the lecture series “Guns in Law.”

“People are talking about guns a lot, but they’re only talking about guns in certain ways,” says Jonathan M. Obert, assistant professor of political science, who serves on the colloquium’s proposal committee. “They are talking about them as objects to be regulated, or as a public health concern.”

Both are important debates, he says, but the committee wanted to ask another set of questions: What do guns mean to people? Why are guns so important in today’s political debates? Why are people so fascinated with guns?

The committee chose four Copeland Fellows to spend this academic year on campus. They are Chad Kautzer, associate professor of philosophy at Lehigh University, who is working on a book tentatively titled Good Guys with Guns: Whiteness, Masculinity, and the New Politics of Sovereignty; Nathan Shelton, doctoral candidate in sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, who is writing about civilian interpretations of gun law and starting a project about the gun market; Jennifer Yida Pan, doctoral candidate in English at the University of Chicago and doctoral fellow with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, who is investigating fictional firearms and narrative form; and Alex Trimble Young, a recently minted Ph.D. in English at the University of Southern California, who is investigating anti-statist rhetoric of right-wing gun culture and of radical leftist movements.

The lectures that the fellows present will be published in a collection edited by Austin D. Sarat, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, and Andrew Poe, assistant professor of political science. 

Guns in Law

While the Copeland Colloquium presents cultural and sociological views on guns, the LJST department’s “Guns in Law” lecture series focuses on the status of guns as objects of legal regulation. All year, this lecture series is looking at how the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to bear arms has been interpreted and debated, and controversy over the U.S. Supreme Court’s understanding of that amendment. Organizers say this controversy provides a touchstone for larger debates on how the Constitution gets interpreted in the courts, public opinion and the historical record.