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May 4, 2007

Your Turn: The Columbine Reflex

Cassidy-Dan



Perhaps the most dangerous intellectual act one can do with a portrait is to assume.

In the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre, this image — from a promotional site for photographer Kyle Cassidy’s upcoming book, ARMED AMERICA: Portraits of Gun Owners in their Homes — started making the rounds.  And — shades of Cho Seung-Hui or Dylan Klebold — it’s not hard to see why.

This photo of Dan Pehrson, posing with his Bushmaster AR-15, Rock Island Armory / Sendra M16, Remington 700 PSS, Springfield XD, FN Five-seven, H&K USP, Sig Sauer P226, Colt Commander 1911, Glock 22, and fingering his Mossberg Model 88, is clearly confrontational.

In fact, read what one of Pehrson’s fellow gun enthusiasts wrote to him in response to an edgier version of Cassidy’s shot posted on the Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association discussion board.  (The 24-year-old Pehrson, by the way, is the organization’s founder and president.)

Nice collection Dan…especially the M16…I like it. However, somehow that photo is mildly disturbing to me. I’m not sure why, perhaps it’s the pizza boxes, toweled out window, nice arsenal or the “eye of the tiger” in your stare…perhaps all of the above.  Would make a great Christmas card though. Take more pics!!

To what extent, however, is Pehrson (or Cassidy) exhibiting his own obsessiveness, power-issues and/or rapport with the dark side as opposed to just playing with perception, snatching an opportunity to manipulate stereotypes in the name of the Second Amendment?

At The BAG, we’ve had many opportunities to hear a photographer’s reaction to his or her own images.  Less common, however, is to hear the photographer’s reaction to public reaction.  After the jump, I invite you to consider Cassidy’s thoughts regarding how the picture — posted on a number of blogs, already — has been received.

Cassidy writes:

A lot of the commentary I’ve seen about Dan’s photo has been along the lines of “Here’s the next Columbine” and I find it fascinating that it’s such a common response. If you put some tattooed biker on the couch there people would just say “Oh there’s Uncle Jim with his guns” but there seems to be a special visual stigma we apply to people who don’t “look” the way we expect and there appears to be something particularly unsettling about the idea of a young person with guns.

I don’t know if this is a post Columbine addition to our collective subconscious or if it existed before. The sparseness of his room seems to affect people too — when you only have two visual cues it’s almost inevitable that you’ll put them together in a linear fashion and get “This guys just sits around his house all day eating pizza and cleaning his guns. If he wasn’t just about to snap, he’d have more ’stuff’.

But that’s certainly not an accurate assessment of how I found him to be. If you take that image, photoshop out the guns and replace them with Star Wars action figures or a couple of BMX bikes, you’d have his personality pretty accurately captured and I think nobody would find his expression troublesome. Myself, I found him to be completely charming, engaging and well-spoken.

During the course of this book I met a lot of people who seemed to be itching for a fight — they wanted nothing more than to really tell off some anti-gun person and send them away in tears, but Dan seems the complete opposite of that. He’s got a very soft approach when trying to get his point across. He was very supportive of my project even when I explained that it wasn’t a pro-gun book (or anti-gun either, I might add), but just a book about people.

Based on your reactions to The Economist cover I posted last week, I understand the sensitivity of the issue.  Still, in the spirit of The BAG, I’m hoping the discussion might focus more directly on the dynamics of the image and the possible intentions of Mr. Pehrson, rather than on the gun debate itself.

One take I have, breaking the gestalt, is that the pizza boxes are probably more loaded here than the weaponry.

Image © Kyle Cassidy.  2006.

ARMED AMERICA Amazon
pre-order page.

  • http://www.theunapologeticmexican.org nezua

    there appears to be something particularly unsettling about the idea of a young person with guns.
    is the writer really shocked at this? of course there is something unsettling about juxtaposing young people with violence or implication of same. young hezbollah kids cheering with fists in the air and camo on. or the tenth day of Mahuram, when Shiite children commemmorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and get really agitated and bloody. or young people in KKK gear. the juxtaposition of violence and youth is always unsettling. guns are violence, even safety on, unloaded and clean. young people represent new life, new thinking, new ways. seems obvious to me why it would be unsettling. i guess not.
    If you take that image, photoshop out the guns and replace them with Star Wars action figures or a couple of BMX bikes, you’d have his personality pretty accurately captured and I think nobody would find his expression troublesome.
    um…when’s the last time a three-inch tall plastic figurine blew someone’s skull into fragments? my lord. what a funny line.
    if you took the rifle out of the background of osama bin laden’s fotos you’d have a guy with a beard and a rock behind him. and if you took the gun out of the VT kid’s hands in those fotos of his, you’d have a kid angstily mugging for a camera like any MTV shot. if you took guns off the belts of cops, you’d have guys with sticks and superiority/inferiority complexes.
    a GUN adds the context of killing to a foto. it’s not as if it is a neutral item! that’s just a silly line. his thinking, i guess, is trying to place guns as neutral objects. maybe that’s why its silly. they are not.

    the pizza boxes, the room, the guns speak of a person who is obsessively clean and ordered. the hair belies this. i find the contradiction interesting. but the compulsion for such order and control unsettling in the context of a gun lover. guns and a love for control so often go together with poor results, but he seems like a very friendly young man. so i’m sure there’s nothing to worry about.

  • http://theanonymouswoman.com AnonWoman

    Pizza boxes definitely loaded. Domino’s Kills.
    Only in America could someone label this photo as “My Modest Collection.” Just a young, humble, white guy defending your right to blow others away. And for that, the poor dude suffers from a “special visual stigma.” Why is it “fascinating” that we think of massacres when we see a collection of automatic weaponry designed to kill human beings? Frankly, I don’t understand why tattooed Uncle Jim should have them either.
    I feel like rappin’ when I view this photos. Shall we?
    Finger on the trigger, lookin’ for some fun, boy’s got a way with his semi-matic gun.

  • http://biobrain.blogspot.com Doctor Biobrain

    I’d like to second Nezua’s comment. That’s better than what I was planning to write.

  • http://www.agrippinaminor.com/wp/ Scarabus

    Two observations, first the nature of even a “modest collection” does matter. Let’s suppose a given “collector” freaks out in response to some confluence of circumstances, and takes his collection to a local school or mall to make a “statement.” I’d much rather have him attacking folks with a bunch of Star Wars action figures or BMX bikes than with assault weapons.
    Second, as Cassidy notes the real nature or identity of the guy himself might be quite different from the image he projects while sitting with his collection of assault weapons. But it’s the image which affects public discourse and attitudes. In that context, perception IS reality.

  • readytoblowagasket

    Well said, nezua.
    I disagree with The BAG’s description of the affect of this photo as “confrontational,” however, since 6 of the guns are pointing at the kid.

  • http://www.agrippinaminor.com/wp/ Scarabus

    Follow-up…
    Getting my morning fix, I visited Crooks & Liars after leaving here. The latest “late night music” offering shows the Bastard Fairies performing “Guns and Dolls,” two “collectibles,” and is relevant here.
    http://www.crooksandliars.com/

  • tina

    Hmmm. Very clean room, gleaming floor. White walls with no pictures or decorations: even the window blocked out (with white). Two pieces of simple beige furniture arranged in the exact middle of this environment.
    Pizza boxes. Does he always order in to eat? Neatly stacked.
    Immaculatly kept guns extend the illusion of absolute control. When this illusion is threatened, I believe this young man could very well strike out. I surely can’t prove that. But there’s something “off” about that room. Control issues, definitely. OCD? Maybe, who knows from a picture.
    Glad he’s not my neighbor. Shocking to me that someone can perceptive enough to say “disturbing”, but then go on to: “oh, well nice collection….make a good Christmas card!”
    None more blind than those who will not see.

  • tina

    O.K. after going to the site I’m now totally weirded out.
    First impressions borne out tenfold.
    fellow gun nut’s comment: “Okay, now we need to have a talk about the crazy apartment guy with a lot of guns”.
    Dan’s reply, “Yeah I hear a lot of that. But I don’t have a lot of guns”.
    He also, it seems, does not have a driver’s licence. At age 24, why would someone not have a driver’s licence? This is suggestive.
    Even the members of his own organization think he’s at least somewhat warped.
    But, he’s a law-abiding citizen–until he picks up that M-16 and breaks the law with it.
    The words horse, barn, door, and bolt come to mind.

  • http://justbetweenstrangers.blogspot.com/ acm

    I noticed that at the site of that other photo, lots of people mentioned the pizza boxes too — I think they add the sense that this is a guy holed up with his stockpile of weaponry (no time to go out or have a life), bringing connotations of Waco and other paranoid groups. The starkness of the room adds to that effect (although it could well be some back room that just doesn’t get much non-gun use). To me he has a rather innocent look — in fact, he looks like a teenager (that might play D&D), which probably adds to the Columbine associations and other creepiness indirectly.

  • tina

    Cassidy: Caligula could be soft spoken and charming when he wanted to be. People who end up killing other people do not behave in any one manner.

  • weisseharre

    dominotrix

  • http://fuming-mucker.livejournal.com Darryl Pearce

    …one of my first memories of guns was the westerns on television, where the peace-minded but pushed-too-far guy stood by the door, the camera focusing on his attention on the ubiquitous six-shot pistol and bullet-belt.
    And the wife saying–pleading, “Don’t go into town!”
    There is a dogma and stigma attached to guns–one of the few places where the interaction of reality and fiction have deadly consequences.
    Of course, one of the funnier aspects of the gun culture was portrayed in the movie “Tremors.”
    …only in America where we have to understand our current events through the lens of entertainment.

  • Doctor Jay

    In the photo above, the angle and pose emphasize Dan’s boyishness. In the other photo, Dan’s pose and the angle emphasize manliness. His posture is upright and open, the angle makes him look bigger, and the shotgun is propped on his thigh, evoking say, a deputy sherrif sitting on the porch of the jail in your favorite western. It says, “I’m in charge here, and I’m showing you why.”
    Young men can have such a hard time finding their own power in our culture, that one can easily see why they might turn to guns as a source of power.
    The emptiness of the space reinforces his powerlessness. One of the ways we demonstrate power is by changing our living space, inhabiting it with artifacts of us. Artwork we chose, furniture we like.
    One likes a clean photograph with not a lot of distraction. But the couch and table don’t have a lot of color, the windowshade blends with the wall, and the only other thing visible in the room is the stack of pizza boxes, neatly arranged.
    So it feels like I don’t really know who Dan is at all. All I’m shown are the guns. There’s no context, no sense of what he might use them for. Does he go down to the range on Saturdays to practice. Does he practice fieldstripping his handguns and rifles, does he know all the parts and how they work? Does he load his own ammunition? What about these guns interests him?
    The photo seems to say that the only thing you need to know about me is that I have the guns. If I got to know who Dan was really, I might like him, or I might run screaming, who knows?

  • Retief

    The Security Camera/Omniscient perspective of the portrait may also add to the wierdness given the cell like walls and violence implicit in the guns. It’s a bit more voyeurish than a more intimate angle might be. Certainly it is a different feel than the edgier version in the link. This one says, “look at this guy’s guns.” The linked one says “look at my guns.” Speaking of Darryl’s lens of entertainment, on viewing the linked version my imediate thought was, “so this is what happened to Tim after Dawn went to America.”

  • ummabdulla

    The photo above is very different from the one on his Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association site.
    In the one above, he looks younger (like a boy), thinner, more innocent. Those are somethng he “collects”. In the other one, he looks older, bigger, and more threatening, like some guy ready to shoot any trespasser.
    You can make an argument for having a gun, but what’s the argument for having a whole collection?

  • ice weasel

    Images of guns, much like images of naked female breasts, often encourage fervored and therefore, not always well thought out comments.
    It’s one reason why guns (and female breasts) are so often photographed. The artist is guaranteed a reaction. In a way, it’s a cheap shot. The obvious visual ploy.
    Of course, there are exceptions.

  • http://www.spaciouschads.com Chaddeous

    Pretty little objects, sitting in a row
    Perfectly immaculate, polished to a glow
    Pretty little white boy, stares into my eyes
    Smile crawling up my spine
    Silence eating me alive
    Only he may touch his prized
    possesions, but the one he holds
    so proudly is the one that shows
    the killer still inside,
    the killer hiding in us all.

  • http://ruinsofempire.blogspot.com/ Rafael

    Hey ACM…
    Stop beating up on others people’s hobbies, one has nothing to do with the other. What really caught my eye is how wimpy this kid looks, like somebody who would be the target of bullies and jocks and only by adding the guns does he look tough or menacing. Take the guns out of the picture and there is really nothing much to see, now is there.

  • chimproller

    Good God, there is a lot of hysteria here about a lot of nothing.
    Reading these comments, he is made out to be a power-hungry psychopath in waiting, just one “freak out” away from blowing his neighbors skulls into fragments.
    In fact, maybe we should just lock him up now, since we all know he is going to murder somebody someday anyway.
    But seriously, can we turn down the hysteria a little bit?

  • Semper Fi 95

    He’d make a fine soldier, yes he would!
    When I was in the Marines, we used to take similar photos, only we exercised muzzle awareness with our weapons. I’ve got a really nice one of me holding two M-16s crisscrossed in front of my chest when I was at SOI. We also posed with the American flag, the organizational colors (Marine Corps flag), with government officials, family members, in front of AFVs, combat aircraft, on ships, etc.
    This young man can change the context of his photo ops by simply enlisting. The reaction to a soldier standing with a weapon, with a collection of weapons, behind a large collection of weapons or munitions, aircraft, AFVs, etc. usually doesn’t evince feelings of paranoia, hysteria, distrust, etc. He can handle truly powerful weapons and shoot them and spend hours and hours cleaning them because a sergeant is never satisfied with how his subordinates maintain themselves, their weapons and equipment.

  • margaret

    Gun fetishist: not a good thing. Obsession with guns, cleaning them, lining them up neatly, is very disturbing and I do not believe, a “normal” activity. Handling guns, showing them off, is just too obvious a sublimation of something I would rather not mention in a dignified forum such as this. Put a violin in his hands, or a set of drums, or a piano, and turn that obsessive nature towards the attention to detail which is necessary to learning to play an instrument well, and then you would have healthy behavior for a young man, and creative performance which would allow him to interact in a healthy way with others.

  • http://www.agrippinaminor.com/wp/ Scarabus

    Re Raphael’s comment…
    “What really caught my eye is how wimpy this kid looks, like somebody who would be the target of bullies and jocks and only by adding the guns does he look tough or menacing.”
    Precisely! The profile of lots of killers is that, having been victimized by bullies, they get revenge via assault weapons. In fact, wasn’t that true of the Columbine kids?
    For the record, I’m speaking of the image, not of this particular kid. The relationship between “image” and “identity” is tricky…but instructive.
    I was named after an uncle who enlisted underage in WW II, won a Silver Star, and then was killed before he really needed to shave. In the official photo where he accepted the Silver Star my uncle looked like a sweet highschool freshman. But he won that medal for having saving many comrades’ lives by killing a great number of enemy soldiers with his light machine gun.
    Am I saying that my slightly post-adolescent uncle was a killing machine masquerading as a baby-faced innocent? Of course not! I’m just saying (a) that the relationship between image and identity is tricky and (b) that a bullied kid who has access to a lot of assault weapons no rational civilian would have a reason to possess is scary. In fact, the more bullied he looks, the scarier he looks.
    What bullies “send around” tends too often to “come around” for those who are totally innocent.

  • http://www.livejournal.com/users/vicfitz82 Victor F

    looks like he’s got his weapons unloaded and under control: if he were really being aggressive I don’t think he’d have both hands resting on top of the shotgun. It is a very impressive collection, though, that guy really has some firepower. It’s a lot of weapons in a small space, that’s what makes the photo intimidating. But, they’re all neatly arranged like in a display case, and pointing “up,” so if a shot goes off it will just go into the air.
    But my reaction is still, “gosh, that’s a lot of guns. does he really need that many?” I guess if you’re interested in guns or if you’re interested in baseball cards, you can never have enough…

  • Cactus

    Some first impressions: If the sample on the book site is representative, he seems to have done a good job of selecting a variety of ages, reasons, types of people and types of guns. The things that stood out for me were the apparent anger on the faces or attitudes of the younger ones, sort of an in-your-face challenge. I also noticed that several of the gun owners had framed photographs on their walls. In a way, I can understand the collectors, such as the guy with all the historic and/or civil war rifles. My great-grandfather was once the sheriff of Evening Shade Ark. and he once relieved a drunken woman of her pearl-handled side-arm. Seems she was having trouble keeping it holstered while inebriated. It has been passed down through the family ever since.
    Nezua makes a good point. If you took away the guns from the photos of those young men, they would still be angry looking young men and one could reasonably wonder if they meant any harm to others. WITH the guns in the photo, there is no doubt that they could be a direct danger. Not necessarily that they will be, but they could be. Sort of ramps up the stakes.
    “….I found him to be completely charming, engaging and well-spoken. … Dan seems the complete opposite of that. He’s got a very soft approach when trying to get his point across. …” How many times have we heard about the really nice kid next door who just blew away a dozen people? So pardon me if I’m not reassured by those words. He still has a lot of guns!
    I also wonder about all those pizza boxes. I don’t know anyone who saves them and neatly stacks them in a corner to collect bugs. Does he use them to store ammo? In fact, the top boxes look smaller and different but I couldn’t make out any printing on them. Could they be ammo boxes? Still, I agree with the others who brought up the issue of control. That small room, everything, EVERYTHING, very neat and ‘AJ-squared away.’ One does indeed wonder why he is not in the military.
    And I’d like to smack upside the head that guy letting his toddler, who is barely able to sit up, handle his gun. Real smart!

  • http://profile.typekey.com/error27/ error27

    Cactus: The top boxes are breadsticks.
    There was a mention of a “toweled out window.” It’s just a normal window blind. You can see it better in the other pic.
    None of the guns are pointing forward.
    It’s people who scew around with guns and knives that make me nervous. It’s like some of my otherwise sane friends go nuts when you give them a weapon.
    Guns are cool to take pictures of.
    Also that guy needs to get a hair cut. He looks like a hippie.

  • tina

    Victor F–”Does he need that many?”
    He doesn’t think he HAS very many. Hmmm.

  • http://home.comcast.net/~sfs73/images/kick_down_door.jpg MonsieurGonzo

    ref: dominotrix (!)
    IMHO the existence of this un-uniform(ed) young man brandishing guns is not nearly so disturbing as the existence of his “trophy photo” portrait apparent, and his desire implicit to disseminate this image brand = self, to others :-/
    iow, the right to bear arms he may have, but to brandish = inflict visual violence, he has not.

  • http://www.pafoa.org/ Daniel

    What an interesting analysis of myself by others. I’m quite amazed at everyone’s ability to know exactly who I am and what I stand for simply by looking at a picture.
    I did not grow up around firearms, I took a safety class few years ago and picked up the target shooting hobby. I’ve always been a collector whether it be baseball cards, comic books, or whatever else caught my fancy at the time so it is only logical that my collection of firearms would gradually expand over time. All but one of those firearms collects dust in a safe (except for the occasional trip to the range.)
    I find it intriguing how many people assume that because one owns firearms that one must be “ready to snap any time!” By that logic any man is just a rapist who hasn’t raped yet, and any person with a match is just itching to burn down a building.
    In a way it’s somewhat upsetting to see so many people so quick to judge based on nothing more than a momentary glimpse into a life, but ultimately that is the world we live in, prejudiced and wary of things that are different.
    While I have no expectation or desire to make people agree with my hobby, I can truthfully say that almost every assumption made in each comment posted here is completely off the mark and if you spent 10 minutes with myself (or any responsible firearm owner) you would realize that by and large we are the nicest, most law-abiding group of people you’d ever meet.
    Best Wishes,
    -Daniel

  • http://www.mailonsunday.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=452977&in_page_id=1770&in_a_source= MonsieurGertrude

    Ref: an interesting analysis of myself by others
    Dear Daniel
    Actually, nothing has changed. No one here actually gives a thought about you. We were talking about that self that is the character of the image, not somebody = yourself {sigh}
    You remain… invisible, thus :
    un-seen; un-felt; and in-experienced by us.
    and most especially, her. She still doesn’t love you, want you, need you ~ though you do possess all those penises! Mothers can be so cruel, Daniel. How it hurts! we know, we know.
    keep trying, Daniel. keep sending out the little messages in blog bottles.
    someday, someone is bound to find your bottle bobbing up, somewhere. Mind you, it may not be her; it may even be a him ~ but don’t despair, darling. Beggars can’t be choosers. And when Daniels go ’round covering themselves with Dicks, well ~ you know dear:
    you might have to bend over, and bite the bullet
    .

  • http://www.bagnewsnotes.com The BAG

    In virtually every case where the subject of a photo has made an appearance here — unless that person was quite put out (which Daniel doesn’t seem to be) — it has enhanced the larger mission of the site.  I appreciate MonsieurGertrude’s point, that the Daniel in the photo is not Daniel so much as the character of the image.  (I’ll refrain from addressing the tone of the comment.)  Still, given that Daniel is also Daniel — if he is still looking in on this discussion, I have a couple questions … if you, Daniel, would be so agreeable. 

    My main question (which, hopefully, affords us a little more insight into your character beyond the photographer’s endorsement) is, how did this shot come about?  Particularly, was this scene and setting (i.e. clean room, neat stack of pizza boxes) your idea?  (I ask, for one thing, because you intimate on the PAFOA discussion board that you don’t throw out the boxes that often — “I love pizza and often miss my garbage day” — making the impression of neatness contradictory.  That being the case, the way the photo is set up suggests the intent to project (an almost neurotic) obsessiveness along with a sense of reclusiveness.  But then, because the trappings of eccentricity, or even pathology, are so self-conscious, you set it up so that a.) you couldn’t possibly be that character doing the tease, and b.) it must be our fault if we even pause to consider the possibility.  (Could that have something to do with why Gertrude went after you?)

    I was also wondering how is it you so easily showed up in this post to defend your image, just like you did in the post and discussion on the Mental Floss blog.  Beyond that, I’m a little surprised no one here picked up the fact the photographer is credited by you on your discussion board post, is a registered member of the forum, and has been an active contributer.

    Although I’m still willing to give Mr. Cassidy the benefit of the doubt, the fact you seem so familiar with each other makes me wonder how much the book is actually a random cross section of gun owners in the U.S., as opposed to a more select survey, with a potentially partisan interest in putting a more populist and human face on America’s gun owners and gun culture.  In your post at Mental Floss, Daniel, you say:

    There’s a lot of people in (t)his book that really do reflect the quilt that is American firearm owners.

    In extending yourself with the phrase, “really do,” you have the sound of someone (already under the blanket) who believes it might not. 

  • http://www.pafoa.org/ Daniel

    To start, I found the posts both here and on mental floss through Google Analytics, they show up in the referrer logs for PAFOA which I check nightly.
    To answer your questions:
    1) The shot came about with Kyle knowing that I had a fairly sizable collection of firearms and wanted to take a picture of me with them for his book, I obliged. There really wasn’t a “scene” and it wasn’t set up any more than it took to lay out the firearms, everything else was just as it always is. The sparseness really just comes from the fact that I am a fairly busy person due to my job and my hobbies and interior decorating is neither my forte nor interest. The pizza boxes just happened to be there because well, I missed two garbage days in a row and I order out a lot (again due to my hectic schedule.) I am however, by most people’s standards, probably a very organized, neat-freak type person in many aspects of my life. The contradiction comes in because I am also a very busy person (and admittedly somewhat lazy at times) so while certain things will be quite organized and clean, other things will be haphazard and messy. In the end there was no intent to project anything, I was just posing for a picture in the environment I live in, which was the goal of Kyle’s project.
    2) As you noted I am in no way put out by the assumptions made. I can fully understand why a person with no other perspective could reach the conclusion that I am some sort of recluse, because well, the snapshot does in fact make it look that way. The assumption however couldn’t be further from reality.
    The thing that does slightly irk me is the implication that simply because one owns firearms that one must be some sort of psychopath teetering on the edge of sanity, just waiting and hoping for the day where they can take their revenge on the world for all of the assumed injustices they must have faced. I take umbrage to that not so much for myself, but for all firearm owners. By and large, in the few years I have been involved in shooting sports, I have found firearm owners to be the most friendly, responsible, law-abiding, and trustworthy group of people I know. As such it bothers me to such a huge group of people (some estimate 40% of the US population) written off so quickly. While I attach many virtues to firearm ownership (such as patience, discipline, responsibility) it is obvious that many only see death and destruction.
    3) As for Kyle’s involvement in my forum, I have been a friend of Kyle’s for a while now, actually pre-dating my organization (and it’s forum) and possibly his book. When I created it originally I invited him and he signed up, however he doesn’t post much as he is usually busy with one photo project or another.
    4) To the question regarding his book, while I can’t speak for him, I do believe he has done a wonderful job in providing a true cross-section of American firearm owners. He has traveled most of the country and met a lot of very different folks who own firearms for many different reasons. I also think he has done a very good job of keeping the book politically neutral, however each side seems to assume the book represents the other. People who are generally opposed to firearm ownership assume it must be a pro-gun book, and vice versa. A few people apparently refused to be in it because they thought it was some sort of government conspiracy in fact! This is what led me to word my post on mental floss the way I did, I believe the book is a great, non-political look at firearm ownership in America, but I have seen many people on both sides assume otherwise, my hope is that everyone will take a look at it and judge it after seeing, and not before.
    I hope that answers your questions, I truly have found the discussion fascinating. I never thought in a million years that a single picture would trigger so much analysis, especially not one which I felt was fairly boring compared to many of the others in the book (which I think are far better.)

  • http://molly.douthett.net lowly grunt

    Daniel, why so many guns? They aren’t Lays potato chips.

  • http://www.pafoa.org/ Daniel

    Re: lowly grunt
    No particular reason, it wasn’t a conscious decision where I sat down and went “Damn, I really need to buy a dozen guns!” When I first got into the hobby I rented my guns at the range I belonged to, but at $15/pop + range time + ammo that got very expensive very quickly so I went ahead and bought my first handgun, a Springfield XD 9mm Sub-Compact. It was a great gun but it was very small with a 3″ barrel. The result is that the shorter barrel and in turn shorter sight radius has a negative effect on accuracy so I bought something a little bigger in 9mm. Then I was introduced to the .40S&W round which I enjoyed shooting a little more and bought a Glock 22 chambered in .40. Eventually I was fairly happy with my knowledge of handguns and took up rifle shooting (which to this day I find far more enjoyable) so it only made sense to buy a rifle! From there the process just continues.
    In addition, I will admit I have always been a collector. Throughout the years I’ve collected bottle caps, baseball cards, marvel cards, comic books, magic cards, movies, and probably countless other things I can’t even remember. With firearms, while it seems they are all the same, they really are not. There are unique attributes of each and every one with their own history, design, and functionality that a firearm owner finds appealing. There are many guns I would still like to own for various reasons. I could add a hundred more to my collection and still have a shopping list.
    Many people look at a person with lots of guns and seem to get the impression that one is consciously amassing an arsenal. the reality is that most people I know who own a lot of guns always say “I swear I’m not buying anymore, the wife will never talk to me again!” and then something new and interesting comes out, and next thing you know they bought another one. I know guys who literally have hundreds and hundreds of firearms, the reason? They’re 70 years old, inherited their father’s collection, and have bought a gun or two, or five every year for 60 years. It just sort of happens. Firearms are one of the most common things to be passed to heirs and in a family with a history of involvement in shooting sports it is no unlikely that a few generations down the road one could have quite a collection without even buying a single one.
    Does this mean that there is no one out there who truly is sitting in a bunker amassing an arsenal in preparation for some perceived “end days”? Absolutely not. My point is only that by and large I would expect that to be the exception, not the rule.
    The one thing I’ve always wondered about such reactions to people with “a lot of guns” is what defines “a lot”? In the hands of someone looking to cause pain 100 guns are no more dangerous than 1 or 2. Guns are heavy, loaded guns are doubly heavy, as such 100 guns are fairly useless if you’re up to no good. So, what is the right amount of guns? Where does one draw the line between acceptable and “ready to snap”? In my past experiences (I live in Philadelphia, not exactly a hotbed of pro-firearm politics) the people who look at 10 guns and go “Why would anyone need to own that many guns” would say the same thing in response to a single gun. It’s not about the number owned, it’s about the fact any are owned.

  • readytoblowagasket

    Inspired by the concept of Memorial Day, I wanted to revisit this comment thread, however belatedly, because Daniel Pehrson’s comments have always more than slightly annoyed me. I quote and address Daniel directly, so for anyone who doesn’t want to slog through such a long comment, that’s what it’s about.
    Daniel said: What an interesting analysis of myself by others. I’m quite amazed at everyone’s ability to know exactly who I am and what I stand for simply by looking at a picture.
    Daniel, if you read The BAG’s original post, his explicit instructions for analyzing this image of you were as follows:
    I’m hoping the discussion might focus more directly on the dynamics of the image and the possible intentions of Mr. Pehrson, rather than on the gun debate itself.
    So that’s what commenters did, and pretty faithfully, I might add. Too bad for you, I guess. But that’s the price of celebrity.
    But anyway, I seriously doubt you are “quite amazed” or find the analysis truly “interesting.” Stating the opposite of what you mean is hostile. As you yourself mention, you have experienced people freaking out at your modest gun collection before this comment thread was born. I think instead you are pissed off (about what, I don’t know) and camouflage it with fake politeness. Later comments reveal your feelings more accurately.
    Daniel said: In a way it’s somewhat upsetting to see so many people so quick to judge based on nothing more than a momentary glimpse into a life, but ultimately that is the world we live in, prejudiced and wary of things that are different.
    “Somewhat upsetting” gets closer to your true feelings. However, you need to insult us (indirectly, and by implication) in order to express your feelings more honestly. As part of “the world we live in,” we at BAGnewsNotes are “quick to judge,” “prejudiced,” and “wary of things that are different.” That’s hostile too. (But what can you do? That’s the world we live in. Sigh.) In fact, lots of the commenters took some time to look at more than just one image of you. They did some reading at your site and about the book. But I guess you didn’t read the comments very carefully. I guess you made a snap judgment yourself.
    Daniel said: The thing that does slightly irk me is the implication that simply because one owns firearms that one must be some sort of psychopath teetering on the edge of sanity, just waiting and hoping for the day where they can take their revenge on the world for all of the assumed injustices they must have faced. I take umbrage to that not so much for myself, but for all firearm owners.
    That’s as good as we are going to get for emotional accuracy from you. Too bad you misassign your hostility at us, seeing as how you know nothing about us. You are more than “slightly” irked, but anyway, what do you expect, Daniel? Do you read the newspaper?
    Every day guns are used for the sole purpose of killing ordinary, and usually unarmed, people. Since you’re the gun expert, why don’t you address the real issue of gun violence in your beloved country instead of the nonissue of nice, friendly, responsible, law-abiding, gun-toting citizens? There are plenty of nice, friendly, responsible, law-abiding, gun-shunning citizens too. Who cares?
    According to the CDC (as quoted in the article I linked to above), in 2004, 29,569 Americans were killed by firearms and 64,389 were injured by them. We are not talking about psychopaths.
    I’d like to point out that according to you, first came your interest to go shoot something, then your gun purchasing followed. You didn’t start collecting guns and then go shoot things. But guess what? Some people don’t even have a desire to go shoot anything. Does that phenomenon interest or intrigue you? Seemingly not, because you never acknowledge that other people are rightfully different from you.
    If you ever do come back to respond about something important, please edit out the disingenuous bullshit. Thanks, Daniel.
    P.S. Since you don’t know me, I did grow up around guns and I happen to know a lot about the personality of gun collectors, having met many for longer than 10 minutes each.

  • Jewels

    has anyone taken into account the zombie apocolypse?

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