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2021: This Year In Gun Culture

We are standing on a precipice, always. That tone has long resided within the phenomena which we refer to as Gun Culture. In order to describe a thing, it must exist, even if the object itself is abstract, such as a thought, or idea. So when we refer to Gun Culture, we recognize that it is a thing, even if it can be a little difficult to fully perceive at any given moment. When we zoom back, we see something akin to the United States with each discipline and sub-genre and micro-niche influencer component as contributors to a whole. So when we look back on 2021, some events can have a date placed on them, whereas others are still ongoing in nature.

Firearm Purchases // NICS Checks

The year 2020 brought about record-high numbers in firearms purchases. We felt it close to home when the gun store shelves stood empty for large portions of the summer, but to quantify it on a national scale we often refer to the number of NICS checks that are recorded each month. Although it isn't a perfect measurement, it generally reflects the number of firearms purchased over the counter.

2021 NICS Checks by Month 2021 A Year in Review

In 2020, we wrote in the article titled “The Second Amendment is Alive and Well.” In it, we intentionally decided to write about some of the good things that are happening in regards to firearms ownership, deliberately moving away from the tone that we are under some sort of attack, and instead focus on some of the good signs in the industry and America. Since then, firearms ownership continues to rise across the country.

The Year 2020 closed off with multiple cascading record-high months of firearms sales, only to be met with new peaks in early 2021. Acknowledging the difference between a fact and an evaluation, once we look at the numbers, it is our responsibility as individuals to ask the questions of “why” and “is it good?”

While at the time of writing the FBI has not yet released the number of NICS checks completed in December. The graph above shows that the rate of firearms purchasing increases, partly because of population growth, but not solely. We have seen spikes in the past, with smaller ones around Christmas time, as well as the wider ones typically attributed to politically and socially motivating factors.

The early months of 2021 included a heightened concern over political issues, as well as the continuation of apprehension regarding civil unrest. However, that does not explain the spike in its totality, as the choice to buy a firearm is also often tied to a personal choice to take responsibility for one's own protection. In a pincer-like motion, both the push to

minneapolis night shot
Photo by Samantha Lauraina.

The early months of 2021 included a heightened concern over political issues, as well as the continuation of apprehension regarding civil unrest. However, that does not explain the spike in its totality, as the choice to buy a firearm is also often tied to a personal choice to take responsibility for one's own protection. In a pincer-like motion, both the push to Defund the Police of various movements and a drop in trust in government institutions both contributed, from different angles to this rise.

In one sense, an increase in firearms ownership is itself inherently good. In a rote sense, greater numbers and per-capita ownership of firearms simply make them harder to ban. The further proliferation of firearms ownership will include additional risk on the one hand, but also produces more exposure, and as a result, internal attention to firearms safety and skill development.

Key Legal Cases

Legal Cases must be divided between the culturally relevant and the legally binding. The foremost example of the first would be the trial and acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse. Of the later, we are still waiting for the outcome of cases that would impact both individual state laws such as California, and America as a whole.

The Kyle Rittenhouse Trial

The events that took place on the 25th of August, 2020, have rippled into 2021, showing the importance of paying attention to the implications of decisions made in court. While the politics of the case are sure to continue to be a talking point for pundits in months and elections to come, the facts of the case and the ramifications of different outcomes are of more grave importance.

Kyle Rittenhouse Dismissed Cover

When the jury decided Kyle Rittenhouse to be not guilty on all counts, it faced establishing a precedent, if not legally, certainly culturally. As the prosecution argued that, by being in possession of a firearm, Rittenhouse could not claim self-defense at the time, the defense maintained the position that his actions fit the legal requirements when the 17-year-old (at the time) was attacked. As the facts of the case were presented during the trial, a rift grew between those who watched the information be presented and those who acquired their knowledge of the case by second-hand reporting.

Underneath the trappings of both lawyers and commentators, pundits and politicians stood the base situation: it wasn't Kyle Rittenhouse alone on trail, but the Second Amendment itself. As each time he used lethal force in defense of his own life rolled out in the courtroom, the jury did not find a point where he acted as the aggressor in an already tense situation. Even though both the model of firearm and type of ammunition were scrutinized by the prosecution, it resulted in a not guilty verdict, and plenty of memes.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court's involvement in cases regarding the Second Amendment are inherently sparse. Much of this could be contributed to the concise language of the Constitution, as well as the prevalence of certain positions in various regions. In States like California and New York, which are adversarial to the Second Amendment in comparison to neighboring States, we observed a series of challenges to infringements that could impact the way the nation treats firearms ownership in the near future.

Constitutional Carry

At the close of 2021, the list of States who have Constitutional Carry, or Permitless Carry codified in state law include Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

The States to pass Constitutional Carry in 2021 are Iowa, Montana, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.

In the 1980's, the movement within the firearms community was to shift from No-Issue and May-Issue schemes to place a burden on the State such that if there were no factors prohibiting the carrying of a firearm such as a violent felony record, the State is obligated to provide a permit to requestors who meet the requirements. The year 2021 continues to show that our mentality is changing, as permitless carry rejects the idea that it is the citizen's responsibility to request permission from the State to defend themselves.

BATFE Proposed Definition Changes

A busy year for the BATFE, which published two proposal letters that could still have an impact on firearms ownership in the United States. Following their December 2020 attempt at redefining braced firearms as NFA items, a list of criteria were proposed in June of 2021, that would effectively impose a Pistol Brace Ban. In August, we proposed a redefinition of a receiver, specifically targeting 80 percent lowers. As a result, some States prematurely imposed bans on home-built firearms, such as Nevada, only to see it struck down a few months later.

ATF pistol Brace Ban Cover

While the brace proposal would directly impact private ownership, the subtle nuances of the BATFE's redefinition of a receiver would impose wider, vaguer restrictions. In late 2020, we published the significance of reclassifying braced firearms as NFA items in the article “Punishment for Good Behavior.” Later in the year, we saw people like the Arizona Attorney General oppose the brace ban.

David Chipman

As part of the 2021 BATFE Saga, the nomination of David Chipman created a firestorm of concern, comedy, and feverous response. Chipman's involvement with the 1993 Waco Siege brought new scrutiny on the event itself, as well as his commitment to a story that possibly contradicted with the truth. Grassroots support contributed to the opposititon of David Chipman's nomination, as he stated support for banning AR-15s as well as establishing national registries.

Ultimately, Joe Biden withdrew the nomination in September, blaming it on the lack of Republican support.

recoil 53 Black Guns Matter Maj Toure Editors Letter

Gun Culture

One key element of the shift taking place in regards to American firearms ownership is how we think about Gun Culture. Deviating from only talking about guns, gear, and skills, we saw people like Maj Toure on the cover of RECOIL #53 in the first months of 2021, as well as in productions like the Art and War Podcast #25 featuring Mike Jones (Garand Thumb) and Isaac Botkin as they openly discuss how we got here and where we are going.

Gun Culture cannot be tied to one single discussion, whether it's about the performance standards we hold ourselves to, what taking responsibility for one's self looks like, or how to move the needle in favor of the Human Right to self-defense. Gun Culture is the foundation of how we think about firearms ownership and skill development, as well as the way we see it implemented in society.

Advocacy becomes malicious when it doesn't clearly state a goal, but instead perpetuations itself by merely spreading awareness of this or that perceived problem. Instead, by defining victory, we give ourselves an aim. Often we are presented with a short term objective, such as stopping a newly imposed infringement, but that inherently places us in a defensive or reactive posture, instead of a proactive one with a mission.

Tying It All Together

Looking back at 2021, we are met with a convergence of important events. As the population continues to purchase firearms in record numbers, federal level organizations appear to be pushing back. Caught in the middle, and also leading the charge, individual States are moving in the direction of honoring the Second Amendment.

In 2020, we started documenting examples of Censorship, which continues into 2021. As we continue to engage with firearms ownership as a culture, not just an activity like hunting, collecting, or competing, we are setting up the steps to make progress in our lifetime, be that the further normalization of self-defense in our legal system or the repealing of the NFA. As we move into 2022, we do so knowing that despite the opposition, Gun Culture is only gaining momentum.


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