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Thursday, June 8 • 4:10pm - 4:30pm
A Philosophy of Gun Violence: Guns and Critical-Making

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The late- philosopher Bruno Latour said that “You are different with a gun; the gun is different with you holding it.” This proposal for a traditional paper presentation centers on my recently published book, A Philosophy of Gun Violence (2022), which examines the affordances and technological intentionality of guns to explain the growing gun violence epidemic in the U.S. This talk will be framed by the works of technology philosophers like Winner, Latour, Verbeek, and Postman and their associated theories. This talk emphasizes both critical-making and social justice (or lack thereof), as they apply to gun ownership and gun-carrying in public spaces.

Indisputably, there is a strong correlation between access to guns and the resulting gun violence that disproportionately affects marginalized and vulnerable populations. Compared to its peer countries, the U.S. has a significantly higher rate of gun ownership and gun deaths per 100,000 people. Mass shootings plague the news cycle almost daily. Meanwhile, the gun lobby advocates for loosening gun laws and restrictions as a way to combat gun violence, often relying on the instrumentalist refrain that “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people.”

In this proposed talk, a dialogue will be used to explore how guns - and more specifically, gun-carrying - affects and distorts the perceived reality of the gun citizen. This talk is particularly suitable for the scope of this conference because of its focus on the critical-making, or poiesis, activity, of gun designers and manufacturers and the ethics and values that are baked into their gun designs. Included in this discussion is a proposed model of gun reform, which leans on ethical frameworks like Value-Sensitive Design (VSD), Design for Wellbeing (DfW), and Responsible Innovation (RI) in order to highlight the features and affordances of guns that promote killing and connects this with social contract theory (Rousseau) and the legal protection for prima facie rights.

Gun-carrying also plays a central role in social justice. Aside from the high-profile cases of police brutality and killings of unarmed Black men, we might also consider the privileges of gun ownership for different racial and economic groups, as evidenced by the differences in the presence of guns at rallies like Unite the Right and the January 6th insurrection in comparison to the largely nonviolent Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020 and beyond. Simply put, the gun creates a power imbalance in the social hierarchy and is a privileged right for some groups while incriminating others.

Critical-making and social justice are undeniably connected. This is translated by our technological artifacts, and the gun is perhaps one of the most emotionally-charged examples of this. It is important that we have hard discussions about our technologies – like the gun – that are non-neutral and value-laden.

avatar for Alan Joseph Reid

Alan Joseph Reid

Associate Professor, Coastal Carolina University
Ask me about Hypothes.is!

Thursday June 8, 2023 4:10pm - 4:30pm EDT
PS 405 (Design Center)