Gun sellers sell more than just guns. They also sell politics. Merchants of the Right sheds light on the unparalleled surge in gun purchasing during one of the most dire moments in American history, revealing how conservative political culture was galvanized amid a once-in-a-century pandemic, racial unrest, and a U.S. presidential election that rocked the foundations of American democracy.
Drawing on a wealth of in-depth interviews with gun sellers across the United States, Jennifer Carlson takes readers to the front lines of the culture war over gun rights. Even though the majority of gun owners are conservative, new gun buyers are more likely to be liberal than existing gun owners. This posed a dilemma to gun sellers in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election: embrace these liberal customers as part of a new, perhaps post-partisan chapter in the American gun saga or double down on gun politics as conservative terrain. Carlson describes how gun sellers mobilized mainstays of modern conservative culture—armed individualism, conspiracism, and partisanship—as they navigated the uncertainty and chaos unfolding around them, asserting gun politics as conservative politics and reworking and even rejecting liberal democracy in the process.
Merchants of the Right offers crucial lessons about the dilemmas confronting us today, arguing that we must reckon with the everyday politics that divide us if we ever hope to restore American democracy to health.
Jennifer Carlson is associate professor of sociology and of government and public policy at the University of Arizona. Her books include Policing the Second Amendment: Guns, Law Enforcement, and the Politics of Race (Princeton). She is a frequent contributor to leading publications such as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and the Los Angeles Times. She is a 2022 MacArthur Fellow.
"Illuminating. . . . Carlson packs the proceedings with intriguing insights and observations. It’s a fresh take on how guns and politics mix."—Publishers Weekly
"The author treats her subjects with respect and intellectual generosity, and her positioning of gun culture in democratic thought is a model of thoughtful scholarship."—Kirkus Reviews
"Carlson’s study will be welcomed by anyone angered, conflicted about, or interested in gun control and devotion to the right to bear arms in the U.S."—Library Journal
"Carlson takes on a topic of crucial importance: the relationship between conservative gun culture and the core commitments of American democracy. Along the way, she sheds fascinating new light on the factors that galvanized the largest gun-buying spree in the country’s history in 2020 and shaped how many Americans responded to the tumult of that year."—Matthew Lacombe, Science
“A work of pure genius. Weaving together research, history, and personal narrative, Carlson tells the gripping and oft-unexpected story of gun sellers as arbiters not just of firearm economies but also of conservative values, ethics, and ideologies. Merchants of the Right will change the way we think about guns in America. Truly a must-read.”—Jonathan M. Metzl, author of Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment Is Killing America’s Heartland
“Brilliant. Merchants of the Right offers a nuanced portrait of how guns are woven into the behaviors and identities of real people, and poses provocative questions about the relationship between violence and democracy itself. This is an essential book for anyone looking to understand the cultural and political stakes of debates over guns in the United States—now more than ever.”—Patrick Blanchfield, Brooklyn Institute for Social Research
“During the crises of 2020–2021, Americans didn’t reflexively set aside their differences and turn toward each other in common cause. Instead, many millions turned against each other in fear. Carlson looks at our civic unraveling through the eyes of ground-level witnesses: America’s gun sellers. She tells a vivid, sobering story of a nation on edge, with warnings that we ignore at our peril.”—Kristin A. Goss, coauthor of The Gun Debate: What Everyone Needs to Know
“Carlson’s important book presents compelling proof that gun culture has become the central lynchpin for political radicalization on the right. Gripping and insightful, Merchants of the Right goes directly to the source, providing us with a front-row seat to the people and places that changed our country.”—Ryan Busse, author of Gunfight: My Battle against the Industry That Radicalized America