Dangerous Discourses

Feminism, Gun Violence, and Civic Life

by Catherine R. Squires (Volume editor)
Monographs 276 Pages


Dangerous Discourses brings together new work by feminist scholars who provide a multifaceted view of the ways contemporary media discourses inscribe particular understandings of gendered social identities, gun violence, and public policy.
The chapters examine multiple media locations where discourses about guns and violence against women proliferate, including social media, mainstream news, National Rifle Association-sponsored magazines, gun research, public policy debates, popular magazines, and television drama.
Utilizing theory and empirical research, this book helps us see more clearly how gender, sexuality, and other intersecting identities must be included in analysis of media discourses of guns and gendered violence. The authors discuss the role of patriarchal ideologies, and center feminist thought and concerns in order to get beyond the one-liners, sound bites, and truisms about bad guys, the Second Amendment, mental health, and personal freedom that currently dominate public debates about guns and violence.
With its unique views on the ways gun violence and gender inflect each other in the United States, this book is designed for courses in media studies, women’s studies, and sociology.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Part I: Reframing Guns, Violence, and Gender in Public Discourses
  • Chapter 1. Coverage That Kills: Misogyny, “Mass Shootings”, and the Masculine Economy of the U.S. News Cycle
  • Chapter 2. Silencers: Governmentality, Gender, and the Ban on Gun Violence Research
  • Chapter 3. What Does Civility Have to Do with It? TV News Coverage of the 2011 Tucson Rampage Shooting
  • Chapter 4. Defining Women in Need: Online Coverage of the Violence against Women Act and Native and Undocumented Women
  • Part II: Recognizing Victims
  • Chapter 5. The Black Shadow of White Sympathy: Hunger Games, Disposable Black Girlhood, and the Unspoken Politics of the National Gun Debate
  • Chapter 6. Making Visible Victimhood, Bringing Intersectionality to a Mass Shooting: #SAYHERNAME, Black Women, and Charleston
  • Part III: Men Who Shoot Women
  • Chapter 7. The Virginia Tech Tragedy and the LGBTQ Media: Responses of Normativity and Nation
  • Chapter 8. Misogyny, Gun Control, and Mental Illness: The Etiology of a Cultural Disease
  • Part IV: Dames in Distress(?): When Gals Have Guns
  • Chapter 9. Postfeminism at the Shooting Range: Vulnerability and Fire-Empowerment in the Gun Women Network
  • Chapter 10. Lady Killers: Twenty Years of Magazine Coverage of Women Who Kill Their Abusers
  • Chapter 11. Gender, Guns, and Survival: The Women of The Walking Dead
  • Contributors
  • Bibliography


This book was born of feminist collaboration and commitment to intellectual exchange and struggle. We started with a panel for the Feminist Studies Division at the National Communication Association annual conference, and decided then and there that we needed to continue and expand our work on guns, violence, media and gender to encourage broader conversations. I would like to thank the original panelists, all of whom have chapters in this volume, for their enthusiasm about creating a book, as well as their fine work on their individual chapters.

I also want to thank all of our colleagues who shared our call for chapters. Members of the Fembot Collective spread the word, as did colleagues in the NCA Black Caucus, which brought us new authors and ideas that enriched the book.

Special thanks go to my editorial assistants, Naimah Petigny and Elena Hristova, who diligently corrected citations and wrestled chapters into Chicago Manual of Style shape. I also want to make a shout out to Lauren Drube, who helped gather data for the chapter on Gabrielle Giffords. I am grateful for the support of Mary Savigar, our editor at Peter Lang, who was a champion of the project from the beginning. ← vii | viii →

We acknowledge and mourn for the victims lost to gun violence, and dedicate this book to all those who work to eliminate gendered violence that destroys lives and erodes communities. We hope that our scholarly contributions will support the aims of the long-term struggle of feminists against violence and oppression.

Catherine R. Squires

St. Paul, Minnesota

March 14, 2016 ← viii | ix →


At the outset of this imperative collection, bearing witness to the suffering wrought by gun violence is essential. The devastation and loss of human life should always compel the consideration of emotionality—unrelenting heartache, boundless grief, unspeakable pain, and intense fury. At the forefront of our national debates on firearms ranging from Constitutional rights to conceal and carry to gun-free zones to safety versus endangerment, the emotionality of mass shootings in particular often takes center stage, miscommunicating to the general public that mass shootings are an epidemic. With our cultural sensemaking hastened by mediated frenzy, these catastrophic incidents catalyze fear, rouse panic, and galvanize pleas for action. Recently, campaigns against gun violence have swelled with victims, survivors, and their loved ones bellowing calls for justice and change in the aftermath of incidents such as the: 2011 Tucson, Arizona shooting at a grocery store; 2012 Aurora, Colorado shooting at a movie theatre; 2012 Newtown, Connecticut shooting at an elementary school and the shooter’s residence; and 2013 Washington, DC shooting at a Navy Yard. These impassioned calls are absolutely key from a feminist perspective—individual and collective voices indeed matter—yet their symbolic association with the tragic spectacle of mass shootings masks the everydayness of gun violence. ← ix | x →

Extracted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention injury reports, the accidental and deliberate enactment of gun violence in the United States claims approximately 86 lives per day in addition to over 300 daily shootings. Therefore, to our societal chagrin, shootings in U.S. American culture are customary, run-of-the-mill, mundane, everyday occurrences. Housed within the ubiquity of gun violence is the alarming reality that there are no safe havens in U.S. American society—our homes, neighborhoods, places of worship, health clubs, shopping malls, parking lots, parks, post offices, salons, spas, and schools have all been, and will continue to be, sites of gun violence. Summarizing our paradoxical circumstances, a New York Times series dubbed the U.S. “Gun Country” with a byline that reads, “They bring families together and tear them apart. They kill innocent people and protect them. The United States continues to love and revile its hundreds of millions of firearms.”

Advancing public and academic inquiry with scholarly rigor, Dangerous Discourses: Feminism, Gun Violence, and Civic Life explores the prevalence, potency, and paradox of ordinary and extraordinary gun violence to foster the realization that “the story of everyday gun violence in the United States is largely untold.” Addressing this gap in our societal consciousness, this collection advances our understandings of the ubiquity of gun violence with theoretical and methodological analyses that provoke reflexive contemplation. Each chapter offers a nuanced feminist argument that gun violence is indeed gendered, and that gender, at the intersections of multiple, multiplicative identities, matters. Taken together, the authors invoke a “feminist curiosity” to examine, scrutinize, and challenge the deeply rooted linkages between gender, gun violence, and gender violence. Although frequently deemed trivial via dominant ideologies designed to preserve and wield patriarchal power, the feminist communication scholars featured insist on addressing the stark reality that most acts of gun violence are committed by males. However, their collective tone does not foreclose the realness of women’s roles in gun violence as straw purchasers and shooters. Equally as important is how the arguments in Dangerous Discourses differ from the bulk of those articulated by our elected state and federal officials. In essence, the chapters refrain from dichotomous argumentation that splits along political party lines—rather, this collection advocates for dialogue in service to humanization, justice, and peace—all of which are elemental to humanity regardless of political affiliation.

Unsettling, frightening, and rightly accusatory in a country that anesthetizes itself as a global beacon of democracy and commonly disavows feminism, ← x | xi → Dangerous Discourses charts a constellation of structural, cultural, social, political, and economic factors that inform gun violence. The result is a chronicled indication that gun violence is not as disparate or incomprehensible as dominant ideologies beckon society to believe. Via feminist inquiry, the authors expose consequential patterns of inequality that inform not only the individuals who perpetrate gun violence, but also societal interpretations of their tragedy-inducing behavior. Akin to my corpus of scholarship and keynote addresses that center on gender violence and sexual violence, Dangerous Discourses asserts the significance of feminism; exposes the absurdity of dismissing the implications of identity/ies, ideology, and power; and politicizes who we mourn and remember. Strongly indicative of this collection’s value is its ability to stimulate provocative questions and possibilities for readers to grapple with.

Urgently scrawled in the margins, I ask: Whose guns are legitimized versus criminalized? Leveraged hegemonically, how does the attribution of gun violence to mental illness conveniently mask patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism? How can we hold media accountable as a social institution that glorifies mass shooters? If men were the primary victims of gun violence and cisgender, transgender, and gender queer women were the primary perpetrators, would gun violence research have been prohibited by the U.S. government? Since its enactment into U.S. law in 199.4, why hasn’t the Violence Against Women Act explicitly addressed the socialization of men and the normalization of violent masculinity? How many shootings, injuries, and deaths will it take for the United States to nationally and globally reckon with itself as a violent country? Spurred by Dangerous Discourses these trajectories, among an array of others, compel readers to turn reflexively inward and inquire how we as individuals and members of privileged and marginalized collectives fuel apathy and stagnation. In essence, what is it about me as an individual that is complicit in gun violence? What is it about us (whomever “us” refers to) as a collective that is inhibiting a society in which less people are injured, killed, or murdered with firearms?

Amid the barrage of queries and debates that typify our societal conversations about firearm violence and safety, it feels important to underscore the cultural common ground that I believe most people, myself included, can occupy. Simply stated, most people agree that gun violence is a problem with grave consequences for individuals, families, communities, and the global world. More specifically, innocent lives lost to gun violence are an inconsolable problem. Simultaneously common ground and a point of departure, ← xi | xii → beyond this elementary articulation lies a bombardment of proposed problems and solutions: Are guns the problem, are people the problem, are ideologies the problem? Are laws the solution, are people the solution, are ideologies the solution? Furthermore, “innocent lives” is a politically saturated construct that is applicable to many lives lost to gun violence, but in actuality is fully preserved only for a select, systemically privileged few who are insulated from the dehumanizing ethos of blame, indifference, and disposability. That said, Dangerous Discourses sagely utilizes feminism as a compass to navigate the complex and emotionally laden grounds of possibilities, problems, and solutions.

I imagine that readers will find the imminence of gender in the ensuing pages a source of incongruous relief and anxiety; I certainly do. I feel relieved by the indubitable centrality of gender that each chapter rigorously documents. Relief flows from the awareness that I am not the only one making the argument on paper (and elsewhere) that gender indeed matters. Likewise, I am not alone in my unapologetic and fulsome affiliation with feminism as an identity, ideology, and movement. Reminding us of the essence of feminist advocacy that this collection infuses into gun violence discourses, bell hooks says, “Feminism is the struggle to end sexist oppression…It does not privilege women over men. It has the power to transform in a meaningful way all our lives.”

On the contrary, I also feel anxious in response to how significant gender is in the dense web of factors that characterize gun violence. My anxiety is heightened by the “postfeminist” uprising (for “post-” discussion, see Squires et al.) that decries the relevance of feminism in contemporary society. Recently, I became even more convinced of the dire need for feminist voices to be more audible in firearm debates when a Florida politician, State Representative Dennis K. Baxley, advocating for concealed carry on college campuses reasoned, “If you’ve got a person that’s raped because you wouldn’t let them carry a firearm to defend themselves, I think you’re responsible.” Guided by black feminism as an anti-gender violence activist, I was deeply disturbed with not only his reasoning, but also the circulation of his reasoning via the media. Thus, I interpret Baxley’s “you” and “you’re” in reference to government and academic institutions, as opposed to referencing perpetrators as those who are responsible for rape. Feminist insight crucially reveals the absence of guns as yet another item on the patriarchal list of things that cause rape other than rapists (alongside, for example, alcohol, drugs, short skirts, tall boots, and flirting). ← xii | xiii →

Moreover, feminism evokes important questions pertaining to Baxley’s argument that firearms will deter rape, including but not limited to: Why is the onus to deter rape ultimately aligned with those who experience rape (i.e., largely females) opposed to those who commit rape (i.e., largely males)? How will armed women of color be interpreted differently than armed white women? How might a woman of color who uses a gun to prevent a white man from sexually violating her be treated by the police, media, and general public? Is arming women a feasible “solution” to rape amid the statistical reality that most acts of rape are committed by acquaintances in locations where women presume their safety, as opposed to strangers in locations where women feel unsafe? Might concealed carry on college campuses endanger more women (i.e., men will carry, too) than it saves? Baxley’s commentary is just one instance of many that heighten my anxiety and clearly demonstrate the relevance of feminism to gun violence discourses.

In closing, gun violence has influenced my life literally from infancy. My teenage mother decided to leave my father for good and forever when he meant to strike her with the butt of a gun while she was holding me, but mistakenly hit me instead. In that moment, she knew that if she didn’t find a way to leave him that he would kill me, her, or both of us. Understanding how feminism (even though at the time my mother didn’t perceive it as “feminism” by name) informed my mother’s decision to leave—meaning that she believed that she and I deserved better and that a man, even if he was her boyfriend and my father, didn’t have the right to hurt us—strengthens my resolve to fiercely continue advocating, alongside the editor and authors of this book, for feminism to inform firearm discourses. Of immense value to dialogic inquiry, this collection inspires heightened feminist consciousness and compels societal movement in a transformative direction. It certainly inspires and compels me—personally, politically, and intellectually.

Rachel Alicia Griffin, Ph.D. ← xiii | xiv → ← xiv | xv →


Catherine R. Squires

The idea for this volume started with a panel on feminist media research on gun violence in the fall of 2013. The panel was conceived in part to respond to the troubling discourses around mass shootings and gun control laws. Many citizens were stunned that so many shootings—even those that killed “ideal victims” like schoolchildren—had not resulted in significant changes to gun legislation. It is shocking to think that since that time, tens of thousands of Americans died in gun violence, over 500 mass shootings have occurred, and more than 7,500 people were shot by police officers.1 Even as individual shooting homicides have dropped, suicides by guns continue to kill more Americans than crime: in 2014 alone, over 20,000 people used guns to commit suicide. As of my latest revision and update of the statistics, in January 2016, we are on pace for another deadly year, with a rash of mass shootings and standoffs cropping up around the country, while gun violence that is deemed less “newsworthy”—suicides, domestic partner murders, and accidental shootings–steal lives with little media attention. Instead of reacting to the evidence that our country has too many guns with too little regulation (the US has 5% of the world’s population but accounts for 30%–35% of civilian gun ownership and has the highest gun homicide rate of any developed nation), many state legislators have fallen over themselves to enact more aggres ← xv | xvi → sive open-carry laws and call for arming schoolteachers so “good guys with guns” can shoot “bad guys with guns” before the latter do harm. Henry Giroux accurately depicts our dominant political and media culture as one in which “guns and the hypermasculine culture of violence are given more support than young people and life itself.”2 Feminist, intersectional analysis is necessary at this important juncture to ensure that we do not reify the masculinist biases usually associated with public discussions of guns and violence. What counts for “national dialogues” about violence and guns usually occurs only in the wake of horrifying mass shooting incidents, despite the fact that guns are used more often in domestic violence situations than mass shootings, and suicides and police shootings kill many more people each year in daily doses of oppression and intimidation.

Wherever we look in the media—sensational news features on mass shootings, Twitter hashtags, or TV dramas starring pistol-packing heroines—gender is part of the story of guns and violence in the U.S. Dangerous Discourses brings together new work by feminist scholars who provide readers with a multifaceted view of the ways contemporary media discourses inscribe particular understandings of gendered social identities, gun violence, and public policy. The book examines multiple media locations where discourses about guns and violence against women proliferate, including: social media; mainstream news; National Rifle Association-sponsored magazines; gun research; public policy debates; popular magazines; and television drama. The chapters link insights from feminist theory, critical race theory, and cultural studies to the issues of guns and violence to develop more productive ways of thinking about gender, violence, and media. The authors ask us to consider not only those mass shootings that encourage media frenzies, but also the mundane, less spectacular everyday gun violence and victimhood that rarely garners such attention, but claims many more lives. The chapters move beyond the news cycle and flashy advertising to concentrate on the ideologies and systemic inequalities that set the stage for violence and gun proliferation.

The chapters in this book utilize theory and empirical research to question the paradigms that normally dominate our sporadic debates over guns and violence, thereby broadening our vision of the impacts of gun violence on communities and cultures in the U.S. and developing our understanding of how media are implicated in questions of gender and violence. Feminist explorations of guns and violence return us to some deceptively simple questions: What makes us feel safe? What makes us vulnerable to violence? Who threatens our safety? What risks do we face in private and public spaces? What ← xvi | xvii → protects us from violence? When is the state responsible for protecting us from harm? Whose lives are protected by the state, and whose are deemed less worthy of defense?

This volume does not provide definitive answers to these questions, of course: they are enduring concerns for any community or polity. Rather, using feminist approaches that highlight intersectionality, difference, and power, the authors disrupt dominant media narratives and policy debates that suggest there are universal, simple ways to decrease gun violence and violence against women. These dominant narratives favor individualistic renderings of causality, and invoke abstract principles that rarely reflect the messier realities of life on the ground. Dangerous Discourses highlights the roles that institutions, ideologies, and structural inequalities play in setting the stage for gendered violence and attacks on women, attacks that grow ever more devastating as guns designed for soldiers have been deregulated and rebranded for civilian “recreation” and “personal security.”

There are no easy or essential answers here. Instead, each of the chapters helps us see more clearly how gender, sexuality, and other intersecting identities must be included in analysis of media discourses of guns and gendered violence. Gender is crucial to understanding how various media impact how we imagine who is victimized by guns and violence, discuss the causes of gun violence, and determine which policy options are “reasonable.” The authors gathered here insist on discussing the role of patriarchal ideologies, and center feminist thought and concerns in order to get beyond the one-liners, sound bites, and truisms about bad guys, the Second Amendment, mental health, and personal freedom that currently dominate public debates about guns and violence.


ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (August)
Firearms Feminism Media Political discourse Women Women of color Mass shootings National Rifle Association Biopolitics Framing News media Violence Entertainment Domestic abuse Gun control Postfeminism Mental illness Guns
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. XXVI, 276 pp.

Biographical notes

Catherine R. Squires (Volume editor)

Catherine R. Squires (Ph.D., Northwestern University) is Professor of Communication Studies at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of Dispatches from the Color Line (2007), bell hooks: An Introduction to Communication Theory (Peter Lang, 2013), and The Post-Racial Mystique (2014).


Title: Dangerous Discourses
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