INTRODUCTION The question of gun ownership in America is a fractious
one. Even the number of guns in the country is in significant debate. The
National Rifle Association (NRA), the country's largest pro-gun lobbying group,
quotes the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE)'s
estimate that in 1999 there were about 215,000,000 guns in America and one gun
in about half of the households in the country. The Brady Campaign (the nation's
leading anti-gun coalition) estimates there are 192,000,000 guns in America,
owned by 39% of the population.
This isn't a book about guns. It's a book about people.
Whether it's 39% or 50% of Americans, it's still an awful lot of people. I started wondering just who they were, what they looked like, and how they lived. Such was the genesis of Armed America: Portraits of American Gun Owners in Their Homes. The idea was to photograph a hundred gun owners, in their homes, and do a gallery show. I figured this would take about two years. But very soon after I started, it became evident that my ambitions were too low. My mailbox flooded with letters from people I didn't know wanting to participate -- I realized that I could probably photograph a hundred people in two months, but it wasn't a number of people that was important, it was their stories -- a cowboy in Texas, a survivalist in Montana, a deer hunter in Pennsylvania, a sheriff in Georgia, a soldier in Idaho.... What I really needed, I realized, was to get moving, to drive across the country and find America somewhere between here and there.