Bowling with Guns: Understanding Paramilitary and Gun Culture in the US

Philanthropic gift funds PhD research project on gun communities

One aspect consistent through both groups is a pervasive distrust of state capacity and a privatized view of protection and gun rights.

Ariel Perkins

us centre student Ariel 2
Ariel Perkins ( Department of Government) was a US Centre Summer PhD Research Grant recipient last year

Thanks to a philanthropic gift from alumnus Harold Glass (MSc Government 1969) , the US Centre is offering grants to PhD students conducting innovative research on the United States and its changing role in the world.

Now in its second year, the grants have already helped three PhD students with their research costs. One of these students is Ariel Perkins, whose research explores militias and gun culture in the United States. We recently spoke with Ariel to find out more about her project and how the grant helped her with her work.

Tell us about your research project - what is it about?

My project is called Bowling with Guns: Understanding Paramilitary and Gun Culture in the US. To research this, I am doing fieldwork with armed civilian groups – militias or paramilitaries – on both sides of the political spectrum. In my conversations with gun activists, I look to see how these individuals interact with the state and what draws them to join gun-based political groups. I explore the role of private firearms and gun rights in US history, and what social and political factors might explain why people seek out arms training from such communities.

How did the grant help you with this research?

As a qualitative researcher working with closed social groups, longer and repeated visits are important for developing trust and improving the quality of data that I collect. The grant provided enough funds to include more activities in my trips, such as traveling to gun shows, collecting more in-person interviews, and funding the cost of long-distance conversations.

One of the gun shows Ariel attended as part of her research

What were your research findings? 

I still have more field research to do, so my findings are not yet complete. However, part of my work in speaking with both left and right-leaning groups is to find the underlying similarities between these forms of armed political action. One aspect consistent through both groups is a distrust of state capacity and a privatised view of protection and gun rights. These ideas appear to be tied to how federal and state governments have regulated private firearms by granting gun rights to privileged groups of citizens, offering state resources and surplus sales of arms to gun clubs, and promoting nationalist narratives around armed citizenries. 

Has participation in this programme provided opportunities for you to develop?

As well as financial support, the US Centre provided us with opportunities to present our work in cross-disciplinary and non-academic settings. Networking with scholars, students, and LSE staff raised my awareness of School-wide research opportunities and allowed me to share my research with wider audiences.

Why should PhD students apply for this programme?

It can be difficult to find funding for early career researchers and doctoral students, particularly for fieldwork travel. The US Centre Summer PhD Research Grants fulfil a fundamental need by providing funds to doctoral students who would not otherwise be able to travel to the US for research. The Centre has a respected presence on campus and also a brilliant team who made the grant process fun and constructive. I am so thankful I had the opportunity to participate in this programme and to be affiliated with the US Centre and its work.

Find out more about the US Centre PhD Research Grants.


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