About Jennifer Carlson, PhD

I am an Associate Professor of Sociology and Government & Public Policy at the University of Arizona, where I teach courses on guns, rights, trauma, justice, and law.

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My award-winning research examines how guns shape American life, including those who survive gun violence’s harrowing aftermath, police who enforce the country’s complex gun laws, gun sellers and retailers who are on the front lines of surges in gun purchasing, and the people who choose to own and carry guns as tools of safety and security.

In 2015, I published my first book entitled Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline with Oxford University Press. This book chronicles my interviews and ethnographic work with gun carriers in Michigan in order to make sense of a massive transformation over the last few decades in how Americans relate to their guns–that is, by carrying them.

This book led to a whole set of questions about the relationship between gun politics and public law enforcement, which is why I decided to interview over six dozen police chiefs in Arizona, California and Michigan. These interviews form the basis of my second book, Policing the Second Amendment: Guns, Law Enforcement and the Politics of Race, published in 2020 with Princeton University Press.

Currently, I am writing two books. The first, tentatively titled Not with a Bang but a Whimper: Guns, Crisis and the Edge of Democracy, is based on interviews with over 50 gun sellers across the US. It uses the 2020 surges in gun purchasing as a lens through which to examine the current state of American democracy. The second is a manifesto-style book tentatively titled Gun Empathy. Having witnessed this debate grow more and more divisive over the decade-plus years I have researched guns, I have been increasingly convinced that we cannot form meaningful consensus surrounding guns in America without addressing head-on trauma–both how guns cause trauma and how people turn to guns because of trauma. Gun Empathy aims to provide this trauma-informed take on the gun debate by unpacking the cornerstones of the gun debate–from gun rights to gun control–in accessible, engaging and informative prose.

I am also working with a team of research assistants on a National Science Foundation-funded project aimed at unraveling the impacts and aftermath of gun violence on survivors—broadly defined to include friends and family who have lost a loved one to gun violence. It aims at better understanding how gun violence extracts a significant cost–psychically, emotionally and beyond–on the lives of people in the US and the consequences for their social and political lives. 

I’m passionate about how my research can be used to challenge the existing terms of the gun debate so that we can have a better conversation about our complicated, and perplexing, relationships with firearms–as individuals and as a society. Accordingly, I am dedicated to encouraging a better gun debate in my classroom, in my research, and in the public sphere more broadly.

I can be reached at jennifercarlson AT email DOT arizona DOT edu. For media inquiries, please contact me directly or reach out to Alexis Blue at the University of Arizona’s Media Relations and Communications Office at ablue AT arizona DOT edu.

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