Focusing on police chiefs in three states, this study revisits the Weberian presumption of the state’s monopoly on legitimate violence. Seventy-nine interviews with police chiefs in Arizona, Michigan, and California allow for an examination of their understanding of gun policy. Analysis reveals that they selectively embrace two frames of the state’s relationship with legitimate violence: gun militarism for criminal gun activity associated with black and brown communities and drug-and gang-related crime and gun populism with respect to lawfully gun-owning Americans, often marked as white and middle class. Sensitive to state-level sociolegal regimes, gun populism takes the form of antielitism in gun-restrictive California, crime-fighting by proxy in gun-permissive Michigan, and co-policing in gun-lax Arizona. The racial politics of legitimate violence intersect with state-level gun policies selectively to erode police chiefs’ investment in the state’s monopoly on violence, demonstrating that gun politics is pertinent not only for understanding violence in the United States but also for understanding the racial complexity of U.S. policing.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science