Should We Really Be Chuckling About 'Gun Fashions'?

Tuesday's New York Times offers up what seems a rather tone-deaf story on "gun fashion trends," like chinos made by Woolrich, the 182-year-old clothing company that's made "gunwear"—if not, perhaps, fashionable gunwear like today's gunwear—for more than a century.

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Tuesday's New York Times offers up what seems a rather tone-deaf story on "gun fashion trends": like chinos made by Woolrich, the 182-year-old clothing company that's made "gunwear"—if not, perhaps, fashionable gunwear like today's gunwear—for more than a century. The tone of the piece, written by Matt Richtel, is bemused, a bit breathless, in other words the typical fare of a New York Times trend piece. There are $65 chinos that hide your gun and $139 "elite discreet" twill jackets which will hold your revolver! There's an entire "Concealed Carry Line." All for the "fashion-aware gun owner"!

Yet on the backdrop of the Trayvon Martin case—not to mention more than a million people being killed by guns since 1968, as cited by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence—somehow the piece seems distinctly less funny. It's also interesting to compare this piece to Bob Herbert's 2009 op-ed in the Times, in which he writes,

There is no way to overstate the horror of gun violence in America. Roughly 16,000 to 17,000 Americans are murdered every year, and more than 12,000 of them, on average, are shot to death. This is an insanely violent society, and the worst of that violence is made insanely easy by the widespread availability of guns.

Herbert's editorial, of course, is an opinion piece and Richtel's appears in Fashion & Style, but it could be argued that putting "gun fashions" in the Style section, as a trend piece, is part of the problem. As one Times commenter (unsurprisingly, the piece has attracted hundreds of comments from both pro- and anti-gun sides) responded to Richtel's article, "America regresses, stripping unions of their bargaining rights, stripping women of their reproductive rights, and now hurtling back to the days of the wild west. America -- a shell of its former self. How pathetic."

Talk of "gun fashion" is not new, however. Remember the NRA's hoodie with a special pocket to hide your gun? And, as we said, Woolrich has been making this sort of clothing for many years now. There are also special handbags for women (Gun Tote'n Mamas, for example: product photo at right) to carry their (fashion-forward) pink guns in. Guns, it might be said, are truly gaining acceptance as an "accessory" for the fashionable, or, at least, the fashionable in certain cities and states. But fashions change, and that's what the Times piece points to, both in terms of design (there's a second pocket in the Woolrich pants, a stretchable waistband to tuck your gun into, and "the back pockets are also designed to help hide accessories, like a knife and a flashlight") as well as competition. Other manufacturers are jumping into the fray, "building businesses around the sharp rise in people with permits to carry concealed weapons." How many people are we talking about? Seven million or so, as state gun laws change to allow for more concealed weaponry. Richtel writes: "37 states now have 'shall issue' statutes that require them to provide concealed-carry permits if an applicant meets legal requirements, like not being a felon"; only Illinois does not allow handgun carrying in any form—for now.

Seven million: That's a not small market of people who want to look good with their guns, and therefore, gun fashions move to the Style section. This is not only about fashion, it's about marketing, and turning over merch. According to one of those concealed gun-slingers, quoted by the Times:

“Most of the clothes I used in the past to hide my sidearm looked pretty sloppy and had my girlfriend complaining about my looks,” [Shawn Thompson, 35,] wrote, adding in an interview, “I’m not James Bond or nothing, but these look pretty nice.”

The shirt has a barely discernible side slit with Velcro through which, he said, he can yank his Colt 1911 from his waistband holster. Depending on circumstances and mood, he might also carry a folding knife and, at night, a flashlight in a pair of Woolrich chinos his girlfriend bought for him.

These looks are less military and more "civilian," which is to say that you really won't know if someone has a gun when you look at them. That, after all, is the whole point of a concealed weapon, until you want to use it. David Hagler, vice president of another manufacturer of such clothing, says, "What we’ve tried to do is create a collection of garments that allows the end user to have stylish lifestyle apparel but have features in the garment that enable them to carry a weapon and draw the weapon quickly." Ironically, experts say the rise in permits for concealed weaponry relate to a climate in which gun owners want to "a feeling of control"—even if, in having a concealed weapon, they actually change the entire balance of control for people without such weapons. And even though gun experts don't seem to have research to prove whether having a concealed weapon helps to reduce crime, according to Richtel. Nonetheless:

“When someone walks down the street in a button-down and khakis, the bad guy gets a glimmer of fear, wondering: are they packing or not?” said Allen Forkner, a spokesman for Woolrich, which started its concealed-carry line in 2010 with three shirts.

And then let's go back to Bob Herbert for a moment.

While more than 12,000 people are murdered with guns annually, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (using the latest available data) tells us that more than 30,000 people are killed over the course of one typical year by guns. That includes 17,000 who commit suicide, nearly 800 who are killed in accidental shootings and more than 300 killed by the police. (In many of the law enforcement shootings, the police officers are reacting to people armed with guns).

And then there are the people who are shot but don’t die. Nearly 70,000 fall into that category in a typical year, including 48,000 who are criminally attacked, 4,200 who survive a suicide attempt, more than 15,000 who are shot accidentally, and more than 1,000 — many with a gun in possession — who are shot by the police.

Sometimes we really don't understand fashion.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.