Researching Australian Gun Ownership; Respondents never lie... Or do they?

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Academic Publishing Limited


Faculty of Business and Law


School of Marketing, Tourism and Leisure




MacCarthy, M. J. (2011). Researching Australian Gun Ownership; Respondents never lie... Or do they?. Paper presented at the European Conference on Research Methodology for Business and Management Studies. Caen, France.


This paper explores the potentially conflicted findings of a nine-year ethnographic study into Australian gun ownership. Australian gun owners deem themselves and firearm activities semi-deviant by wider community values, resulting in a shy and cloistered fraternity seemingly at odds with the rest of the country. Using multi-method qualitative techniques the author endeavoured to find truth within this niche consumption fraternity, however was constantly eliciting contrived politically-correct responses from respondents. Respondents would espouse positive, eco and family-friendly attitudes in order to belie their true beliefs. Respondents would say one thing, yet their behaviour suggested otherwise. This inconsistency was more pronounced when comparing public and private personas. The motivation to conceal internalised attitudes and authentic behaviour lies in what respondents perceive is their imperative to conceal and sanitize aspects of firearms and their use, in order to protect their way of life. Related to this is their perceived subordination to the wider community in a democratic system of normative and regulatory policy. As Australian societal values change firearm ownership and usage is becoming increasingly more restricted, leading to the current climate of political whim and firearm tolerance. Data collection techniques included note-taking, photography, reflexive journals, persistent observation and ethnography, along with subsequent techniques for enhancing trustworthiness; including triangulation, audits, and purposive sampling. Notwithstanding responder reluctance to voluntarily display authentic behaviours, institutional and ethical expectations in data collection compounded the pursuit of truth. At times institutional intervention proved a catalyst for respondent mistrust, threatening to compromise the delicate relationship between researcher and respondent. Through extended ethnography, the author was able to recognize truth from fiction, and subsequently contextualize this engineered fiction in light of shooting fraternity imperatives.

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