Striking Portraits Shed Light on American Gun Culture

Ameriguns by Gabriele Galimberti

In 2018, Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti was on assignment with National Geographic in Kansas. He had a few free days; and, curious about the numerous gun shops he had seen, he decided to go inside and see who was shopping there. The discussion he had  with a customer, which led to a spontaneous photo shoot, led him down a path to create his award-winning series Ameriguns. For several years, Galimberti traveled across the United States, photographing American gun owners and their collection of firearms in a manner that he describes as an infographic.

The results, depending on your views about guns, is either disarming or thrilling. During his research, Galimberti found that America was home to the most private gun owners in the world—by a large margin. Estimates say that there are currently 393.3 million privately owned firearms in the United States, which has a population of 334.8 million people. These are only civilian firearms, and only legally registered firearms. That is a per capita rate of 120.5 guns per 100 people. And with an estimated 820 million weapons globally, these numbers mean that 48% of them are in the United States.

Galimberti was curious to understand more about who owned these guns and what gun ownership meant to them. Through careful research, he was able to find 45 passionate gun owners who opened their doors and allowed him to photograph their collections. The results are powerful. People pose proudly with their children and pets surrounded by their guns, and all different ethnicities and age groups are represented. The variety of gun owners that Galimberti encountered was something that struck the photographer.

Statistics About Worldwide Gun Ownership in Ameriguns by Gabriele Galimberti

“The surprise was actually to find all kinds of people,” he tells My Modern Met. “For example, I photographed a guy in San Francisco. He works for Google. He is a married gay man. He voted for Obama twice, as well as Hilary. He has an electric car. He’s a musician. So just everything that’s the opposite of who you think a gun lover might be, but he’s a gun lover. He has 50 guns in the house and he loves to use them.”

Often, Galimberti found that this love for firearms was tied to tradition passed down through the generations. Many had their first memories of firing a gun as children and fondly recalled going out with their relatives to learn how to shoot. By engaging with this community of gun lovers and photographing them without judgment, Galimberti found his own preconceived notions were transformed.

“When I started the project, I think I had biases,” Galimberti admits. “But I have to be honest, I photographed 45 people more or less. All of them were very nice, and the same super normal families that I'd been meeting in the States for 20 years.”

Galimberti's work, which first gained international attention when he won a 2021 Word Press Photo Award, is a wonderful example of how someone with an outside perspective can shed new light on a topic. As an Italian, American gun culture is quite foreign, and so his curiosity and willingness to learn and listen only enhance his work.

The resulting book, Ameriguns, is an in-depth view of American gun culture. Mixed in with Galimberti's striking photographs are infographics that highlight gun ownership numbers. And there are also layouts that include many of the subjects' Instagram profiles. This is how Galimberti connected with many of his subjects and he was interested in showing how they posed and photographed themselves with their guns, as opposed to his stark, neutral representation.

And while Galimberti's purpose is not to comment on the politics behind gun ownership, he hopes that the images will shine a light on who gun owners are in the United States. “Especially from outside the United States, I think the majority of people may think that a gun owner is a crazy, right-wing guy,” he shares, “And with my experience, it's not like that. These are the same people who come to Italy for vacation and we welcome them. But yes, when they are back home, they love guns and they are part of something that is going on in their culture for generations and generations.”

Amerigunswhich is now in its third edition, is a stunning and unexpected look at gun ownership in America.

Ameriguns is Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti's look at American gun culture.

Photo of American Gun Owners by Gabriele Galimberti

Eric Arnsberger (30) and Morgan Gagnier (22) – Lake Forest, California
During his eight years in the Army, Eric Arnsberger was deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Kosovo, Russia, Vietnam and several different countries in Africa. He’s been a policeman in New Orleans, one of America’s most violent cities, and he grew up in Florida, where gangs were rife and very mean. “When I was a kid, I experienced all kinds of violence. I was stabbed, beaten up, robbed. Then I went to war. I saw what happens when someone else points a gun at you. I had to shoot at people and they shot at me, hundreds of times.”
Now, back in the civilian world, Eric teaches people how to handle guns and shoot them safely. He lives in California, and he knows very well that many of his neighbors disapprove of his lifestyle and of what he does. “When I go off to work dressed in a certain way, I can see that people are judging me.” Morgan, the woman with him in the portrait, is not one of them. She's a trainer in a gym, and she fell in love with him through following him on Instagram.
Eric never goes out unarmed and has a predilection for military-type firearms. “I’ve never bought a complete gun. I always buy the parts, then make myself a custom piece. I learned how to build guns in the Army. One of my jobs was to test and assess firearms, and that’s how I fell in love with them.
If some new law made my guns illegal tomorrow, I think I’d break them down, hide them and go off somewhere else.”
First weapon: .22-caliber rifle

He traveled the country to photograph 45 proud gun enthusiasts with their firearm collections.

Photo of American Gun Owners by Gabriele Galimberti

Stephen F. Wagner (66 years old) – State College, Pennsylvania
Until the age of 50, Stephen just wished. He dreamed, assessed, studied history and models. He’s been fascinated with guns since childhood. When he was 8, his grandfather put a revolver in his hand and explained the basics. Decades later, Stephen would use that same handgun to teach his own children to shoot. It was a Smith & Wesson, and today it still holds a place of honour in the collection he’s spent the last 15 years building, starting when he left his job as a FedEx delivery man to go to work part time in a gun shop and also as an NRA-certified shooting instructor. Since then, Stephen has collected about 70 firearms. He favors rare and antique pieces. “I’m fascinated by the idea of being a part of history through the guns I own,” he explains. Those that date from the Spanish-American War are among the most valuable, but he is particularly proud of his American-made firearms and his collection of pieces from the 1970s. “I keep on buying them. They’re a good investment and they’ll be a marvelous legacy to pass on to my children.”
Every one of his guns has been used at least once. However, as is true of any collection worthy of the name, the joy comes from ownership. “We Americans are very lucky. It’s wonderful to have a bond of this sort with our country. I think that revolvers are the quintessence of this nation. As an American citizen, I feel very fortunate to live in a country where we have the freedom to own firearms.”
Most prized piece: My 4-inch Colt Python. I wanted one for years and the price kept going up, and then last year I bought it. I've only used it once and I don't know that I’ll shoot with it again.

His work was partially inspired by a statistic showing that there are 393.3 million privately owned firearms in the United States. Statistics About Worldwide Gun Ownership in Ameriguns by Gabriele Galimberti

The resulting book, Ameriguns, gives a three-dimensional look at gun ownership in the United States.

Ameriguns by Gabriele Galimberti Ameriguns by Gabriele Galimberti

Gabriele Galimberti: Website | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Gabriele Galimberti.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Staff Editor and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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