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.
“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.”
Ameriguns, which is now in its third edition, is a stunning and unexpected look at gun ownership in America.