The bloody relationship between Americans and their arms starting from mass shooting
The idea of uncertainty and powerlessness doesn’t cover such a great role in our society and collective imaginary. Their contraries usually do. And that’s a reason why after disaster and tragedies our minds go straight to find the easiest and quickest solution assuming they could have been avoided. Partially this explains NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre’s words right after the latest mass shooting in a US high school, when he argued that “to stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun”, underlining anyway other lobby interests.
In the United States, the relationship with guns is quite unique in the world and have to be understood in that context.
The country represents the 4% of the world population, but then accounts for half of the civilian-owned guns around the world; there are 88,8 guns every 100 people and moreover in a total population of about 318 million of people are estimated to circulate some 270 million of firearms.
This gives an idea of the physical presence, in the everyday life, of objects that in the States costs as much as PCs and do not have any particular legislative restriction. In most States, if you are eighteen, you can buy a gun with about 200 $.
In America, the homicides occurring by firearm are 29.7 per 1 million people, 16 times as many as Germany. In Switzerland – the second developed country after USA for the number of guns per capita – the rate is 7.7.
The Gun Violence Archive calculated that since 2012 more than 1600 mass shooting happened, considering those in which more than four victims were involved. In 2015, they estimated that the number of tragedies could have covered each day of the year.
There is a straight proportion between number of guns and death by firearms; as the former increases, there is a consequential increase in the latter. This is true for every State in the world, US represents just an outlier, the extreme case.
Moreover this trend holds true also in America itself, showing the difference among states with stricter guns law and those with easier access and wider armed community.
The strong presence of gun also shifts the non-so-serious crimes and fights to a more lethal violence.
Professors Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins studies showed how the ability and willingness to use guns make property crimes and assaults in New York more than fifty times deadlier than in London. More guns, more risks and eventually more deaths.
Coming back to LaPierre’s quote, keeping the statistics in mind, the idea of increasing the number of “good guys” with arms is just as useless as dangerous. Taking the examples of schools, hoping that a guard would be able to identify the shooter and then stop him without harming anyone else is just a guessing game. And just for the sake of information, in the latest horrific Parkland shooting, an armed deputy was right outside of the school.
A study of the “American Journal of Public Health” showed how in those States of America where people bear more guns, more police officers are killed.
A vicious cycle that should sound even more worrisome, since the study highlighted how the counter effects of such correlation is at the basis of the many killings of innocent civilians by American cops. Indeed, officers logically expect lethal violence from people in front of them, and are induced to anticipate the use of deadly force when perceiving a threat, that in some cases is just potential.
The way Americans are affected by those objects that many believe to be essential for their defence is more of a theoretical debate.
The issue deals with a huge ideological component that probably counts more than the practical one. Tradition, culture and myth.
The long discussed II Amendment, indeed, creates inconsistency in the contemporary world but provides an hint on the way the colonies perceived the arms: a way to defend their properties, their freedom and independency and to prevail on nature or native Americans. Just think about the conquest of the Far West and the living condition of the time. This is where tradition intersects culture and myth, where Hollywood changed a very specific and delimited segment of history in popular mythology, well represented by Clint Eastwood.
However, in the end, looking back at history is possible to understand how the process of “liberalization” of arms is just a very recent step. Indeed, only in 2008, the current jurisdiction on guns was enforced thanks to an interpretation of the II Amendment made by a conservative judge of the Supreme Court Scalia, that contrasted a century of opposed decision, particularly those of the supreme court chief justice Warren Burger in charge between 1969-1986. This latter famously stated: “ The Gun Lobby’s interpretation of the Second Amendment is one of the greatest pieces of fraud on the American people by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime. The real purpose of the Second Amendment was to ensure that the state armies- the militia- would be maintained for the defence of the state. The very language of the Second amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires.”
Focussing particularly on those who bear firearms add new details to the analysis. There are huge differences among age and ethnic groups regarding the ownership of guns. Among white population the rate of possession is 25%, the highest among all other ethnicities; in people aged 60 or more the diffusion reaches 25%; in the rural areas the percentage increases to 33%; among the veterans tops 44%. These data, from the national firearms survey of 2015, characterize the average gun owner in the USA.
It seems that gun lobbies exploited precisely this conservative class’ ideology and ambitions in terms of tradition, self-defence and supremacy, to shape the imaginary of everlasting presence of arms in American people’s hands.
Through this path, it is possible to glimpse the intimate feature that binds Americans to their weapons.
It is not just about the use, nor the function, but the object itself.
The matter involves a broader sphere of belonging and affirmation, political and ideological, that a specific part of the population wants to defend, consciously or not.
If the hegemony is going to persist or reinforce: “Those who live in America, or visit it, might do best to regard [mass shooting] the way one regards air pollution in China: an endemic local health hazard which, for deep-rooted cultural, social, economic and political reasons, the country is incapable of addressing. This may, however, be a bit unfair. China seems to be making progress on pollution.” as the author of an Economist article suggests.
Generational, ethnic and economic changes are part of a broader global evolutionary trend that naturally affects America and might consistently reduce that peculiar segment of population now predominant.
It is not clear whether what today seems to be an indissoluble bond will progressively untie, or rather survive its initiators.
Times soothes all sorrows, every now and then.
(Image by REUTERS/Brian Blanco)
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
I am Giorgio, born and bred in Rome, in 1997. Currently attending the B.A. in Global Governance. I am passionate in international politics and global trends and I want communication to become my profession.