America’s love affair with guns is evident in, among other spheres, the number of movies with the word gun in the title. From Top Gun to Naked Gun, to Gatling Gun and Golden Gun, to Hired Gun and Missing Gun, Hollywood has offered paeans to the country’s unsurpassed passion for guns. “I have a very strict gun control policy: if there’s a gun around, I want to be in control of it,” Clint Eastwood, one of Hollywood’s acclaimed gunslingers once said, referring to efforts to curtail “gun rights.”
Gun lovers in the country, legions for whom gun worship is a religion, express their reverence for the weapon with mostly frivolous quips like “A gun in the hand is better than a cop on the phone,” “Why press 911...when you could squeeze 9mm,” “If guns cause crime, then matches cause arson,” and “Guns don’t kill people, people do.”
Indeed, people do - with guns. But it is also true that if it were not for the easy availability of guns, they would kill less, far less. Humans may harbour atavistic fears and homicidal traits even without guns, but guns enable quick and easy gratification of murderous goals. A spree of gun violence across America last weekend, including the horrific racist carnage in Buffalo that killed ten people, may not have been so quick and bloody but for easy access that put a gun in the hands of a teenager with poor education and warped beliefs.
The United States has less than five per cent of the world’s population, but it has 50 per cent of the world’s civilian-owned guns. About 40 per cent – four-in-ten – US adults say they live in a household with a gun, including 30 per cent who say they personally own one, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2017. The rate of murder or manslaughter by firearm is the highest in the developed world.
In 2020, the most recent year for which complete data is available, 45,222 people died from gun-related injuries in the US, according to the Central for Disease Control. This is by far the most on record, representing a 14 per cent increase from the year before, a 25 per cent increase from five years earlier and a 43 per cent increase from a decade prior. The 45,222 toll included not just murders but also suicides, which have long accounted for the majority of US gun deaths. In 2020, 54 per cent of all gun-related deaths in the US were suicides, while 43 per cent were murders. Americans are not just killing others but also themselves.
The United States remains the world’s most ‘gun-ho’ nation in the world mainly on account of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, which protects the right of people to keep and bear arms. The country’s Founding Fathers, frontiersmen in more ways than one, insisted that Americans should have the right and advantage of being armed (‘’unlike the citizens of other countries whose governments are afraid to trust the people with arms,’’ James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers.)
Gun votaries have frequently cherrypicked such pledges to fight any move to curb this gun rights right, including citing the cerebral Thomas Jefferson’s letter to his nephew. “As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun,’’ Jefferson wrote. ‘’While this gives [only] moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun, therefore, be the constant companion to your walks.”
As a result, gun ownership and game hunting is a rite of passage for many Americans, particularly in the country’s heartland and hinterland, even though what the Founding Fathers wrote in the era of the musket bears no relation to the age of AK-47s and AR-15s. Jefferson doubtless did not have a mindless mass shooting at a mall on his mind when he urged his nephew to make a gun a constant companion during walks.
The United States now ranks, by a long shot, No.1 in terms of gun ownership in the world with more than 300 million guns – one for almost every man, woman, and child in America. And there is no sign its citizens are disarming or giving up the weapons any time soon. If anything, they are going in the other direction – more guns. The only salutary lesson that multiple mass shootings, including school carnages, is instilling among Americans, particularly Republicans, is the belief that they need to be even better armed, indicating a loss of faith in the government.
In fact, the country is so much in thrall of the idea of weapons for self-defense that gun production and sale actually went up after the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre in 2012. US gun-makers produced nearly 11 million guns in 2013, twice as many as they made in 2010. Last week, amid a spate of mass shootings, Pew research updated its 2017 survey: It showed that the share of Americans who say gun laws should be stricter has DECREASED from 60 per cent in September 2019 to 53 per cent in April 2021. This is a country arming itself to its teeth — with guns for ire.
The writer is a senior journalist and writer based in Washington
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