On November 27, a 58 year old man locks himself up in Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic, unleashing his gun he kills 3 people and wounds 9 others . Just a few days later, a couple from San Bernadino valley in California unleash an attack on a Christmas party killing another 14.
These events, along with a long list of other violent crimes, continues to lead many observers around the world to ask the question, ‘what’s with U.S. Americans and guns?’
From a distance we see the discussion, the facts and figures that get thrown around in argument relating to public safety and personal freedoms—i.e. the highest homicide rates in the developed world.
On the basis of many of the facts and figures, coupled with the unfortunate regularity of gun related crime being reported, for people outside of the nation, the reason an argument still exists appears tenuous.
Within the country however, many understand that the issue is far more complex than all that is flung around in the media will have us believe.
To begin to understand the issue, it might be important to note that despite estimates 300 million guns are owned by the public, they are owned by around a third of the population.
Gun ownership in the United States:
Despite this, it is closer to 50% of people who support gun rights, and when examining the last decade, despite increases in gun related violence, surveys show there has been a rise in support of gun rights.
This highlights that this is more than just an issue of who can own what gun and where, the argument is just another article at the tip of the iceberg which represents the contestation of values within the U.S. culture.
Hunting and self-protection are the two major reasons U.S. Americans give for their ownership of firearms. Looking further at a list of reasons why, one in particular stands out, the ‘right to bear arms’.
Reasons to own a gun:
For those uneducated on the matter, ‘the right to bear arms’ is constitutional and is in The Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights set out in 1791. It states, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
In other words, with the backdrop of the War of Independence, it was deemed important in the new democratic republic that the civilians would have means to remain free of the tyranny of government, and the population should have the right to defend themselves by having the option to form their own militias.
This means, for many, owning firearms is more than a right, it is a symbol of public’s power over the government.
One resident of the San Bernadino county post the shooting, said the main issue with gun control is the government is exercising its authority over citizens without their proper consent, “We have a right to them, and the government is trying to take it away without our approval, that’s the issue”
Another important point to consider in the discussion, and what complicates this issue somewhat further, is that not only is the gun a symbol of the power of the people, guns have also been at the heart of their national narrative, particularly with the pioneers and their push westward.
The gun helped make civilisation possible in the wild west by playing a key role in establishing ‘law and order’.
Stories abound within U.S. folklore of the good sheriff or rancher taking on the evil, armed simply with a revolver or rifle, perpetuating the idea that, as one American friend succinctly explained, “the way to fight evil is to go out and kill the bad guys”.
This is not just an old idea, it is still perpetuated in film and television, where the good cop or victim is forced to take the law into their own hands to protect the world around them.
In this line of logic, taking away guns means potentially opening the door for evil to overcome good.
This can possibly be alluded to in the fact that after each bout of gun related violence, there is a spike in gun sales.
These two points illustrate that personal arms have played an extremely important role in U.S. history, and like it or not, are an essential element to what distinguishes them from… say… Canada.
As logical as it seems to put restrictions on gun ownership, those who stand back from the issue need to understand that this is not just about guns, this is about the way USA will be defined in the future.