America’s gun culture

Gun Rights

I want to live in a country where my presence is not seen by some as an existential threat. But this feels like a fantasy. I want to walk past the school where my son will attend kindergarten next year and see a place that will keep him safe. But this is impossible. We live in a country that has failed us. Where the cocktail of easily accessible guns and the normalising of extremist views makes nowhere feel safe. There is no other country in the world where this happens. And the fact that it does happen, and happens with such frequency, is reflective of a choice that has been made. But just because a choice has been made doesn’t mean that different choices aren’t possible. Different choices are possible.”

(Clint Smith, The Atlantic)

June is gun violence awareness month – and here’s why we should talk about it.

Guns have been part of America since there was not America, but there wasn’t an issue with gun violence until San Valentin’s Day massacre in 1929, when four men likely associated with Al Capone used machine guns to kill seven rival gang members. Some years after this event, and more specifically in 1934, gun laws started to pass easily. In 1968 the President Johnson signed into law the Gun Control Act, which would have supposedly made guns safer and harder to get. However, between 1971 and 2000, the National Rifle Association (NRA), which until that time was an enthusiast club focused on civil right, shifted consistently and consciously to an advocacy club, whose main objective was money. By the 2000 they spent 2.000.000 $ to 5.000.000 $ a year – and in advertising for the 2020 political campaigns they spent a total of 29.000.000 $. Definitely not an insignificant amount of money.

Clearly, guns do kill people. There is a real connection between the presence of guns and the presence of death, and although there’s still a long way to go, after the numerous mass shootings in the US, people are starting to conduct more and more research on this topic.

As of today, there are about 400.000 civilians in the US that own guns: 40% of total gun ownership and 5% of total human population. Obviously a pretty big relationship. Around 40.000 Americans die every year from firearm related injuries and there is a pretty direct correlation between gun ownership and gun death. Moreover, places that have more gun have also more gun deaths. This is particularly true in the case of people who die by suicide. In fact, if people have access to firearm in an easy manner, it’s much more likely that the person will choose to die by suicide via gun fire than another method.
The gun industry has reached 63.000.000 $ by 2020 and it is possible to notice how powerful it has become by the number of mass shootings – definable as „incidents“ where four or more people lose their lives – which have been ca. 19.000 since 2012.

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When it comes to mass shootings, there is a lot of diversity in opinions between politicians. For Republicans it is for example considered more important to protect gun rights than to control gun violence, while for Democrats is the opposite. However, almost 90% of American citizens, including gun owners, do believe in background checks. This appears to be the only gun control they agree on as a nation. Beyond that it is a spectrum; America itself is a spectrum and gun violence is strongly baked in it. It’s a choice that governments have made for American citizens.

To talk about gun culture means to talk about the intersectional aspect of it too.

What seems pretty clear is that white men are most likely to own a gun for stated reason of protection. Historically, the US – because of enslavement – has not wanted black or brown or indigenous folks to have access to guns. Colonialisms is clearly the reason for that. Americans landed in a place that was not theirs, they took the land by force and forced people off that land, not allowing them to have it back. Most of the times, thy did it by using violence, therefore with guns. White people wanted, and still want, to maintain white supremacy by owning guns and keeping them away from black and indigenous communities. Now there is a new generation of gun owners – and usurprisingly this has a big correlation to pandemic and the label of insecurities that people have felt during this time. Black folks are, in fact, seen a need to own their own guns to protect themselves. It is also for this reason that gun ownership has raised a lot in 2020, with 23.000 firearms being sold, in comparison with the 13.000 in 2019.

Another important aspect is connected to the equipment police officers use in the US. Unlike a lot of other countries, American police are always armed with guns. This goes back to President Reagan and the proclaimed War on Drugs, with whom he started to push for the military to help the police. With the 1033 program, it was possible for the military to donate leftover gear to police departments across the country, and although the program originally stipulated that weapon had to be used for drug-related enforcement, in 1997 it was expanded so that any police department – even university campus police – could gain access to military gear for any reason. The scope of this intersection is hard to understand. However, it is known that there were periods in which there have been spikes in military equipment being given out, like for example right after 2011, when US troupes left Iraq. During this time there were a lot of spare weapons just laying around, and the police departments decided to make use of them.

The combination of all these events has not only contributed to the hyper-militarisation of the police, but also to way they see themselves. They now feel that they have to use the military equipment as a part of their jobs. Even when military branches weren’t necessarily donating equipment, police departments were seeking it out and paying for it and buying it. According to some research, police officers are very aware of the fact that their equipment makes people they interact with more afraid and scared of the police, but even if they do know it, they still feel like they need it. If this does not change, gun violence and its relationship to America will not change too.

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