Everybody knows that Americans love their guns. But if it’s obvious that the right to own a firearm causes a higher than average number of fatalities due to shooting accidents or otherwise premeditated assaults (statistics concerning this matter are in my opinion hard to deny), why have the United States government been unwilling to change the gun laws? Though empty promises of change have been uttered after every major shooting incident, nothing has come of it. To a European this is a true head-scratcher and for me that’s a good reason to dig into the culture around it and to try and make some sense out of it.
The United States outdo the most violent of countries on this planet in the amounts of guns per capita. Over 97 guns are owned per 100 people (for example: Serbia is 2nd on the list at 58 per 100, Yemen 3rd at 55/100) but these are kept in 47% of the homes. This means that gun owners tend to collect multiple firearms. Talking with people these statistics were acknowledged and I found out that many people have strong feelings against gun ownership. The country truly seems to be divided in two strongly opposing groups of pro-gun and anti-gun. In the United States last year 4.7 homicides per 100,000 people were committed using firearms adding up to the shocking number of 14,173, just following countries like Niger, Yemen and Albania. During the 70’s, 80’s and into the mid 90’s things were truly crazy here when the homicides per capita in America was around 9 or 10 so people have calmed down a bit it seems. The U.S. lead the statistics noticeably on all accounts compared to other western civilizations. The Netherlands had a 0.9 gun homicide per capita last year.
One of our friends cried murder from his car seat at the slightest deviation in traffic or depiction of drug abuse on TV, but feels strongly that everyone ‘should be carrying some heat’ (guns) to deal with the scum bags.
Another man we met always carries his handgun. When I asked a good friend of his why, she quoted him saying
“Did you see those people in the Wall Mart?”
David liked shooting when he was young, but he falls in the category of people who at some point find sanity and stop being ridiculous. Guns and rifles play a big part of this county’s history, and it is becoming much easier for me to comprehend how and why it is still embedded in today’s culture. Imagine being shown your uncle’s rifle at age six. It represents power and strength. You start imagining having one of your own. Later on a friend might take you out to shoot cans and squirrels in the forest and you become familiarized with the mechanical workings of a firearm; it’s interesting and exciting especially for boys. Now as an adult you have money to spend on hobbies and you are aware that many people around you own a gun. So for reasons of ‘self protection’ you buy yourself a nice weapon, but really you just get a hard-on feeling tough and getting wound-up because it’s just a cool thing to have. Just like a new TV or a car or even (for the Dutch) a nice bicycle it has become a normal thing to be around and own.
Also, the right to own a firearm when the country’s borders were being stretched out to the west, was important to doing so. Lawlessness (bank robbing) and bounty hunting could make a man his living. Law enforcement was non-existing in new territory but indigenous tribes could become violent, so for protection and taking justice into one’s own hand the revolver was an irreplaceable tool to survive. Just as dietary habits, family planning and career opportunities in the Netherlands have remained inflexible and set, in the same way the gun culture in the United States is slow to change into a more modern concept.
Toby showed me his shot gun which he keeps in the bedroom, far removed from the bullets. He’s had it for 40 years and used to go fowl-hunting with it- the more acceptable reason to own a firearm. I held it and it’s a handsome, heavy rifle.. The problem of high homicide rates is not caused by simple gun ownership but by the flexibility to purchase firearms without having received any training or undergoing a background check. And what can possibly be the benefit of offering assault rifles for sale to regular people? Are we anticipating aliens of communists to invade the U.S.? Of course not! Yet many people own for ‘self protection’ which means fear of something or someone. Usually a minority group, usually racial- or class distinguished. The laws need to change because people won’t.