by John Dapolito
Once again the world scratches its head in bemusement while yet again America mourns the victims of senseless tragedy. The world asks itself how it is that gun crimes are such a figure in the landscape of American life and that eight out of ten homes contain more than one firearm. The gun culture in the United States is not based around hunting or recreational target shooting, but on self-empowerment and social conformism. Imagine your granny running around town packing a Glock just in case someone tries to dis her.
One way to understand why so many Americans cherish their right to bear arms is to examine the opinions of those who oppose absolutely any form of gun control. Guns protect us from the enemy within the country and without. This argument is based on a culture of fear surrounding terrorism alarms, developed and exploited by the previous administration, as well as the mutually held belief that the right to carry a firearm is not only constitutional, but God given.
Many gun supporters even go so far as to argue that owning an AK47 is a safeguard against mob violence. Everybody knows that the end is nigh, America is on the verge of civil war and one day soon they will be called upon to protect democracy; in which case a high calibre, semi-automatic pistol with a rapid fire clip of more than thirty rounds of ammunition will come in handy. Think again of your granny, this time taking out an angry mob of anarchists spitting on the constitution and waving a burning stars and stripes.
The real reason so many Americans sit up late polishing their gun barrels has more to do with the shared myth of frontier self-reliance and vigilantism than say, paranoia or a real need for safety. The truth is most folks feel comforted by their own gun nearby, and they all admit that guns are just plain fun; in extremis, happiness really is a warm gun.
I’m reminded of a New Jersey transplant I once knew back in Albuquerque New Mexico who in one day bought a nine millimetre semi-automatic Berreta with an eighteen round clip and a pair of quality leather kid gloves. He also regularly wore a western style Ralph Lauren poncho. (I am not kidding.) One day in the dressing room of the restaurant where we both worked as waiters, the New Jersyite excitedly took his new piece out of his unlocked locker and exclaimed how happy he was to be at last the proud owner of a lightweight killing machine. I asked, foolishly, why he would ever feel the need to buy such a thing. He explained that Albuquerque was much more dangerous than I could imagine, which was probably true, and that he felt safer and more in control of whatever situation might arise.
The next day my Eastwoodesque co-worker came round to my house for a lift to work and I asked him if he was packing. Of course he replied as if I had asked a completely unnecessary and stupid question. I then told him that if he didn’t leave his pistol at home he would have to find his own way to work that day, and that I would never allow him in my car with a gun. He thought I was crazy and insisted. I think he would have shot me then and there if he had had cab fare. I did not relent to his insults and in the end, faced with the prospect of being woefully late for his shift, he returned the gun, and for all I know the kid gloves, to his apartment. There was no conversation on the drive to work, but when we arrived he wasted no time in ridiculing my anti-handgun stubbornness to the whole restaurant. Added to my indignation was the almost unanimous support of Clint’s cause from the kitchen and waiting staff. I felt ostracised as a particularly uncool type of bleeding heart liberal or sucker pacifist who was sure one day to be tragically reminded of the fallacy of his argument.
Americans need to reflect on the fact we all learned as children; that a toy in a shop begs to be played with and once bought doesn’t ever just sit idly on a closet shelf. There really is such a thing as an itchy trigger finger, with or without kid gloves.