Freedom and Fear: The Foundations of America’s Deadly Gun Culture

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It was 1776, the American colonies had just declared their independence from England, and as war broke out, the Founding Fathers were deep in debate: whether Americans were allowed to carry firearms as individuals or as members of the local militia. should have the right?

As a landmark decision of the Supreme Court expanded gun rights on Thursday, just weeks after a mass murder of 19 kids At their Texas school, debate breaks out and outsiders wonder why Americans are given with appalling frequency to the firearms used in such massacres.

Experts say the answer lies in the traditions that underpin the country’s independence from Britain, and more recently, a growing belief among consumers that they need guns for their personal safety.

Over the past two decades – a period in which more than 200 million guns hit the US market – the country shifted from “Gun Culture 1.0”, where guns were for sport and hunting, to “Gun Culture 2.0” where many Americans see them as their own. As necessary to protect homes and families.

Read more: The response to gun violence sets America apart from the world

That change has been driven heavily by advertising by the nearly $20 billion gun industry, which has fueled fears of crime and racial upheaval, according to Ryan Busse, a former industry executive.

Recent mass killings are “a byproduct of a gun industry business model designed to profit from growing hatred, fear and conspiracy”, Busse wrote In the online magazine in May bulwarkie,

Yet in the wake of the mass shootings of black people in May, a supermarket In New York state and at his school of children and teachers in Uvalde, Texas, a consensus emerged for US lawmakers to push for some modest new gun control measures.

Almost simultaneously, the US Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a New York state law restricting who can carry a firearm, a significant expansion of gun rights.

Guns and the New Nation

For the men who designed the new United States in the 1770s and 1780s, there was no question about gun ownership.

He said that the monopoly of guns by Europe’s monarchies and their armies was the source of the oppression being fought by the American colonists.

The “father of the Constitution” James Madison cited “the advantage of being armed, which Americans have over the people of almost every other country”. But he and the other founders understood that the issue was complicated. The new states did not trust the nascent federal government and wanted their own laws and their own weapons.

He believed that people needed to hunt and protect themselves from wild animals and thieves. But some worried and more private guns could escalate to marginal chaos.

Were personal guns necessary to protect against torture? Couldn’t the local armed forces fulfill that role? Or will the militia become a source of local oppression? In 1791, a settlement was reached in the most commonly interpreted phrase in the US Constitution, the Second Amendment guaranteeing gun rights: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, of the people.” The right to keep and bear arms shall not be violated.”

1960s gun control

Over the following two centuries, guns became an essential part of American life and myth.

Read more: What ‘gun culture’ research tells us

Gun Culture 1.0, as Wake Forest University professor David Yamane describes it, was about guns that were important tools for pioneers’ hunting game and pest protection – as well as the genocidal conquest of Native Americans and slaves. control.

But by the early 20th century, the rapidly urbanizing United States was brimming with firearms and experiencing remarkable levels of gun crime not seen in other countries.

From 1900 to 1964, the late historian Richard Hofstadter wrote, the country recorded more than 265,000 gun homicides, 330,000 suicides, and 139,000 gun accidents.

In response to the increase in organized crime violence, in 1934 the federal government banned machine guns and required guns to be registered and taxed.

Individual states added their own controls, such as a ban on the carrying of guns in public or concealed.

The public was in for such control: Pollster Gallup says that in 1959, 60 percent of Americans supported a complete ban on personal handguns.

The assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King led to a push for stricter regulation in 1968.

But gunmakers and the increasingly outspoken National Rifle Association (NRA), citing the Second Amendment, prevented the new law from doing more than simply enforcing an easily halted ban on direct mail-order gun sales.

holy second amendment

Over the next two decades, the NRA built up common cause with Republicans to insist that the Second Amendment was absolute in protecting gun rights and that any regulation was an attack on the “liberties” of Americans.

According to Barnard College professor Matthew Lacombe, achieving this involved the NRA and involved creating and advertising a distinct gun-centered ideology and social identity for gun owners.

The gun owners banded together around that ideology, creating a powerful voting bloc, particularly in rural areas that Republicans sought to seize from Democrats.

West Point Military Academy professor Jessica Dawson said the NRA made common cause with the Religious Right, a group that believes in the primacy of Christianity in American culture and the Constitution.

Drawing on the New Christian Right’s belief in “moral decay, mistrust of government, and belief in evil”, Dawson wrote, the NRA leadership “raised the Second Amendment above the restrictions of a secular government more religiously coded”. started using the language”, Dawson wrote.

Self Defense

Yet the focus on the Second Amendment didn’t help gunsmiths, who saw flat sales in hunting and shooting sports in the 1990s due to a steep decline.

This paved the way for Gun Culture 2.0—when the NRA and the gun industry began telling consumers they needed personal firearms to protect themselves, according to Busse.

Gun marketing made people increasingly vulnerable to attack by rioters and thieves, and increased the need for personal “tactical” equipment.

The timing coincided with Barack Obama becoming the first African American president and a rise in white nationalism.

“Fifteen years ago, at the behest of the NRA, the firearms industry took a dark turn when it began marketing increasingly offensive and militaristic guns and tactical gear,” Buss wrote.

Meanwhile, several states responded to concerns about an alleged increase in crime by allowing people to carry guns in public without a permit.

In fact, violent crime has declined over the past two decades – although gun-related homicides have increased in recent years.

Read more: Why US gun violence increases in warm weather

There was a turning point for Gun Culture 2.0, said Wake Forest’s Yamane, leading to a sharp boost in sales of handguns, which were bought by people of all races amid an exaggerated fear of mutually destructive violence.

Since 2009, sales have increased, more than 10m per year since 2013, mainly of AR-15-type assault rifles and semi-automatic pistols.

“The majority of gun owners today – especially new gun owners – point to self-defense as the primary reason for owning a gun,” Yamane wrote.