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Blogs

Why do Americans love guns?

8 July 2008

12:58 AM

8 July 2008

12:58 AM

I am puzzled. Puzzled that is, by the British attitude towards America’s gun culture. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s (in my view) common sense ruling that the 2nd Amendment guarantees an individual, rather than a collective, right to bear arms, British commentators responded by, well, by throwing their hands up in the air and, yup, wondering at them there crazy Yanks. Thus Bryan Appleyard:

I no longer try to understand the American acceptance of well over 30,000 gun-related deaths a year.  No other country comes close – though it should be noted that over half are suicides, in other countries people may just kill themselves in different ways so the total gun death figure may be misleading. Either way, the weird complacency remains…Gun culture remains one of America’s greatest aberrations. It baffles other nations. But there you go.

Thus, too, the BBC’s Man in Washington, Justin Webb, who quotes the 2nd Amendment and asks:

Errr, what does that mean?… You can disagree with the majority view, but you cannot escape from it if you live in the United States.

[Alt-Text]


Well, as I say, this befuddlement puzzles me. Like may other foreign commentators, these two (whose views, I would suggest, are representative of the British view of American gun culture) seem to be confusing something that is exceptional with something that may be considered bonkers. But the former does not imply the latter. And in fact the unique nature (in the western world) of American gun culture seems, to me at least, firmly rooted in a peculiarly, even uniquely, American set of historical, cultural and legal circumstances. Considered individually some, or even each of these, might be thought insufficient explanations for America’s love affair with the gun; taken collectively they render the matter much less mysterious and, I’d hazard, entirely explicable. 

Other developed countries – Canada, Switzerland – also enjoy high rates of gun ownership, yet do not suffer American levels of gun violence. But, rather importantly, neither Canada nor Switzerland was founded at the point of a gun. Timing matters. I’d suggest that had the United States been in a position to declare independence from Britain in 1676 rather than a century later, American culture might be rather different. As it was, the revolutionaries launched their war just as guns became sufficiently reliable and affordable to be everyday purchases for “ordinary” people. Swiss independence, of course, pre-dates the gun while Canadian independence was, generally speaking, a peaceful, negotiated affair rather than the consequence of an armed insurrection.

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