British view of American gun culture is problematic

Following the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon that claimed nine lives this past week, America has again been forced to confront its apparent addiction to guns. As liberals call for greater firearm regulation, conservatives decry their views as an attack on the constitution and their inalienable second amendment rights. Here in Britain, this debate is perplexing; any mention of guns is usually met with a furrowed brow, a dismissive remark, and a swift return to tea, queuing, talk of the weather etc. As a friend recently put it, “if you want fewer gun deaths, just have fewer guns! It works for us.”

But with an issue like gun ownership which is so inexorably tied to the culture of one nation and so incongruous to the other, it is inadmissible to apply this British ideology to America.

My friend, at first glance, may be right. The U.S. civilian firearm ownership rate is 88.8 guns per 100 people, in Britain it is 5.9. Equally, in 2012 the number of per-capita gun deaths in the U.S. was 2.9 per 100,000, nearly thirty times that of the UK at 0.1 per 100,000. The statistics speak for themselves. Clearly America is racked with a sickness that must be treated; this is not an apology for the flagrant liberalism of their gun laws. However, the cultural significance of firearms in America must be appreciated in order for the voracious defence of them to be understood.

To many Americans, the right to bear arms is not merely political legislation, but an inviolable cultural privilege. As enshrined in the constitution and adopted in 1791, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This is the binding supreme law upon which the United States was founded, the cornerstone of the American political and social establishment. For many Americans, this document is their bible (apart from, you know, The Bible.) Who are we to dismiss it so casually?

The British observer is further confounded by the polarised political landscape of America itself. Wildly divergent positions on the left and right wings are taken and passionately defended; in Britain we tend to be far more fluid with our notions of political and cultural identity. The political acrimony in America is reflected in the gun debate; moderate liberals emphasise the “well-regulated” part of the second amendment, whilst Tea Party conservatives cannot be swayed; they literally and figuratively stick to their guns.

Blindly wading into an American debate over gun culture as a Brit is undeniably problematic. In modern multicultural Britain, we incorporate the ideals and traditions of foreign cultures into our own 21st century concept of ‘Britishness’. Under the guise of acceptance and cultural relativism, we recognise that the moral right and wrong are culturally constructed notions not necessarily compatible with our own. The pro-gun argument should be afforded this same consideration.

However warped the concept of gun ownership may feel, we must attempt to understand the American paradigm however unconscionable it may seem. Reflecting on his past as a vocal advocate of gun control, broadcaster Piers Morgan said, “there is a culture of gun ownership which I didn’t afford enough respect to…if I had my time again…it would be a much more two-way conversation to try and understand why America has an obsession with guns”. Whatever the approach, a tangible solution to gun control is a bullet that America can no longer afford to dodge.

Image: Loren Kerns

One reply on “British view of American gun culture is problematic”

I am an American, a gun owner and an advocate for the 2nd Amendment – “Right to Bear Arms”. I believe that all law abiding citizens should be freely able to own any kind of gun, and any amount of guns and ammo. I also believe that anyone who chooses to own a gun must be responsible for anyone who accesses that gun to do harm to others. I am going to list my reasons why I personally believe in private ownership of guns:

1. Freedom. My ancestors fought and died for Freedom. Freedom from foreign and domestic tyranny. Freedom from military officers forcing themselves upon us to take quarter in hour homes at will. Freedom from maniacal dictators, like Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Castro, Chavez, Hussein, Assad, Putin, Xi and Un. Freedom from slavery, based on race or even gender. At any moment, in any generation, at any place where humans inhabit this Earth, there are those who can and would deny us our basic human rights, including Freedom. Citizens being armed and prepared to fight and die if we must to protect our Freedom is necessary.

2. Protection from Human Predators. Criminals, thugs, rapists, violent gangs – whatever you want to call them, are looking to prey on those who do not, cannot, or will not protect themselves. The Police do not protect us from violence. They investigate crimes after they occur. The police do not protect us while we are residing in our homes, Our protection from violent predators is our own responsibility and guns are the great equalizer between a marauder (or gang of marauders) and an innocent individuals.

3. Protection from Animals. In the US, we often find ourselves out in the wilderness, for work or by choice. We have predators ranging from alligators, pythons, bears, elk, snakes, coyotes, wild dogs, wolves, and even occasionally deer that will seek to attack us. Guns are necessary for protection from wild animals.

4. Hunting and Shooting Sports. Hunting is a sport and a tradition among many Americans. So are many shooting sports. As Cricket is a sport and tradition among the English which many Americans do not understand, Hunting and Shooting Sports are just as important to many Americans. We do not need to understand each other’s pastimes and sports to accept that they are equally as important to us.

America does have a gun culture. I am a proud part of it. Respect it and we will respect your right to choose not to have guns, if that is your wish and your exercise of Freedom. As much as I may think UK citizens are foolish not to demand the right to own and bear arms, and have laws that permit them to kill an attacker in self-defense, I must respect your freedom to choose to live the way you desire. American gun owners pose no physical threat whatsoever to any other nations. I do suppose the mere fact that Americans can own a wide range of firearms, and UK citizens cannot, may pose a threat to your ideals. However, that is for you to look deeply within yourselves and your society to determine whether our gun-culture is right or wrong for your society.

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