A quagmire of bullets; An outsider perspective on America’s gun debatePosted: February 5, 2013
At a party over the Christmas period I was asked the most striking thing about living in America; as a question I had been trying to hone what I thought about my adopted country, previous answers had involved celebrations of excess, the racism, the general sense of optimism, the food and the surprisingly high quality of beer. However all my attempts at answering this question didn’t seem quite complete until this particular question at this particular party because I’ve come to realize that the one unifying thing about everyone in America; (Black, White, Rich, Poor, Conservative, Liberal) is that the whole country seems to be pretty self-involved. I say this because despite the fact that France is fighting a war in North Africa, whilst Russia and China experiment with varying degrees of rocket technology in a world where a country at the crossroads of the world is slowly descending further into a death ridden hellscape; the primary debate in my current homeland is how many bullets should be in a semiautomatic machine gun; an argument which, as a foreigner I am continually drawn into.
My experience of this argument has predominantly involved someone at a party asking me, as an English person, what my country of birth’s experience with gun control is, and how that makes me able to adjudicate on how Americans should live with or without guns. The answer is that I don’t have any expertise with gun control and almost no British people do, no matter how many British liberals who pretend to be Journalists say otherwise; the experience of the UK is really uninformative in regards to America. Firstly the British don’t and didn’t have guns; it’s not that there was a wide ranging ban on guns which resulted in guns being taken away from the general population; there were two laws enacted in the year following a man shooting up a school in Dunblane – a year that had a pretty momentous election halfway through – the second law was just an extension of the first and between them made owning functioning shotguns difficult and Handguns nearly impossible. The bill was not especially controversial as it affected less than 1% of British people and was in no way a factor in Tony Blair becoming prime minister. Secondly the cultural experience of gun violence in the lifetime of my parents, grandparents, and probably that of my great-grandparents was entirely external; if you were a subject of the British government in the 20th century with your own non-shotgun firearm, you were probably a member of a Northern Irish Militia. Growing up as a teenager in the mid-2000s I was bombarded with advertisements hammering home the fact that as of 2006 the British police consider the very fact that you have a gun on you evidence of intent to murder. I’m pointing all this out, not to tell British people in America to shut up about Guns in America – by being here we are as likely to get shot as anyone else – but the notion that somehow the British and our fellow Europeans have either the right or wrong answers to America’s issue with people being shot, is simply incorrect. The reference points people use when talking about Britain are also wrong; no one can seriously claim that the level of crime in Britain is related to gun legality one way or another, particularly as the definition of what’s a crime, let alone violent crime actually is varies between our two countries, with the UK casting a wider net with that particular definition. Sighting the experience of other countries for either side of the argument is denying the very specific problems faced in America in regard to gun violence, treating the problem like simply an international one that America hasn’t gotten around to solving yet. In doing this everyone seems to be ignoring large factors in about Guns in America that have yet to be brought up; Poverty and Race.
Whilst I don’t own a gun, and have never shot one, I do live in 2012’s fourth most gun murdery American City. Last year in the city where I live 285 people were shot to death, of which 240 where people of colour this isn’t a statistical aberration, In 2012’s third most murder American city; Detroit had 387 murders of which 361 had people of colour as their victims, in Chicago, (Number 2 on the 2012 list) since 2007, 661 White and Hispanic people have died in the same time frame as 2,097 Black people. These murders are almost always with handguns, illegally obtained for the specific purpose of killing someone. Despite this no one seems to be talking about guns generally, unless they’re sighting the fact that most people die from pistols as evidence of the futility of doing anything. Crucially however the only Guns that seem require any kind of examination are the kinds of guns that tend to end up killing middle class white people. This focus on relatively rare guns contributes to the fact that despite living in one of the top five murder cities in America, I don’t feel especially worried that someone will shoot me on my doorstep because I’m not Black and I do not live in a ghetto.
For a Non-American living in this country the fact that all the legal protections and inter-community bussing that has gone on in the past has done very little to racially desegregate it’s cities, is the glaring self-evident fact that no one seems to be able to talk about outside private rooms with one’s friends. This is despite the fact that It’s seems sort of evident almost everything in America is at least somewhat tainted by the fact that poverty and racism are such prevalent lines of division in American society today. This inability to talk about the very real fact that either because of Conservatives refusing to believe that social programs could ever work, or Liberals turning away from the probable reality that past attempts at social engineering have been inadequate or simply missteps, has meant that inner city violence seems to have been normalized by way of being ignored as just another part of Urban life and utilized for the amusement of suburban dwellers. Violence there is to be contained, not necessarily prevented and certainly not addressed in any meaningful way which has meant that despite the some 285 people that were shot to death within a few miles of my home since I moved here, the first discussion about how my country of residence might regulate firearms is because someone from relatively well-off community shot children from relatively well-off families. This is troubling as the people who die from murder in the United States, don’t generally do so in groups during a dramatic burst of violence at the hands of someone with a mental illness and a machine gun, the murdered population is slowly and systematically added too, one or two at a time with very little comment by media. Whilst I sympathize with liberals who want to get a handle on assault weapons, they’re not the real mass killer in America, and if they intend to do something about the highest gun death rate in the developed world they better do something about pistols.
As someone who didn’t grow up in a country where the second most important individual right was to own a firearm, I have no emotional feelings toward guns. I don’t feel more or less free in a country with a heavily armed citizenry which probably makes it hard for me to understand the pro-gun lobby contention that they and their AR-15s are the only thing between freedom and an authoritarian government. This is problematic for several reasons. The first it’s simply ahistorical as not only did Hitler deregulate Guns in 1938; part of the Nazi party’s ability to rise to power was the existence of a largely legal, armed militia. Despite this there is no denying that had Anarchist groups in Barcelona not sized weapons quickly enough, then Franco’s’ forces would have almost certainly overrun the city, I can’t help but think that whilst the guns in the hands of anarchist where crucial in that instance the deciding factor was the level of organisation the CNT initially had on the ground rather the amount of bullets in their pockets. The argument presented by those such as the NRA and Alex Jones is reminiscent of the Polynesian Cargo Cults: a religion based around a misunderstanding during World War 2; the Polynesians witnessed American soldiers build Landing strips and docks on their islands to fly food and other supplies into the war-zone. Based on the information that supplies appeared after landing strips had been built, the native population, unaware of 20th century technology, assumed that Landing Strip = Cargo, and began building their own Landing strips in the hopes of the US air force favouring them. In much the same way many gun rights advocates seem to be under the impression that under any and all circumstances Gun = Freedom, That it was souly the muskets that established America rather than the ideas of the enlightenment. This is obviously problematic as it has meant the Bush administration was able to effectively nullify the Fourth and Fifth amendments because they didn’t touch the Second, and therefore in the logic of the pro-gun lobby; infringed on no freedoms. For a group of people who seem so intent on mimicking a group of men who have been dead for almost 200 years those who think the key to the American republic is simply the amount of firepower normal people seem not to be aware of John Adam’s Opinion which was that far from being simply a matter Bunker Hill and Lexington;
“The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.”
I understand my opinions may well be suspect as I am coming from an urban anarchist perspective but my understanding of how people maintain their freedom is though working and lower middle class solidarity as opposed to small bands of vigilantes parading around, showing off their semi-automatic weapons to the neighborhood every day.
The Gun argument will almost certainly conclude without a very satisfying conclusion for anyone involved, this is probably because both sides are fighting over the very small piece of turf they have allowed themselves to discuss, that the only real problem with America’s murder rate is how many assault weapons a mentally ill person can keep in their house. This seems like less likely to stop as much deadly violence in the United States as possible, but rather to localize it outside of the national consciousness, in out of sight urban areas, so we can all stop worrying about poor people being killed.