The Gun Thing

Reading & Writing, World

There’s a shocking moment in the play ‘Assassins’ when a crazy woman gets a gun out of her handbag and fires it into the audience. Most of us have never seen a gun before, let alone had one pointed at us, so the gesture is unnerving.
I’ve grown up in a society where a gun is as invisible as a vampire, something you see on a movie screen but not in real life. That’s not to say they’re not a part of a British sub-culture now, but they’re still non-existent to most of us.

Consequently I very rarely mention them in books or stories I write because it doesn’t come naturally to me. Until I recently went to a firing range (see column passim) I had never touched a weapon.
I appreciate that it’s different in the USA because the right to bear arms is enshrined in the second amendment, and firearms hold a key position in American society because many believe individual gun ownership is a guarantor of democracy. The pioneer concept of having the ability to enforce the protection of one’s home is deeply engrained. (However, I was mugged at gunpoint in the US in 1984 in Los Angeles, and that wasn’t about the right to bear arms).

Recently it was announced that action movies of the gun-waving, car explosion kind have been faring badly, and social commentators have been exciting themselves with the idea that there may be a generational change in attitude, but I don’t think so – it’s just that the movies periodically rediscover the female tween audience, and violent films will return. How can it not when the NRA has a much higher budget than most UK universities?

But a glance at the gun statistics is sobering. There are 90 guns for every 100 Americans and 85 shootings a day. The world league table of gun deaths puts the USA close to the top along with South Africa, Colombia and the Phillipines. Although tables are unreliable because some countries include attempted gun attacks, Britain remains near the bottom, somewhere between Lithuania and Denmark.
The point is that the USA leads the world’s richest countries in gun deaths whichever way you juggle statistics, and that doesn’t seem about the right to bear arms, but the right to commit crimes.

The NRA – a society that’s meant to promote the sport of hunting – has political clout, with so few opponents that it needs no publicity campaigns or lobbying groups. As the Guardian journalist in the US points out, ‘America’s relationship with guns is as deep and complex at home as it is perplexing abroad. The fact that most British police are not armed confounds even the most liberal here. And even though the nation is evenly split on whether there should be more gun control, every time there is a gun-related tragedy, whether it is the shootings in Arizona, Virgina Tech or any number of schools, the issue has been effectively removed from the electoral conversation.’

It’s a good argument for not promoting gun use in popular literature or movies – and one wonders if the current fad for supernatural stories is a deflection of the tradition gun-and-bomb laden adventure tale into something deliberately less realistic.

10 comments on “The Gun Thing”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    I can’t agree with your statement that the NRA is not a lobbying group. It was/is legally established as one and is extremely powerful. It has had a legislative affairs division since the early 1930′s and would seem to be continously involved (24/7 in 50 states involved). It is a force in American politics and contributes money and member support to pro-gun groups.
    And statistics can be sobering, but may be read many ways and therefore not always reflect the presented truth. Statistically while there may be 90 guns for 100 Americans, I doubt 90 Americans own the 100 guns. More likely 9 American gun collectors own 100 guns, but even that sounds like too few guns for some avid collectors.
    I am not now a gun owner and only had one once, when I was in Kabul in the early 60′s. I rode a Honda motorbike for several years there and at night there was a risk that the street dogs, or the wolves at night in winter would take out after you. (Wolves actually killed a Marine one winter night, when he and his pals were sledding behind a Jeep on the city’s snowy streets). I sold the gun when I got a car.
    I agree though that guns, war, smoking and drugs are too often romanticised in pop culture, but so then is sex. I’ll support one of them.

  2. I can understand people owning guns. I should think there are many British people who would feel safer owning a weapon.

    Then again, in response to Dan, my father works in Kabul today – he used to keep an AK47 stashed under the passenger seat of his vehicle, but not once in 5 years has he needed to use it! If you don’t need one there, then where do you?!

    American culture seems too far immersed in the idea of owning guns, in my view.

  3. Dan Terrell says:

    Henry: Completely agree with you. Way too much gun-loving in the States.
    I never expected to own a gun, didn’t want to, and only did so that one time and with reason and at the suggestion of embassy security. (Part of the time I had my wife-to-be on the seat sidewise behind me, whenever her father was unaware. I also carried a nunchuck with an extra long chain, which I had to use several times on jui-dogs in Kabul. They were feral, huge, not at all friendly and downright dangerous. The least you could expect from a bite, even a nip, was a long series of rabies shots.
    I wish your father the best! I was there a bit less than six years and when times were mostly good. I loved it and the people. No war.
    I’m more proud of the space shuttle Discovery which just 45 minutes ago flew low, low right by my house piggy-backed on a NASA 747. What a sight. It has now landed at Dulles International to go into retirement after 39 flights into space. I’ll walk over Friday and see it. That, not guns, makes me glad.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    That must have been quite a sight, Dan. I am amazed at the things posters to this blog have done in their lives and I will keep the image of you on the bike, girl friend behind and nunchuck waving as the dogs/wolves try to attack.
    I have read the second amendment several times over the years and continue to affirm that it is an empowerment of militia, not individual gun usage. I’m not saying this too loudly because my connection to the States is minimal (a grandfather who came to Canada and an aunt who went into the American army as a physiotherapist).

  5. Wow. Dan – what an amazing sight, I’m very jealous indeed!

    Afghan Jui-dogs sound particularly viscous and I don’t blame you for arming yourself! My father loves Afghanistan, but it’s a real shame it is on such a slide. You can’t help but feel it will all collapse when allied forces exit come 2014.

    Lets wait and see…

  6. Steve says:

    We are gun owners; but I hope to high heaven to never have to use them. If we were under threat, though, I wouldn’t hesitate. Civilization is a thin veneer at best. The beast lurks beneath.
    How’s that for a cheerful observation?

  7. Helen Martin says:

    I’m putting on sackcloth and sprinkling ashes even as you speak, Steve. It’s all that’s keeping me from commenting on the viscous dogs.

  8. Ken Grabach says:

    I agree with Dan regarding that gun-ownership statistic. Large numbers of folk do not own guns of any kind. The few whom I know and know to own guns use them for hunting, or for sport target shooting. I do not know whether any of them claim self-defense as another reason to own their weapons. But again, a single statistic (90 guns for 100 citizens) tells you very little about those people. That makes for lots of room for inferrence, some possibly accurate, some very likely not.
    And Mr. Fowler, you rather implied something about the character of all of us as citizens, without regard for our own view of that issue. In the last 30 years, the only times I have seen a gun have been as police officers’ sidearms. Yes, in your country your officers don’t carry weapons. But then again, as you point out, gun ownership is regarded very differently. Your constabularies, and Metropolitan Police don’t need to assume that the average perpetrator is carrying a gun. Our police, unfortunately, do.

    At one time, the NRA was meant to promote the sport of hunting. But consider that when there have been attempts to limit the ownership of semi-automatic weapons, the NRA has been at the forefront of lobbying (yes, indeed) for ownership ‘rights’. That, without a doubt, is pretty far removed from hunting of anything except people. And not in sport, either.

    I think it is safe to say, no matter what view is in the majority regarding gun ownership, that the NRA and like-minded folk do not speak for all US citizens. If we are a minority, we are not a small one, just powerless in the face of that group, and the ear they have of members of our Congress.

  9. Dan Terrell says:

    I agree Ken. It is not good that guns are so available here. Yet we have a War on Drugs and fund and push for Mexico, and much of the rest of Latin America, to stop sending drugs north (which is a good thing, if not too effective) and yet our home-grown guns are going south into Mexico and Latin American with only modest control on our part because gun sales are mostly legal here. We have a revised law in Virginia that now says any number of guns can be bought in a day! Since both commodities may go through a 3rd country enroute, I am reminded of the Molasses Trade of old, or even the horrible trade in persons. Some day maybe it will get better.
    Helen keep reading our second amendment. It’s open to interpretation,they say, but maybe down here some people do think you’re reading it correctly. Til then.

  10. Helen Martin says:

    In Canada there is a much greater control on guns than in the U.S. but not nearly as much as in Britain. We tried to have a gun registration requirement but rural people claimed it was, I’m not sure – discriminatory? unfair? It has been abandoned but you still have to have a license for any sort of long gun and they have to be recognizably hunting guns and it is really hard (I’m told) to get a license for any sort of pistol, other than target ones and they have to be stored at a gun club. We are so sanctimonious about that and we seize firearms of any sort at the border (be warned) but we manufacture and sell guns anywhere, any time and criminals get hold of them and ship them to Mexico in exchange for guns. It’s the criminals we want to stop, you know, but they seem to be able to get around most laws and enforcement agents.

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