Out Of Control: US & UK Attitudes To Firearms
Here’s a subject I came across in the online Nature magazine (the academic periodical of British sciences).
Today many Americans see the gun as a symbol of freedom from state control, and credit 1791’s Second Amendment for having saved the newly freed US from the fate of Britain’s other colonies. But in the UK guns were not seen as the bedrock of of liberty.
This is because here, gun ownership was a prerogative of the upper classes and the state. In the past, guns were unwieldy, impractical objects prone to rust and misfiring. The process of loading one was slow enough to cool down the hottest heads. As a result, before the 1790s, guns were not used in crimes of passion, or by the working classes.
When highwaymen and poachers started using guns it was in defiance of sovereign power; taking these newly miniaturised cannons traditionally used by the state in acts of suppression and transforming them into weapons of personal control.
In the US, questions arise about the reference to arms in ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms’ – does it refer to all firearms? In The UK, a nation without an enshrined constitution, such interpretations can’t occur. Guns, the symbol of government control in the colonies (and in the slave trade) came to be depicted negatively. In times of unrest the government shut down gun use. Once our own policing units were introduced Victorians surrendered to the state bodies and armed outlaws vanished.
In the colonies gun control was racialized to keep guns out of the hands of non-whites. Disarmament in British colonies and armament in the US served colonial purposes. Attempts to control arms after WW1 supposedly failed because the US wanted no part in protecting European empires, and didn’t want to harm its own arms exports to Latin America.
As a result, the UK and the US radically diverged on gun control from the 19th century onwards. In the UK guns are still not seen as symbols of freedom but as representations of lawlessness. When the law appears to break down, it is supported at a grass-roots level until guns are once more removed from society. In recent years the police have massively reduced gun crime by controlling the supply of bullets, every one of which is traceable. But the key difference between our two mentalities is what a gun represents to us. Not protection but chaos. Not freedom but slavery.