Why are the ties that bind American gun owners to their firearms so deep?
Does America love its guns more than its people?
Guns are deeply ingrained in American society and the nation’s political debates. Americans are fascinated by weapons and the US is awash with guns. Guns have always been a symbol of power for Americans. They go back to when the white settlers used them to subdue the native Americans and to keep the African Americans as slaves. The National Rifles Association (NRA), is the strongest pro-gun political lobby in the US with an annual budget of $250 billion (Outlook, 2022).
American attitudes on gun ownership date back to the American Revolutionary War, traditions of hunting, militias, and frontier living. The American hunting or sporting passion comes from a time when shooting skills and survival among rural American men were a necessity and were considered a rite of passage for those entering manhood. Today, modern-day Americans take hunting as a component of gun culture to control animal populations across the country. For early Americans, survival against foreign armies and hostile Native Americans was dependent on one's ability to use a weapon, most often a firearm. Today, many Americans believe that owning a gun is a necessity for self-protection. America has had a long-standing history with guns that still stands strong to date.
The US is leading with the highest number of privately owned guns in the entire world and gun ownership is constitutionally protected by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution; with the ratio standing at 120.5 guns per 100 residents (Times of India, 2022). Well, it is clear from that ratio that there are more guns than people. The gun culture of the United States can be described as unique among developed countries in terms of the large number of firearms owned by civilians, generally permissive regulations, and the high levels of gun violence.
Americans don't just have more guns than anyone else; they also have the highest gun ownership per capita rate in the world; twice as many guns per person as do Yemenis, who live in a conflict-torn Arab nation still dealing with poverty, political unrest, a separatist Shia insurgency, and the aftereffects of a 1994 civil war (Fisher, 2012).
An unbearable sight in Texas led to a discussion about gun laws nationwide. An 18-year-old fatally shot nineteen students and two teachers and wounded seventeen other people at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, United States. There have been dozens of shootings and other attacks in the US schools and colleges over the years, but until the massacre at Colorado’s Columbine High School in 1999, the number of the deceased victims tended to be in the single digits (Outlook, 2022).
“We are so sure we know what freedom is in America that we cannot imagine a world in which true freedom might come after the sacrifice of personal rights. Freedom is sending your kids to school with confidence that they will come home at the end of the day.” — Taylor Schumann, author of When Thoughts and Prayers Aren't Enough (Harvey, 2022).
In Missouri, the state repealed legislation that required background checks when purchasing handguns. In 2016, the General Assembly reversed another law allowing open carry, and the state doesn’t have a minimum age requirement for buying a firearm (Manley, 2022). Minors can own handguns and long guns but under federal law, a person must be 18 or older to possess a handgun and be 21 to buy one. The city of St. Louis has ordinances that prohibit open carry within their city limits, even though the city still operates under Missouri state law, which permits open carry. The city tends to be less gun-friendly and increasingly restrictive in its interpretation of state statutes.
This legislation has made it easier for young people who come from families that have experienced steady and systematic redlining in the form of reduction of access to mortgages, small business loans, transportation, employment, and other wealth-building and stabilizing measures (eminent domain take-overs of their homes is a steady reality; trauma is a daily reality) to get their hands on guns at too young an age.
Gun violence is killing an increasing number of American children, from toddlers caught in crossfires to teenagers gunned down in turf wars, drug squabbles, or social media squabbles. Children and teens continue to become victims of gun violence in the City of St. Louis. Nearly 90% of the 262 homicides in St Louis in 2020 were committed with a gun, and the homicide rate was 16 times higher than the national average.
In 2019, the city alone accounted for 30% of Missouri’s total homicides, despite having 5% of the state’s total population (Gillfords, 2022). St. Louis has led America in per-capita child murders by county, since 2012; this means that Americans under the age of eighteen are eight times more likely to be killed in St. Louis than in the rest of the country. In 2019, the city witnessed thirteen child homicides, the most in a decade (Tucker, 2021).
Mass shootings that have become commonplace in the US frequently lead to public outrage and mass protests with calls for serious background checks on gun sales, which are repeatedly shut down by strong republican led opposition. Firearms became the leading cause of death for American children and teenagers in 2020, surpassing motor vehicle accidents (Times of India, 2022). Other developed countries are perplexed by the lax gun laws in America and believe that the American public should push for harsher gun control measures in the face of mass shootings.
“Gun violence feels too big, too powerful to stop. But it’s not too big for you to take some real, meaningful actions. You control what you decide you can live with, and what you can't. You can choose whether you do something, or do nothing. You are not powerless,” Jennifer Rosen Heinz (Harvey, 2022).
Fisher, M. (2012, December 15). What makes America’s gun culture totally unique in the world, in four charts. From The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2012/12/15/what-makes-americas-gun-culture-totally-unique-in-the-world-as-demonstrated-in-four-charts/
Gillfords. (2022, February 17). Addressing Community Violence in the City of St. Louis. From Gillfords:
Harvey, B. (2022, May 26). 28 Quotes About Gun Violence To Inspire Change. From GOODGOODGOOD: https://www.goodgoodgood.co/articles/gun-violence-quotes
Manley, E. (2022, May 25). What are the gun laws in Missouri? From Fox2Now: https://fox2now.com/news/missouri/what-are-the-guns-laws-in-missouri/#:~:text=In%20Missouri%2C%20minors%20can%20own,and%20no%20training%20is%20required.
Outlook. (2022, May 27). Explained: How Americans Have Learnt To Live With The Gun Culture. From Outlook: https://www.outlookindia.com/international/how-americans-have-learned-to-live-with-the-gun-culture--news-198788
Tucker, J. H. (2021, March 10). St. Louis Leads America in Child Murders — and It's Getting Worse. From RFT: https://www.riverfronttimes.com/news/st-louis-leads-america-in-child-murders-and-its-getting-worse-35132871
Times of India. (2022, May 25). Why America loves its guns more than its people. From The Times of India: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/us/why-america-loves-its-guns-more-than-its-people/articleshow/91794748.cms
Sarah Hobson, Ph.D. specializes in supporting teams, departments and schools, businesses, and government agencies in building inclusive innovative change-making communities who understand how to connect well with and join diverse populations in providing needed sustainable resources for all youth and families.