A perspective on the familiarity of guns in American culture

I once watched in awe as a distant relative shot down a small tree with a Uzi Submachine gun. The sheer speed at which the clip unloaded initially lead me to believe that the gun had fired one bullet before jamming; however, upon looking at the sea of bullet shells beneath his feet, I quickly realised that the fully automatic weapon functioned just as intended. Indeed, with a fire rate of 14 rounds per second, the tree snapped before I could count to three; and to be completely honest, the raw power on display was both undeniably mesmerizing and strangely beautiful.

In retrospect, the rational side of me knows what I had witnessed was truly disturbing. Setting aside the blatant ecological destruction, there is no excuse for a suburban household to keep a gun whose use is widespread amongst gangs in American ghettos and soldiers in urban warfare. Yet, this was by no means an isolated incident, or even particularly unusual; for example, I can recall numerous times when my friend and I (then nine years old) would accidently find his father’s standard issue police pistol left unlocked when playing around his house.

Perhaps what is surprising, aside from the fact I never seriously injured myself, is that I am not, and never have been, a fan of guns. I come from a liberal household that would never dream of purchasing a firearm, and I echo my parents’ categorical denunciation of war. More pertinently, I am an advocate of gun control.

How is it, then, that someone like myself could encounter an automatic weapon without experiencing an immediate a knee-jerk reaction? In other words, what is the source of this unique discrepancy between my political views that advocate the implementation of strict gun control, and a side of me that lends an air of indifference to, or even tolerance of, their presence?

I think the answer is a simple one, and reflects a point about American culture that is often overlooked, or at least misunderstood, in discussions regarding gun violence amongst my European peers: guns are absolutely everywhere. They are so ingrained within American culture that it is difficult to separate the two; simply put, they are part of America’s identity. As a result, even those who strongly support their control are desensitized to the fact that guns infiltrate countless aspects of everyday life.

Having lived in the UK for three years, it seems that the degree to which this holds true is sometimes underestimated by my fellow students who have grown up around more stringent gun laws. For their discussions about American gun violence seem to follow an all too familiar formula: conversations are kickstarted by a mass shooting, and transition to individuals comparing their own nation’s policies – where mass shooting rarely happen – to America’s. Subsequently, there is an expectation that reform will be instantaneous, and when it is not, outrage follows.

My intention is not to deny the legitimacy of this outrage; rather, I wish only to comment that it will likely be felt for a long time. As a nation, it is difficult to tear away our obsession with guns when it runs so deep. And while we may feel outrage at the occurrence of shooting, the very sight of a gun does not seem to bother us the way it should. In the UK, this is a different story. For the very sight of an Uzi machine gun to an average British citizen would be shocking. Thus, political disposition and general attitude (i.e. the emotions felt at the sight of a gun) appear to be synonymous in virtue of being an active negative-stance. In contrast, and to our own detriment, these two concepts seem to come apart for many Americans.

I suspect that this complacency will change one day. With that being said, I doubt that it will be a result of a single event – I cite Sandy Hook, where 20 children were shot with no corresponding policy shift, as a testament to this premise. Instead, I should think that the road forward will be paved with persistence.

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