As we recoil once again in disbelief after yet another mass killing in the USA, people across the world (and also in America, let it be acknowledged), are asking how a killer could so easily obtain a weapon of mass destruction. There’s almost no other country in the world where such a thing would be possible and certainly no country among the developed democracies where it would even be contemplated.
Omar Mateen used an Ar-15 to murder 50 people in Orlando and to destroy the lives of 500 more. He used a weapon that he bought in a shop under Florida’s lax gun laws.
The AR-15 is a fearsome weapon, made famous in these parts by Sinn Féin’s Danny Morrison when he spoke about the Armalite and the ballot box, and yes, that’s what the AR-15 is. An Armalite. Following modifications that increased its weight, it was adopted by the US military as the M-16, a version many military people regarded as inferior to the original which was light, portable and lethal.
We saw that capability in Orlando where a single shooter was able to massacre so many people on his own but we should not be surprised. This weapon, the AR-15, can fire a small projectile at such a high velocity that anyone struck by a bullet, in any part of their body, will almost certainly die. That was the designer’s intention. This weapon can shoot through walls and still kill you. In fact it will kill you worse, since the flying thing that hits you will be a mis-shapen lump of high-velocity lead that tears a gaping hole in you.
This was also the designer’s intention.
Now, the National Rifle Association is seen today as the body that does most to promote gun ownership in the United States and perhaps it is. The NRA is seen as the political wing of the American armaments industry and perhaps that’s true too. But if so, this is a very recent development indeed. If so, this is far from the traditional American attitude to ownership of weapons.
In reality the NRA’s support of unlimited access to weapons is less than forty years old. As far back as 1934, it supported the National Firearms Act, introduced to combat organised crime gangs following the Prohibition era. At that time, Karl Frederick, the NRA President stated as follows:
[dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”auto” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]I have never believed in the general practice of carrying weapons. I seldom carry one. … I do not believe in the general promiscuous toting of guns. I think it should be sharply restricted and only under licenses.[/dropshadowbox]
Somehow, between the situation we find ourselves in today and the NRA’s establishment in 1871 as a response to the perceived inadequacies of American military marksmanship, the NRA morphed from a quasi-official research organisation to a full-blown advocate for the major small-arms manufacturers. It was a classic example of a peripheral obscure quango taken over for profit, regardless of the consequences. Though it had been lobbying since 1934 for a change to the gun ownership law under the the Second Amendment, that lobbying was on behalf of hunters and competitive marksmen.
Even as Charlton Heston entered his 50s, his hands not yet dead or cold, the NRA was still opposing widespread ownership of firearms, and it wasn’t until 1977 that it went fully political, becoming a thinly-disguised front for the arms industry.
Why do so many Americans today believe that the Second Amendment conferred the right to carry high-velocity assault rifles? Nobody knows. The National Rifle Association certainly never claimed any such thing until shortly before Ronald Reagan took office. The framers of the amendment never imagined anything more lethal than a muzzle-loading musket and certainly not a high-velocity automatic rifle that one man could use to shoot fifty people dead. Their concern was about keeping a militia available to defend against the return of the colonial power, and any other reading of the amendment is downright perverse.
[dropshadowbox align=”none” effect=”lifted-both” width=”auto” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.[/dropshadowbox]
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State …
The Second Amendment, which is now entirely superseded by history, has to do with maintaining a militia, not with giving a redneck the right to own a bazooka and yet it has been used to foster a national love affair with firearms.
Perhaps this obsession with guns has been fostered through an endless diet of movies and TV series in which the gun has become an object of fetishistic veneration. Perhaps it was aided by the rise of the Western novel towards the end of the nineteenth century or maybe via the film noir of the 1940s and 1950s. Maybe it was the war movies of the forties right up to the present day. Who knows?
What does seem to be true is that many Americans firstly believe the gun is the answer to all life’s problems and secondly that the world consists of good guys and bad guys.
Of course, I can’t say that this childish binary mindset was caused by Hollywood. For all I know, reality is the reverse and Hollywood was caused by this childish mindset, but one way or the other it seems to exist and it seems somehow to have dominated the entire world through force of arms and economic muscle, which might not necessarily be two different things in the case of the United States.
What I find baffling is the complete inability of the USA to see that it is not in any sense the leader of the putative “Free World”, and I’m quite sure this is a feeling shared by most people in Europe and elsewhere when Americans refer to their President as our leader. How much self-delusion is required before a nation can believe such nonsense? How much Orwellian indoctrination? How much insularity? How much ignorance?
Only a nation whose citizens have never travelled abroad could possibly convince itself that its President is the leader of some mythical Free World it knows nothing about.
Is America really Hollywood made real or is Hollywood the real America? I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that this vast, immensely powerful nation has a juvenile understanding of the world that extends right up to its top echelons as we saw with the utterly stupid invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, culminating in the creation of Islamic State, thanks to a complete disregard for other cultures. They were going in to take out the bad guys and that was all that mattered.
Hollywood might not have intended to create the militaristic tendency of the United States, but the military sure as shootin’ bought into the clichés provided by the film industry, just as the Mafia bought into The Godfather. Pretty soon, you’re not sure who’s talkin’ like who or where it all started. Pretty sure, you start to believe the only guys who can save the Earth from an asteroid strike are Bruce Willis and the crew of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Can-Do-Hoo-Ha!
Naturally, those who support access to firearms will argue that guns make people safer which makes it hard to understand why the United States firearms death rate is five times that of Canada, 50% higher than Mexico’s, five times that of Israel (Israel!), ten times the death rate of Germany and fifty times the rate of the United Kingdom, where nobody has a gun.
On the other hand, if I suffer from a psychotic illness in the United States, while I might not be able to afford the medical care to treat any homicidal tendencies, I can always walk into my local gun store and buy myself an Armalite, with no questions asked.
What was that they said about the Free World?
Also on Bock
The second amendment
Mass murder and the American gun fetish
Gun control in America
New York Times