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El Pais, Spain

The Reason for the Gun
Culture in the United States

By Antonio Caño

Translated By James Johnson

15 December 2012

Edited by Kyrstie Lane


Spain - El Pais - Original Article (Spanish )

The United States loves its weapons. 69% of the population confesses that they have pulled the trigger at least once, and 47% admits to having at least one weapon at home, according to surveys by Gallup. But the deeply rooted culture of arms has also been exploited by the National Rifle Association, the sector’s main lobby, in order to protect an extremely lucrative business that has seen disproportionate growth in recent years.

The Second Amendment of the American Constitution, which according to some – the current Supreme Court included – recognizes the right to bear arms, was drafted by James Madison, a southerner and friend of Thomas Jefferson. It was meant to appease the southerners’ suspicions of the intentions of New England federalists who wanted to create an oppressive central state to sap outlying areas of their resources.

The Second Amendment states that 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.” This text has been interpreted in many different ways practically since its publication. Some lawyers, including members of previous Supreme Courts, interpret it as referring exclusively to a period before the creation of a U.S. National Army, during which militias were still the main body of civil protection, and weaponry was still unsophisticated.

Whatever the case, mistrust of the state has survived in this country, and it drives many citizens to feel responsible for protecting their families themselves. In communities far away from urban centers, it may be difficult for authorities to meet their obligation to keep the population safe.

This issue has been debated for decades without an easy solution. Ultimately, politicians are obliged to respect the laws of the land and the will of the people.

What is arguable, though, is whether this unique feature of American society justifies its arms trade over the last 40 years, and especially in the last ten, in which the FBI has discovered that the number of weapons has multiplied.

It is worth remembering that the use of the Second Amendment to protect gun ownership has not always been a right-wing argument, as it is today. As Harvard professor Jill Lepore pointed out in an article in The New Yorker, Malcolm X encouraged his followers to arm themselves, referencing the Second Amendment, and in the 1960s the Black Panthers demanded the right to self-defense with the same constitutional justification.

Nonetheless, it was the National Rifle Association’s intrusion into politics that brought America to this point: 300 million weapons are now in private hands and 30,000 people die because of firearms every year, including 14,000 suicides.

The National Rifle Association has existed since the middle of the 19th century, but it was always an organization for fans of hunting and guns in the strictly recreational sense. It transformed into a lobby for the arms industry only in 1975, and its participation in politics came along a little later. In 1980, Ronald Reagan was the first presidential candidate with the official backing of the National Rifle Association.

Since then, its rise has been vertiginous. Today, it is the organization that spends the most money on political campaigns and is the single biggest influence on Congress, many members of which owe their seats to the National Rifle Association. Its strategy is simple: engage in fear-mongering to encourage people to buy arms. With Barack Obama in the White House, there is only more fear and more weapons. This last year set a sales record.

The root of all of this might well be found deep in America’s culture, but the current consequences are more than likely not those that Madison envisaged.



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