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It seems oxymoronic to most people on this side of the pond to equate personal liberty with the right to bear arms. This attitude would appear to suggest that freedom is predicated on the entitlement to cause harm or death to others, and to spend one’s life at elevated risk of experiencing one or both of these things oneself. The fact that a campaign was launched to pressurise Starbucks to rescind its decision to ban the carrying of firearms in its cafés seemed to exemplify this bizarre illogic. Who would campaign for the right to carry a gun when going out for a cup of coffee?

Casual students of history will be aware of the status accorded to guns in the creation myth of the entity now known as the United States. It forms one of the two central prolonged episodes of bloodshed that ‘made the country great’, both instigated by the British, of course. The first was slavery, and the second was the partial genocide of native populations, together with ‘self-defence’ exercised against other white pioneers in defence of one’s private property. [1]

The value of putting US gun culture in its historical context is to reinforce the truism that technology is, of itself, neutral. In contrast to the US picture, all Swiss ex-conscripts [nearly all males as far as we know] keep their weapons after military service [but since 2007, ammunition is not kept as a matter of routine], with slightly lower rates of weapons ownership than the US. Recreational gun use is widespread. However, Switzerland’s history is very different that of the US, and levels of gun-related homicide are much lower, albeit higher than in neighbouring countries.

Although there has been an increase in gun ownership and/or use among some criminals in the UK, this has not been sufficient to provide a compelling argument in favour of the universal arming of the police [although this too has increased], not least because of their poor control of their own weaponry.

From Michael Moore’s Roger & Me onwards, there has been relatively recent evidence of people using guns in the USA in order to shoot domestic or wild animals as a means of subsistence, in the face of the progressive collapse of the blue-collar employment sector. This science-fiction scenario provides an unwelcome prescience to the US survivalist movement’s fetishism of firearms as necessary adjuncts to life in a future post-industrial society.[2]

There is, of course, a bizarre cyclicity in the use of guns as a routine means to collect food, in that the USA’s much-vaunted pioneer past seems to have returned within the midst of a ‘civil’ society. Then again, nothing enforces civility more effectively than looking down the barrel of a loaded weapon….

Charlton Heston’s hands are indeed now both “cold” and “dead”, yet there is an abiding reluctance to legislate against guns in a society where teenagers routinely massacre each other. Clearly, massive economic forces are at the disposal of the US weapons industry, analogous to those behind the tobacco industry before its lies were comprehensively exposed. Interestingly, the UK weaponry industry also yields vast profits, but in typically disingenuous British fashion, tends to generate these from sales to other countries, mainly in the undeveloped world. In contrast, the US attitude to guns is direct, open, and utterly expressive of the logic of capitalism, namely concerned with the war of all against all and the love of death.

[1] On the issue of slavery, it is worth reminding ourselves that when members of the Black Panther Party took at face value the right to bear arms, they set in train a murderous programme of extermination on the part of the State. As we know, the US Constitution was not written to include African-Americans.

[2] Apparently, there are currently around 20,000 street homeless people in Detroit alone, suggesting the USA has already reached that point.