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The following is a discussion about America, written by a non-American.
Who is a real American?
Americanism is not static nor a constant trait. It is debated, traded, and exchanged; it can be validated, questioned, and denied; all because it is merely an idea that no one owns.
One often hears politicians – particularly conservative ones- refer to the real America. It is a place that is non-academic, working class and primarily white. This might only be due to the fact that the above presumably represents the base of the Republican Party. But it also represents a falsely idealized sense of the American way that has extended much further than conservative political discourse. This is America’s residual self-image, and it is woefully inaccurate.
This sense of Americanism is crucial to the topic that has become America’s current fixation: gun control.
It has largely been mass shootings that have reinvigorated the debate over America’s fondness for firearms, although these events, however horrific and shocking, are responsible for few of the total yearly deaths attributed to guns.
In response to the notorious Sandy Hook Elementary shooting NRA Vice President Wayne LaPierre said, “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”. This is the disease of thought that affects America’s national consciousness. Obvious logical flaw aside (what if the bad guy just didn’t have a gun in the first place?) this absurd notion of heroism in the face of danger reveals the kind of grandiose delusion we’re dealing with. It’s fine; all we need is Stallone strapped head to toe with gats standing at the door of every school. Insanity.
Around the world people have no doubt been asking themselves, “why not just give up the guns America?” The answer, I believe, has two parts, both having very much to do with the idea of being an American.
In an article in The American Conservative, Rod Dreher investigated gun crime stats in the Baton Rouge area of Louisiana after a black flash mob startled mall goers, raising questions again over America’s attitude towards race. He found that, overwhelmingly, guns were used by young black men to kill other young black men. Fellow conservative writer David Frum paraphrased him (perhaps poorly) in an article for CNN that argued Dreher’s conclusion was dismissive. While it is unlikely Dreher himself felt that the conclusion that gun crime was a ‘black problem’ and felt relief, it is not a sentiment entirely unheard of.
For instance, gun murder was on the rise in Toronto at the turn of the millennium, particularly in northwestern Toronto, and particularly again amongst young black male Torontonians. This rise largely went unnoticed by the media until Boxing Day 2005 when a young white girl named Jane Creba was caught in the crossfire of an alleged gang shooting. One Police Services member remarked, “Toronto has finally lost its innocence. I think we’re going to feel this day for a long time to come.”
Why was this the particular moment our loss of innocence? Why did Toronto not lose its innocence one month earlier when 18-year-old Amon Beckles was shot dead exiting the church where he was attending the funeral of his friend Jamal Hemmings, also fatally shot?
It largely has to do with the question I started with, “who is a real American?” There is a fundamental disconnect between a gunmen killing twenty children in Sandy Hook, and the many gunmen killing 40 mostly black men in Chicago over a weekend in 2010. An American politician does not refer to the south side of Chicago as the real America, and, according to the media attention it receives; the epidemic of gun crime amongst young, poor black men is not a truly American problem. It’s a problem for the other America, for the other American.
The gun problem in America is a cultural one. By that I do not mean that America, as it has been argued in the past, is a necessarily violent country, whose temptation to kill can seemingly not be restrained. I mean that as long as the American discourse is dominated by a self-image that is mostly white and affluent, the epidemic of gun violence amongst its poor, non-white population will continue to go unchecked.
The answer to our question “why not just give up the guns?” has to do with another dominating feature of American culture: ownership.
After the Sandy Hook shooting, it was not only out of fear and the gun-owning-public’s presumed need to defend itself that influenced the climbing sales of guns in America, it was also fear that the guns they already owned might be taken away, or that guns they might want to own someday would be soon banned.
America has always had a peculiar, if not disturbing relationship with property. The American Dream itself is quickly described by its relationship to ownership. It is a house, a white picket fence and a car, just as much as it as a family. Many feel that, not only does the second amendment detail their right to own firearms; their ownership of firearms protects their right to ownership in general. The sentiment follows that when the government comes to take their guns, soon they will take everything; guns are their defense against tyranny.
This is why there are still state militias. This is why people bring assault rifles to Tea Party gatherings. As long as gun ownership is seen as a right in America, it will be defended as such. Until a serious movement challenges the legality of that claim under the constitution, serious efforts aimed at limiting the sale of guns in America are essentially futile.
Outside of America we are confused by the ‘gun problem’ because we phrase it differently. The popular American discourse seems to suggest that instead of the problem being guns and the solution being less of them, the problem is that other American, and the solution is more guns.
by Jesse B