Firearms in the USA: the price of culture

More Americans have been shot dead in the United States since 1970 than on the battlefields of all the wars in American history: 1.45 million versus 1.4 million (source: New York Times ). The death toll from firearms, which includes suicides, murders and accidents, is about 92 per day.

With each new mass killings that hit the headlines, the debate is revived between “pro” and “anti”. On one side, it is argued that the fault lies with the shooter, not with his weapon and that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a weapon is a nice guy with a weapon” ( Wayne Lapierre ). On the other, it is recalled that there is no massacre with knives and better regulation is required.

But the endless discussions between the two camps focus on degrees of modification of the laws in force: for or against the banishment of assault rifles? the generalization of the background check before any sale? Rarely in the public debate are proposals for reforming the very principle of carrying guns in the United States, deeply rooted in American culture.

Sport shooting, hunting and rite of passage

On the occasion of the release of the movie Fury , Brad Pitt told Radio Times :

“There is a rite of passage where I grew up inheriting weapons from your ancestors. My brother had my father’s. I received my grandfather’s rifle when I was in kindergarten. ”

The actor added that his father had instilled in him a deep respect for the weapon and that he had learned to use it safely.

This rite of passage into adulthood, still very much alive in rural America , takes root at the time of the first settlers and the conquest of the west: if a boy knew how to shoot, he would then be able to hunt to provide food for her family and protect her from predators and other threats. Today, weapons are no longer essential for survival but the tradition is perpetuated through shooting ranges and sport hunting , two popular activities often practiced with the family.

A fundamental right enshrined in the constitution

The prevalence of gun ownership has historically enabled American settlers to organize themselves into militia and to rebel against Britain during the 1776 revolution. The right to bear arms was then enshrined in the constitution. in 1791 through the second amendment, which states :

“Since a well-organized militia is necessary for the security of a free State, the right of the people to detain and carry arms will not be violated. ”

For many Americans, this right is a cultural heritage, the foundation of their nation and a symbol of their freedom.

In 2008 the Supreme Court upheld the individual right of every American citizen to own and use a weapon, including self-defense . This interpretation of the second amendment is defended by the NRA ( National Rifle Association ), a powerful gun defense lobby known for its hold on the US Congress.

Firearms regulation: mission impossible?

“We are spending billions of dollars in the fight against terrorism, which killed 229 Americans in the world from 2005 to 2014 […]. In the same decade, including suicides, 310,000 Americans were shot dead, ” Nicholas Kristof reports for the New York Times .

Despite the eloquence of the figures, any proposal not to deny the individual right to carry arms but simply to a stricter regulation raises a wind of criticism in the only country in the world that has more weapons than inhabitants . Barack Obama has since the beginning of his presidency multiplied initiatives to fight against the scourge of firearms:

“I am confident that we can find ways to reduce gun violence by respecting the second amendment to the Constitution. ”

After the killing at Sandy Hook School where 20 children aged 6 to 7 were killed in December 2012, he introduced a series of measures including the extension of background checks to private sales, the ban on assault rifles and the limitation of the capacity of the magazines. But Congress finally rejected his bill .

Relying on the majority of its citizens who are in favor of strengthening gun control, the US president has decided to get rid of the congress and announced last January a series of decrees to make the verification mandatory. judicial and psychiatric history by all “professionally engaged” vendors in the industry, including the Internet and at fairs.

But his political opponents have already promised to repeal these decrees in case of victory in the presidency. And as every time the US head of state comes out in favor of more control, firearms sales soar…