Guns are as American as Apple Pie - Different Attitudes to Guns in the US and UK
Why are attitudes to guns so different in the US to the UK? Well, a cursory glance at the situation there might suggest it is just because there are just so many guns in the States – the FBI is on record as stating that there are 200,000,000. Yup, two hundred million, guns in the US and they are owned by about eighty million people. So, the average American gun owner – and that includes many non-shooters – possesses something over 2 firearms on average. Guns are still part of US culture, they are not odd or strange in anyway – indeed, they are quite familiar.
When I go to Western Pennsylvania to shoot deer, it always puts a smile on my face that they close the schools for the first day of the season (and report, very positively, on trophy beasts in the local and regional press). There is much the same attitude in West Virginia and Texas amongst other states. People luv guns and hunting and the whole ethos of freedom that goes with it. You can go into gun and fishing shops which are sometimes bigger than the average Tesco’s at home. It is an extraordinary experience when you first visit one of these cavernous establishments. You will see whole families clad in camo wheeling around super-size supermarket trollies full of kit.
Guns, meanwhile, are both iconic and ordinary. The animistic attitude to firearms apparent in modern Britain – which confers magical qualities on firearms rather than just seeing them as mechanical objects – is notably absent. Guns are not good or bad in the States. They are, well, just guns, as common as power-drills or vacuum cleaners. Firearms sales - about 3 million annually – rocketed after 9/11 (as the country entered a collective depression from which it is yet to emerge fully) and the election of Barrack Obama. I might note en passant that more than 10,000 people a year are murdered by gunfire in the US, comparing to a 50 or so gun-related homicides in the UK (nearly all involving illegally owned weapons).
The US National Rifle Association, much pilloried by the chattering classes in the UK (and for that matter in the US) has 4 million members, meantime. It is a serious lobby and, I am proud, to have acted as a consultant for them in the UK. We could learn a lot from the US NRA – not least how they rally grass root members to put serious political pressure on any elected representative who tries to restrict the right to keep and bear arms as protected in the Second Ammendment to the US Bill of Right (a curious idea that the yanks actually got from our Bill of Rights – 1688 and all that).
Americans buy guns for all sorts of reasons. Self-defence and deer hunting are right at the top of the list (women are a growth market in the former case). There are, moreover, millions of acres of land in public ownership in the US so that ordinary people can hunting for just the price of a state hunting license). Live Quarry wingshooting, clay busting, and ‘Turkey hunting’ are all major industries as well (not to mention archery). The scale of the US gun and hunting market, will be evident to anyone who ever visits the Shot Show which is about the size of the Ideal Home Show and all devoted to firearm and related industries.
Remington, I believe, are the largest US domestic manufacturer, and it is interesting to note that their primary product is rifles (the US has long been a nation of riflemen). Ruger are right up there too, with Smith & Wesson the leading pistol brands.Americans generally subscribe to the peace through superior firepower philosophy of domestic and international relations. This seems to feed through to the sporting market, where there always seems to be something bigger and, allegedly, better. It would be easy to be cynical and knock this sometimes, but the energy and creativity of the US gun trade is truly extraordinary.
Would I like to see firearms as freely available in the UK as they are in the US? Frankly, no. I don’t think the situation in the two countries is the same. In the US in some places you really do need a gun to defend hearth and home. In the UK, happily, that is not yet the case in the vast majority of areas (though who knows what is coming). In the UK context, I favour sensible gun control. What is sensible? Cutting to the chase, something like a shotgun certificate for all cartridge weapons but without silly distinctions being made about calibre, bullet type, etc. This would free up police time to look at people more than the guns they possess.
But, I admire and enjoy the greater freedom in the States, and we have much to learn from them in they way they popularly perceive guns as noted. They are not as fetish objects, but tools that have a purpose that a free person should be able to use and enjoy without unnecessary hindrance from a bossy state.