Another perspective to gun control

What follows is an attempt to briefly analyze the theoretical reasoning that drives the different viewpoints on pu...
What follows is an attempt to briefly analyze the theoretical reasoning that drives the different viewpoints on public gun policies. Based on the assumption that neither tighter gun control laws nor enhanced armed security measures are likely to prevent future gun rampages, the following will outline some considerations that aim to understand these tragedies from an anthropological perspective.

A brief deliberation on the likely consequences that the unrestricted access to firearms and ammunition has with respect to the power relations in a society constitutes the theoretical point of departure. In particular, the usefulness of a firearm for self-defense purposes is reappraised, considering that anyone who possesses an arm must expect that those he or she fears might also have a gun at their command. Two rather contrasting logics concerning the allocation of power arise in this respect: On the one hand, it is possible to argue that the universalized access to firearms neutralizes the benefits of possessing a weapon because the superiority a gun endows a person with becomes futile as access to weapons is generalized. This understanding is the premise of the claim to have armed security officers in front of classrooms to protect schoolchildren from gunned attacks. In other words, the notion that gunmen have to expect an immediate armed response to their aggression is seen and promoted as a factor of deterrence by the pro-gun lobby.
On the other hand, it is important to acknowledge that the universalized access to firearms pushes people to engage in a sort of arms race if their gun-power is to outmatch the one of other weapon holders. This means that if one wants to gain a relative power advantage, one needs a faster or technically more sophisticated firearm than all others. This logic could well be the basis for the demands of many gun control advocates to limit access to automatic and semi-automatic firearms as well as to certain types and quantities of ammunition.

Although these two positions seem quite different, they ultimately distill down to efforts that aim at a shift of the power-through-guns balance within the American society. This triggers an important, ideology-laden question: Do these realist approaches fully consider and capture today_s intricate social reality? Or, to express it in more explicit terms: Are changes (both up- and down-scaling) to the presence of gun-power alone a sufficient factor to deter people from perpetrating armed crimes or at least reduce their fatality?

The recurrence of mass shootings in the USA calls for a set of more fundamental considerations regarding the American culture. The imperative question raised is why people feel threatened as to believe they would need a weapon in the first place. Who do Americans think they need to protect themselves from? The circumstance that gun massacres are more frequent in the USA than in most other countries is a legitimate reason to worry for the safety of oneself and one_s family. But do occasional tragedies like the latest mass shooting in Connecticut justify a continuous state of fear that urges a person to buy a weapon? They don_t. Rather, more subliminal social processes nourish an ongoing condition of threat and uncertainty, which ultimately explains the existence of 300 million guns in American homes. Similar as Michael Moore in one of his recent Huffington Post articles (1), the erosion of social cohesion in the contemporary US society is seen as an important catalyst for a widespread anxiety. Especially the predominance of a growingly urbanized, self-focused lifestyle, which stands in direct connection with the triumph of neoliberal believes and values, leads to the disassociation of population groups from each other and eventually foments a climate of mistrust and fear from unfamiliar social circles. Over the decades, this environment has brought about a true security obsession which today constitutes an integral part of the American identity.

This primary observation is closely linked to the second question addressed, namely who are the people afraid of. In this context a significant connection between the increasingly self-centered understanding of social coexistence and the way people perceive and locate risks is suggested. Individualism is a key feature of the American culture. By promoting egocentric, competitive behaviors and highlighting differences rather than common elements, individualist forms of existence entail important ramifications for the social tissue. In fact, favoring the individual over the collective fuels existing prejudices and intolerance towards people beyond one_s habitual social environment and consequently, tends to foment social tensions and resentments. Against this backdrop especially the poor, the black, the homeless, the immigrants and other traditionally marginalized population groups are prone to be portrayed as threatening. Consequently, as unjustified immaginaries of imminent threats are institutionalized within the US-culture, the possession of guns is encouraged. The issue is, however, not merely how many arms are out there but rather the underlying motivations for wanting them. It is not surprising that in a society whose constituents increasingly coexist in disconnection from the rest the risk of gun abuse is notably higher than within cultures whose members identify as integral parts of a vulnerable whole.

Therefore, besides issuing gun regulation laws or scaling up security measures, it is indispensable to aim at a fundamental cultural change since the contemporary American culture encourages both the purchase and the use of arms.

by Valentina Wieser, Post Staff

[1] see

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