The so-called American gun culture traces back to the historical exceptionalism of guns. A myth about the intrinsic and utilitarian relation between the firearm and the individual. This myth has stated that since the colonial era, colonizers, frontiersmen and every other American citizen during the XVII, XVIII and XIX Century had a gun at their disposal. By using the gun as a tool to help build America. The reason for this to be a myth lies in the fact that guns in the aforementioned time period suffered from heavy maintenance dependency, impracticability and high costs of ownership. This resulted in low ownership gun ownership in America up until the second half of the XIX Century. What happens in the late XIX Century is an action from the state-capitalism dichotomy, where the states favours the development of capital, its industry and markets. The inefficiency of guns led to an industrialization of that complex around the frontier expansion. This was aided by the Civil War, which taught many men how to use and conserve a firearm, since many of the veterans were allowed to keep their service muskets. (Bellesiles 2000)
The XIX industrialism that pushed the gun exceptionalism served itself a lot from the expanding frontier towards the West. What this meant for guns was business, and this business was not only justified by the demand of guns in the frontier and the Civil War. It was also justified itself from that historical and mythical relation between individual and firearm. This relation’s exceptionalism arrived from a historical discourse of the brave huntsmen, frontiersmen, and heroic civilians that protected and exercised their individualism, and thus the American Constitution with their guns. The proliferation of this image through the industrialization was done via government propaganda and private marketing campaigns. Yet again we see the state-capitalism dichotomy providing the base for the expansion of an industry that imbedded itself in the collective imaginary of Americans as a part of the American identity. With this we can say that guns equalized theConstitution as a signified of the national identity. Consequently, the gun as a signifier and as a signified of American identity almost as equal as the Constitution ended up becoming an object that amassed a sense of identity to a part of America which continued the historical lifestyles that were imbedded the individual-gun relationship myth; of course I’m talking about rural America. With rural America, the relationship with guns turned from the individual to the family in the sense that it creates tradition. The creation of family tradition around an object leads up to an emotional attachment that engulfs the gun as a symbol of social and political life. (Haag, 2016)
Guns not only prevailed in the rural America where those activities of individual-gun utilitarianism were needed, but also transcended in the cities were gun related sports like target shooting and shooting drills became popular. What this gun related activities have as opposed to the utilitarian myth is that they are merely recreational. This links up to Erich Fromm’s concept of ludic violence where individual engage in somewhat violent activities where no harm is done, but there is the aim to improve mental and physical skills (Fromm, 1964)
Now, what can be concluded from the paragraphs above, is a serious historical embodiment of guns in the collective imaginary of Americans as a signified of the very image of what is to be American. This is because the historical dichotomy of the individual and the gun refers to very act of self-determination, an act that besides being in the Constitution is an act that itself embodies a signifier for what the United States are: a self-determination from an outside power; defining itself as an individual state during the XVIII Century. The act of self-determination through guns not only resides in the defense of individuality and its constitutional rights, but also resides on the fact that individuals can choose what to do with their disposable income and free time. This takes us to guns as a hobby and its role ludic violence. The reason for several gun owners, not only those who just enjoy recreationally from guns to be against any form of gun control is because of what guns are as the signifier for their social and political lives. Guns are part of their identity, not only as a recreational or utilitarian object, but as a signified that reminds them of all of those brave Americans before them that had used firearms as their main tool for achieving the right to self-determination, and that if it wasn’t for it, the United States would not be the State that is today. It´s relevant to put attention on the way in which the emotional dimension gets involved with signified. This occurs in a manner that is related to the national identity involver again love. It represents a love for the mother or fatherland and its Constitution as what gives rights and obligation in the form of citizenship. So, by considering the historical root of a myth that in pro of business and, national interest promoted an object made signified that had within itself embodied the same identity as the person buying it. Having this sense of identity adding up to the patriotic aspect of it, leads up to a subject in American culture and Law that is rather difficult to modify.
- Fromm, Erich. 1964. El Corazón del Hombre.
- Haag, Pamela. 2016. The Gunning of America: Business and the making of
American gun culture
- Bellesiles, Michael. 2000. Arming America: The origins of national gun culture.