Getting to grips with America’s gun fetish

Yet another mass shooting at a high school – this time in Texas – begs the question of just why Americans can’t let go of their guns

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 May, 2018, 10:44am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 May, 2018, 10:44am

Another week, another mass shooting in the United States. Ten people, mostly students, were gunned down by a 17-year-old, who has reportedly confessed, and more than 10 others injured at a Texas high school. What is more horrific is that it keeps happening on school campuses in the US. But its political leaders sit on their behinds, and its gun lobby denounces student activists demanding tough gun control laws as “civil terrorists”.

Do you think perhaps Americans love their children less than they love their guns? America is not the only country with mass shooting incidents. But any other developed country would have, and indeed have, responded in the most urgent and rigorous manner to prevent similar incidents from happening again. Scotland, Australia and Norway all have had terrible killings by lone shooters in the past 22 years, but their governments reacted and reformed their gun laws urgently and effectively.

When I was a student in the US in the 1980s, a mass shooter was someone who had “gone postal” because at the time, many such killings happened in post offices or mail-sorting facilities. Today, it’s schools. Perhaps home schooling should be the norm in the US, if only to keep children safe.

At this point, “patriotic” Americans would tell me I don’t understand their country, its constitution, its rule of law and the second amendment. I would respond – usually to their fury (at one time I even thought someone would pull a gun on me) – that it’s Americans who don’t understand themselves.

Telling yourself false narratives to convince yourself to tolerate the intolerable is human nature. Psychologists sometimes call it neurosis; sociologists may label it as “false consciousness”. What can be more intolerable than the butchery of innocent children?

To understand Americans’ culture of gun fetishism, you can’t just look at their constitution or convoluted state and federal laws. Rather, you need to look at them as “modern primitives” with the eyes of an anthropologist. Why do so many African countries practise or at least tolerate female genital mutilation? Why do some husbands and/or their families still burn their wives alive in India? Why do Islamic extremists and conservatives sanction the stoning of women accused of adultery?

It’s through asking and comparing such questions that we may get a handle on Americans’ willingness, however painful and shameful, to sacrifice their children to their God of guns.