Language and Guns

January 16, 2013 — Leave a comment

Reams have been written about the differences between the two countries united or divided, depending on your view, by a common language and separated by the Atlantic. One such book by Toni Summers Hargis called Rules, Britannia endeavours to explain the difference in meaning to Americans of important words such as “filth” and “fanny” to name just a couple. Having now spent a number of years in the US my ear is attuned primarily to the Texan twang, but also to the idiosyncrasies of American English.

No, it is not language that strikes me each time I return from a trip to Britain. Rather it is guns. I have lived in other countries that arm their police force but for some reason it affects me more here. I do not take comfort at the sight of a gun tucked into a holster sitting on the hip of each

and every policeman. I do not take comfort in seeing images on the television of a policeman shooting an itinerant going berserk from lack of medication, or too much alcohol.

Guns have again become a focal and divisive point for many Americans. After a string of tragedies involving men gone mad (we can only hope that is the reason) and arming themselves with weapons guaranteed to wreak the most possible havoc in the shortest possible timeframe, some politicians have finally come to the conclusion that change is necessary.

Of course guns have their place in law enforcement but only in extreme circumstances and only in the hands of specialists. I do not take comfort from the notion espoused by Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president for the NRA (National Rifle Association) that “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” In inflammatory situations it is not always possible to tell which is which, whether uniformed or not.

LaPierre’s statement would seem to be negated by a 1993 New England Journal of Medicine study that found, as reported by Dan Freedman in the Houston Chronicle, “that people who kept guns in their homes were more than twice as likely to be homicide victims as those who didn’t.” Directly at odds with the NRA’s belief that guns in homes aid in self-protection.

Many Americans hold sacrosanct the second amendment and the right to bear arms and that is not going to change. But surely what has to change is the relative ease with which guns, particularly assault weapons and vast amounts of ammunition, can be bought. Progress would be immediately seen with the reinstatement and improvement of the ban on assault weapons that was allowed to lapse in 2004.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) suggests tightening the definition of a semi-automatic, which would protect the rights of responsible gun owners by exempting hundreds of hunting rifles and shotguns.

No true huntsman would consider shooting deer or wild boar with an assault weapon. It would be like shooting a sitting duck or a strutting pheasant, and that is simply not sport. Therefore there can be no possible argument for the necessity of owning fast shooting, fast loading weapons for sport.

Cris Parsons of Houston Armory, a vaulted, guarded, and surveillance-camera protected facility specialising in restricted or Class 3 weapons, explains the allure of serious weaponry by saying, “It is a trophy, a piece of artwork. Why do you want a Mona Lisa?”

Texans own 28,690 machine guns: that would appear to be an awful lot of art hopefully locked away rather than displaced on walls. Police departments and corporations own some of those, but well-heeled individuals also own these guns, whose cost is on par with a luxury car or house.

These same entities, as well as those with shallower pockets but gun lovers nonetheless, doubtless members of the NRA, will fight to scupper VP Joe Biden’s investigation into reintroducing government funding for research into gun policy effectiveness. Due to the NRA’s vehement lobbying in the 1990s that funding was stopped, and the government was banned from collating “information about what kind of weapons are used most to kill people, how many weapons used are trafficked weapons” and so on.

And yet still the gun shows go on. Touted as the ‘world’s biggest firearms expo’, Las Vegas is proud this week to host, along with the National Shooting Sports Foundation of Newtown, Connecticut, the Shooting Hunting Outdoor Trade (SHOT) convention. The same Newtown that saw the tragedy of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting a month ago. It is a trade only event, but that trade then sells to the private consumer. Items like a stun gun in the form of an iPhone case, or an AR-15 rifle that can spit out a 30-round magazine in seconds, or how about a bra that holsters not only a breast but a handgun.

You will though be relieved to know yesterday the NRA changed their recommendation for a new shooting game to read ‘suitable for those 12 and older’, rather than the previous 4. The app for a mobile device, which according to an AP report, is essentially “a one-touch access to the NRA network”, now also warns of ‘intense’ and ‘realistic’ violence but the targets aren’t live.

So forget the differences in language, I can handle those, bollocks and all. It is the casual acceptance of a vibrant gun culture that first hits me every time I return to the land of opportunity.


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