At one point in my life I considered buying a handgun.
I was sitting with a Filipino Army colonel on the Pacific island of Boracay. We had become friends, and he told me that a week in advance some «pirates» had caught up with a large sailing boat on the open seas and boarded it. Armed to the teeth – one of the criminals was seen clutching a hand grenade – they emptied the boat of all its valuables. The passengers survived, at least, but on that point he didn’t go into the details. My initial thought was whether I ought to have a gun on-board my boat rather than being left defenceless in a similar situation. But would I have fired at the approaching pirates to protect those whom I love?
Defenceless American pupils and students are again and again victims of school shootings. On February 28, 17 people were killed in Florida. At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (Parkland), 19-year-old Nicolas Cruz wrought havoc with a semi-automatic assault rifle (an AR-15). In response, president Trump suggested that school teachers should carry arms, and that those who comply should get a bonus for doing so.
On 24 March about half a million young people took part in the «March For Our Lives» protest march on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. demanding stricter gun laws. Some 800 similar protests were held around the country. Like the spread of the #MeToo movement, the rise of the phenomenon is accompanied by a hashtag: #NeverAgain. American teenagers of today are savvy social media users. They are committed, young and open-minded, their outlook untainted by the cynicism that comes with adulthood. This is the generation that grew up in the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre; a generation that has grown accustomed to conducting lockdown drills in anticipation of future massacres rather than regarding them as rare, freakish events. From the last few years I can list mass shootings at Marshall County High School, Aztek High School, Virgina Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Umpqua Community College, Red Lake, Oikos University, Isla Vista, Northern Illinois University and Santa Monica.
Watch the speech by Emma Gonzales, who rose to prominence for having confronted Trump and the NRA:
As of yet, the US Constitution’s Second Amendment («the right to keep and bear arms») remains pretty far removed from the reality in Norway, even as our own government is calling for arming the police or for military solutions to conflicts. The parliamentary majority has so far prevented the arming of all policemen.
In the USA the influential National Rifle Association (NRA) remains the largest advocate for widespread gun ownership. You may think that the Wild West was a thing of the past, but that, it seems, is not the case. In Bowling for Columbine (2002), Michael Moore unmasks the NRA and the causes behind the eponymous school shooting, but the NRA is still fighting tooth and nail against new demands for tighter gun laws. In the US some 35,000 people are killed by guns annually. According to the 2015 figures, 13,000 of them were killed by other people, while the remainder died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds.
Popular resistance against guns is assuming more organized forms. To cite a few examples, 2,500 people rang up Florida’s authorities after the February massacre, and 1,700 emails were sent protesting Trump’s suggestion that teachers should carry arms in schools. According to The New York Times, the grassroots organization Moms Demand Action now has 100,000 volunteers around the US and a mailing list counting 4 million people. After the Florida massacre they could add another 75,000. Florida just increased the legal age for buying rifles to 21, prompting the NRA to launch a lawsuit to block it claiming it violates constitutional guarantees of equal treatment. Rather than dealing with the enormous number of lethal weapons in circulation, they are trying to turn it into a mental health issue.
President Trump is erratic in his views on gun control. Like many in the US, he has long held a permit to carry a concealed gun. He has previously stated that «he loves» the NRA. But he now appears to have been moved by the Parkland shooting survivors, recently calling for stricter background checks of gun buyers. He additionally argued that it seems pointless to set the legal age for buying rifles at 18 when the legal age for buying handguns is 21. He also wants to ban the sale of bump stocks, attachments that can convert semi-automatic rifles into fully automatic ones. We all remember how Stephen Paddock killed 58 and wounded 851 people with such a rifle in Las Vegas in October. But after Trump’s meeting with a NRA lobbyist in the Oval Office (the NRA donated 30 million dollars to his campaign), he had a change of heart on increasing the legal age. «There’s little political support for it (to put it mildly).» Well, 80 per cent of the American population supports the ban, according to The Economist.
Eric Trump, himself an avid hunter, recently mentioned to his presidential dad that there are already some 300 million privately owned handguns in the US – or almost one gun per capita – making any attempt at changing the laws pointless. And according to Small Arms Analytics, the tendency is rising: This year they expect the sales figures for handguns to be 14,5 million. Europe exported almost 4 million of these to the US in 2016. The Austrian arms manufacturer Glock and its German-Swiss competitor Sig Sauer provided the US with more than 20 per cent of its handguns the same year. Glock has also donated 10 million NOK to the NRA. And if you ask yourself where much of the ammunition comes from, and if Norway happens to be involved…?
Are we really faced with so many enemies, so many dangerous strangers, so much to fear that we should all arm ourselves? Ask instead what characterises our cultural atmosphere. The philosopher Martin Heidegger described the mentality of cultures through the centuries in terms of different «moods» (Stimmung), where you let yourself become attuned to the modes, doxa or the paradigmatic praxises around you. Do you want your life to be dominated by hysterical news outlets, finger-wagging politicians, the occasional mass shooting or terror attacks – or the fear of a pirate at sea?
The generation now protesting against all the «security» and gun use, has a new slogan: «We call BS!»
Let’s cheer them on!