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Saturday, July 2, 2022

Look at 3 enduring stories Americans tell about guns to understand the debate over guns.

The United States has been fighting a wave of horrific mass shootings. As is often the case, people try to explain the violence by talking about what happened.

The discussion tends to gravitate towards two familiar poles: gun control on the one hand and personal freedom on the other. But despite all the talk, little has changed.

We are communications scholars who study how rhetoric shapes politics and culture, specifically how the stories Americans tell about the country and its past continue to shape the present. We believe that the country’s failure to prevent such frequent mass shootings is partly the result of the way American society honors the memory and talks about guns.

Imagining the “Wild West”

A great example of how American culture tells the story of guns is the Cody Firearms Museum in Wyoming: home to “the world’s most comprehensive collection of American firearms,” ​​which we co-wrote with colleague Eric Aoki in 2011. continued this research as part of a book project.

The museum, with over 7,000 weapons, is part of the Buffalo Bill West Center. The centre’s namesake, 19th-century gunslinger and showman Buffalo Bill, popularized the “Wild West” story that is still familiar to Americans today, where guns were paramount.

Stories, of course, are never neutral. They include and exclude certain details; they emphasize some aspects of a thing and downplay others. They turn the vast complexity of our world into manageable and memorable pieces that define how we understand it.

A particularly important kind of storytelling takes place in museums. As historians Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen explain, polls show that people trust museums more than family members, eyewitnesses, teachers and history books.

So it’s important what US museums say about guns. Based on numerous research visits to the Cody Firearms Museum over the past decade, we have identified three foundational gun narratives—stories that we claim are replicated in contemporary firearms rhetoric.

Guns are central to how Americans talk about the “Wild West”.
Contributed by Greg Dickinson

Story 1: A weapon is a tool

One of the key themes at the Cody Firearms Museum was that guns were central to frontier life. The settlers had few possessions, and the guns needed to hunt and scare away dangerous animals were among the most common household items.

The concept of weapons as everyday tools remains predominant today, usually due to references to hunting. Emphasizing the role of firearms as a normal necessity for survival – though so few people in the US today live like this – “domesticates” firearms, and many Americans continue to treat even assault rifles as ordinary items of everyday life.

Consider recent comments Colorado Rep. Ken Buck told the House Judiciary Committee, “In rural Colorado, the AR-15 is the weapon of choice for killing raccoons before they get to our chickens. This is the weapon of choice for killing foxes. It’s the weapon that you use to control predators on your ranch, on your farm, on your property.”

Such talk domesticates automata by portraying them as ordinary objects. But they are far from ordinary. One 2017 study found that assault rifles and other high-powered semi-automatic weapons “make up between 22% and 36% of criminal weapons, and by some estimates, more than 40% in cases of serious violence, including police killings.” They are also used in 57% of mass shootings with firearms.

Story 2: Weapons are a miracle

The second key theme presented in the museum was that weapons are marvels of technology. Visitors could learn, often in great detail, about every improvement in loading systems, cartridges and firing mechanisms.

Frame pistols like this are exhibited as inert objects of study and admiration, shifting attention from their function and purpose to their design and development. Moreover, the display of thousands of tools in glass cases, physically separated from people, turns them into objects that seem almost worthy of veneration.

The world of gun collecting strongly associates these admirable items with the personality of their owner. Like enthusiasts of all stripes, gun enthusiasts view guns as collectibles. According to a Pew Research Center study, 66% of gun owners own multiple firearms, and 73% say they “never imagine being out of a gun.”

In short, guns are central to gun owners’ sense of self, while half acknowledging that “gun ownership is important to their shared identity.” Because gun enthusiasts view guns as collectibles, they often use rhetoric that sees guns as inert objects rather than machines built for violence.

For many gun owners, gun violence is a problem with bad actors, not guns. After the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, podcaster Graham Allen wrote: “Firearms are LIFELESS objects, they don’t think, feel or take life on their own. Therefore, you CANNOT hold an inanimate object responsible for the shooter’s actions.”

Story 3: The weapons are typically American

The third story that American culture tells about guns is that guns are central to what it means to be “American.” They symbolize the myth of the harsh individualism on which the country is based. The weapon is also associated with the Manifesto of Destiny, the belief that white Americans were destined by God to forcibly “populate” the plains and “civilize” the West, expanding the US from coast to coast.

The weapon served as the main tool for westward expansion and forced relocation of Native Americans. As the work of Americanist scholar Richard Slotkin explains, many of the iconic images of the frontier depict white colonizers doing what they considered “God’s work” with their weapons.

Today, national discourse still presents guns as part of a God-given right to eliminate “threats” in a world full of dangerous people. The National Rifle Association has used religious language to advocate for gun rights, such as its president, Wayne Lapierre, stating in 2018 that the right to bear arms is “given by God to all Americans as our American birthright.”

In these arguments, gun ownership is a way of expressing Americans’ deep and longstanding desire to protect themselves, their families, and their property. Crime data, however, suggests that firearm self-defense is rare and is used by victims in 1% or less of “crimes in which there is personal contact between the perpetrator and the victim” or robberies and non-sexual assaults. Meanwhile, gun ownership increases other dangers such as accidental shooting and gun-related suicide.

Joseph Pierre, a psychiatrist at the University of California, Los Angeles, wrote that while fear may be the primary cause of gun ownership, gun ownership is also strongly associated with fear of losing control. According to a Pew survey, 74% of gun owners say gun ownership is essential to their sense of freedom.

From talk to action or inaction

The way people talk about an object affects how they understand and see it. And once this view is translated into a position, it significantly influences future actions.

In the firearms museum and in American culture more broadly, firearms are portrayed as a utilitarian tool of daily life, a revered object of technological advancement, and a symbol of what it means to be American.

These stories continue to shape and limit how America talks and thinks about guns and helps explain why US gun policy looks the way it does.

World Nation News Desk
World Nation News Deskhttps://worldnationnews.com/
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