Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Normalisation of Gun Ownership

I was watching a documentary the other night about one of the mass shootings that occurred recently in the U.S.A. It was an attempt to get inside the life and mind of the perpetrator. In this case, the perpetrator had some serious psychological issues as a child and as a young man. The mother, who in all respects seems to have been a good mother, doing everything she could to help her troubled son, owned several guns. She taught her son to use the guns, and enjoyed going with him to the firing range. This was a time of bonding. It was one of the few ways in which she was able to connect with her son.

Sitting here in Australia, I found this very difficult to understand. But then, as the story unfolded, it began to dawn on me. What I understood was this: in the United States, gun ownership has been normalised in a way that has never happened in Australia. It is as normal to own a gun as it is to own, let’s say, a dog, or a camcorder, or even a car. Quite aside from the Second Amendment (which anyone with any common sense knows has to be taken in the context in which it was written), Americans see gun ownership as a normal part of life. This, I suspect, is why there is such a reaction against regulation (aside from the financial interests involved). It is as if the Australian Government were suddenly to legislate against ownership of cars that have the potential to go faster than a certain speed. The comparison is not gratuitous, as speed is one of the main killers on our roads. Personally, I think that purchasing a car that can go at 300 km/hour is just as stupid and wanky as buying an assault rifle.

Many Americans are now beginning to see that ownership by an ordinary citizen of these assault weapons with large magazines is not acceptable. However, it is argued that these weapons are involved in only a small number of shootings. My response to that would be to place severe restrictions on the ownership of all guns. However, having watched this documentary I now recognise the enormous difference between U.S. culture and Australian culture on this issue. I suspect that in the American mind, this would be like placing restrictions on the ownership of any car, not just the super fast variety. Gun ownership is normal. How one overcomes such a mindset, I have no idea. Becoming aware of it, though, may be a first step.

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