On a recent US TV show, two large men ponder over a World War II machine gun. “Wouldn’t wanna geddin the way of that,” one says. “No, that baby can sting,” counters the other, before both men fall into raptures, buy the gun and promptly test it out on a remote firing range.
Boom! Fuck yeah!
The euphemisation of the gun is a baffling concept to someone who, from a largely gunless state such as Britain, hasn’t really come into contact with one bar the odd clay pigeon shoot (I didn’t wear a deerstalker and swore my tits off, so it’s ok). Equally, the personification – even sexualisation of guns through terms like ‘baby’, ‘miss’, ‘mama’ and others – is zealotry bordering on psychosis. I mean, I know Americans know that guns kill people. But why can’t they just fucking say it?
I’m not reporting anything new: the American obsession with the firearm is literally written into its constitution. Despite this year’s many, many tragedies involving guns, American approval for a handgun ban is at an all time low of 26 per cent (compared with 60 per cent in 1959, according to Gallup). Every time someone walks into a US public area – a cinema, a Gurdwara, a shopping mall – and mows down a handful of his or her compatriots, every politician in the land ups their gun rhetoric. ‘Tight controls’, ‘troubled individuals’, ‘self-protection’ are just three of the identikit phrases rolled out.
But nothing changes, and the bodies keep on pilin’ up: so far this year just under 10,000 people have lost their lives (or should I say ‘been blown away’?) in firearm murders. This ranks it just off the global podium of ignominy (1: South Africa, 2: Colombia, 3: Thailand) ahead of the Philippines and Mexico. Firearms incidents usually account for around two thirds of all yearly homicides. The UK ranks 39th with 14 deaths, by the way. But that didn’t stop Fox News Forrest Gumpalike Bill O’Reilly (seen in this video chewing some anti-black, anti-yoof fat with hate-on-a-stick Ann Coulter) advocating wider gun use in the wake of the London riots. One person was shot dead in those depressing events. 53 were killed in the 1992 LA Riots.
You can buy a gun in America for around $70, or about the same price as a Topman jumper. Today a ‘disgruntled employee’ shot dead five people before killing himself, at a small signage firm in Minneapolis. There will be no calls for tighter gun laws; not in an election year. That might piss off the likes of Lori Klein, the Arizona senator who proudly displays her pink (pink!!) handgun at all times – even pointing it at a journalist ‘to prove a point’ (‘I can shoot you in the face right now’ perhaps?). Or maybe Samuel ‘Joe the Plumber’ Wurzelbacher – yes him, of 2008 election fame – who faced little censure after laying out his delicate policy on immigration, ‘build a damn fence and start shooting.’
I don’t want to seem like some Imperialist redcoat. And every time I chat about a part of American life I fundamentally disagree with, I always hear Werner Herzog’s weird, cloying monologue at the start of ‘On Death Row’: ‘Ze death penalty is zomesing that as a German zitizen I cannot agree wiz. But zis is America…’ But the numbers don’t lie: rappers don’t kill people, guns do. A lot of people. And a lot of guns. Barack Obama has proven year after year that the constitution matters bugger-all when you can claim that American lives are at stake. Yes, some farmers in North Dakota need shotguns to protect themselves from coyotes and wolves. But last time I checked, there weren’t many of those things on Chicago’s South Side Street. Or watching Batman premieres.
It took 9/11 to get America to change its constitution this time round. What price gun control?