Guns make me feel uneasy. More than that, they make me feel sick. Last summer, on a research trip to Flanders, I came as close to the raw brutality of warfare and gun violence as I would ever like to come. A century after the end of the 1914-18 war, spent bullets, shrapnel, and unexploded ordnances still litter the fields around the Flemish countryside. On every corner of the landscape there are imperial graveyards of the fallen, and just under the surface of every battlefield lie the undiscovered remains of the lost – boys ripped asunder by steel. Say what you please; there will be no convincing me that there is any glory in war.
Speaking with people on the other side of the Atlantic who have the right to bear arms and who live their lives as though this right is an obligation cannot fail but to frustrate and confuse me. A late eighteenth century fear of an English invasion has developed into a multitude of ad hoc reasons to keep their boom sticks. One enthusiast will tell you that his firearm collection is to keep the government in check, another will say it’s for protection (because life in the States is just so dangerous), and yet another will tell you it’s for hunting. Taken together this amounts to no more reason than the simple want to have a gun.
Other than run of the mill gun violence, mass shootings are a daily occurrence in the United States, making it the most dangerous society in the Western world. Violence permeates absolutely everything Americana, from television and video games to the police sport of hunting black people and an industrial-military complex that has ensured a global endless war. This need to have a gun for protection from the bands of merciless cannibals who roam freely about every street in every town and city in America, and from “the government,” is a survivalist fantasy that gives away the country’s enduring fetishisation of the gun and every kind of violence.
Viewed from the perspective of a European, living in an Ireland which hasn’t experienced this collective cultural zombie apocalypse paranoia, America’s fixation on guns is informative. Many advocates for the right to bear arms in the United States will tell us that this is about their country, and that it is none of our business. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. America’s cultural lust for guns has bled out in its behaviour internationally. Its response to any diplomatic difficulty – be that with Chile, Iraq, Libya, or Russia – is a quick draw from the hip that has managed only to put the whole world under the shadow of war. Right now the international security situation is as bad as it was at any time during the Cold War, and America’s cowboy approach is not making things better.