Ideas

Gun Crazy: How fetishizing guns shuts down debate about them

Columbine. Sandy Hook. Orlando. And now Las Vegas: the biggest mass shooting in the recent history of the United States. The stories seem to follow a pattern: shock, outrage, calls for gun control and rehearsed defences of the status quo, with very little changing.
Gun owners and supporters show their support during Gun Owners' Lobby Day at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., Thursday, March 10, 2011. (Seth Perlman/Associated Press)
Listen to the full episode54:00

Columbine. Sandy Hook. Orlando. And now Las Vegas: the biggest mass shooting in the recent history of the United States. The stories seem to follow a pattern: shock, outrage, calls for gun control and rehearsed defences of the status quo, with very little changing. A.J. Somerset is a Canadian journalist, former Army reservist, and both an avid hunter and collector of guns. He's also a critic of what he calls "nutty" gun culture. His book is called Arms: The Culture and Credo of the Gun. He joins host Paul Kennedy in conversation, together with ex-Marine, hunter and Mohawk political philosopher Dr. Taiaiake Alfred, director of the Indigenous Governance Program at the University of Victoria; and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, activist and author, Christopher Hedges. **This episode originally aired January 7, 2016.

 
Gun enthusiast A.J. Somerset on how entrenched gun culture is on both sides of the border 0:55


 
Arms: The Culture and Credo of the Gun by A.J. Somerset, published by Biblioasis.

A.J Somerset is an unapologetic gun enthusiast. Yet he can't understand what he sees as a wilful irrationality in gun culture.

"I like guns. That's a difficult admission, as if confessing to some kind of perversion, though it ought not to be," he writes in his book.  "People like all kinds of things: cars, sailboats, acoustic guitars. Nobody has to justify liking these things, as I am continually asked to justify liking guns.

"My reason is simple: shooting is fun. But people are likely to think you're weird for liking guns, which is why it's a difficult admission. In their eyes, you become one of those gun nuts. And although I like guns, I do not like gun nuts."

Somerset asserts that the intransigence of gun lobby groups like the NRA when it comes to government efforts to impose gun control is relatively recent, and plenty of gun enthusiasts handle their guns responsibly. But it's when people fetishize the gun that trouble starts.

"At root, guns are power, and people want power," says Taiaiake Alfred, a Mohawk who directs the Indigenous Governance Program at the University of Victoria and a lifelong hunter and ex-Marine.

When guns went from being tools used by people who had an integral relationship with the land to weapons used by urban dwellers, the "nuttiness" became inevitable, he says. 

"We can't ignore the fact that it's one strong statement of 'whiteness' and the failure of these people to confront their past: conquest in regard to natives, the fear of Mexicans, the fear of black people, the failure to confront the legacy of slavery, imperialism with foreigners and Arabs. It's all fear."

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and former war correspondent Christopher Hedges agrees the tool vs. weapon distinction is a crucial one.

"I came out of a hunting culture … [But] my relatives did not fetishize weapons," says Hedges. "They were tools. In American culture, the people who fetishize weapons … they are white supremacists, racists, survivalists. And those who fetishize weapons in the United States often have very, very close links to white racist groups, and that's been all the way going back to slave patrols and groups like the KKK. And so that there's a twinning of that peculiar culture and racism."
 

  • Arms:The Culture and Credo of the Gun is published by Biblioasis.

5 things you didn't know about guns, from Arms: The Culture and Credo of the Gun



 

**This episode was produced by Greg Kelly.

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