In the aftermath of recent mass shootings in the US, Maeve McTaggart explores why America is still holding onto guns.
A painting of George Washington, a Founding Father of the United States, belittled the nation’s 45th President as he delivered a press conference before the portrait on Monday August 5th. “My fellow Americans, this morning, [we are] overcome with shock, horror, and sorrow,” he said, smacking his lips uncomfortably before detailing the mass shootings which took eighty lives in the weekend prior. On Saturday, in a Walmart which sits just three miles from the Mexican border in El Paso, Texas, a twenty-one-year-old killed twenty in what he described as a counter-strike to “the Hispanic invasion of Texas”. A day later, one thousand miles away in Dayton, Ohio, another bullet-proof vest-clad shooter shot nine people dead before he was killed by the police himself. “Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart, and devours the soul,” President Trump surmised in a first-time condemnation of white supremacy – he vaguely swatted at the notion of increased gun controls before slapping down on a call for a decisive death penalty. Often criticised for incitement to hatred and cited as a ‘prisoner to the gun lobby’ by opposition, Donald Trump has become the cultural catalyst for yet another debate: why won’t Americans drop their guns?
The right to bear arms has been enshrined in the US Constitution since 1791. Intended to defend against the tyrannical power of colonialism in revolutionary times, it was maintained that gun-wielding citizens were protected citizens. Two-hundred-and-eighty-eight years later, 2019 has seen more mass shootings than it has seen days – as of March 6th, more Americans died by gun violence than were killed in the WWII invasion of Normandy, and yet some still warn of a D-Day from which citizens must arm themselves against. In 2017, National Rifle Association (NRA) CEO Wayne Le Pierre illustrated an apocalypse of lost freedom at the leading gun lobby’s annual conference. “There are terrorists and home invaders and drug cartels and carjackers and knockout gamers and rapers, haters, campus killers, airport killers…do you trust the government to protect you?” Le Pierre bellowed, “we are on our own … it’s why more and more Americans are buying firearms and ammunition!”
Google’s first hit in the search for ‘NRA’ is The National Rifle Association’s official website. Almost a parody of Trumpian patriotism, the website describes itself as “America’s longest-standing civil rights organisation.” The homepage is decorated subtly in Republican-red as visitors are urged to donate to protect their threatened rights. Of the annual $250 million spend, the NRA expenses $3 million dollars yearly to influence gun laws (otherwise known as ‘lobbying’). In 2016, the organisation made an investment of $30 million to the Trump campaign – a rainy day favour saved for the storm that was the aftermath of Dayton and El Paso.
Two hours out from dabbling in the idea of increased background checks on gun purchases, Donald J. Trump received a phone call from Wayne LePierre. Thirty minutes later, he hung up believing that the current system of checks were not only good, but they could not possibly be improved upon. For a comparatively small price of $30 million, the NRA had bought both time and the President.
Where it once stood for hope and progress, the American Dream has evolved into a lavish fetishisation of self-sustenance and individualism – a fever dream of utopian independence expressed with rifles in both hands. It is difficult to pinpoint why so many Americans refuse to drop their weapons, why, in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, NRA membership soared to five million strong. Understood to be encoded into the DNA of the quintessential American identity, the want for guns seems to transcend words and reason. Gun culture, financed by the NRA and the patriots of a Trump presidency, positions itself as one of the biggest enigmas of the Free World. While more regulation means less guns, it means identity loss for many citizens, funding loss for legislators, financial loss for manufacturers – oh, the fragility of the military-industrial complex.
While the 45th President delivered a speech of non-committal and NRA-influence beneath the likeness of George Washington on August 5th, a quote of his comes to mind. In the case of the President’s $30 million political allegiance to the NRA at the expense of American lives, Trump should take his oldest predecessors advice: “It is far better to be alone than to be in bad company.”