Exploding the Myth of an Armed America

Exploding the Myth of an Armed America

After the recent and tragic spate of school shootings, people
all over the country have been asking themselves tough questions
not only about child-rearing, but also the prevalence and
availability of guns in America. (Today, there are 250 million
firearms in private hands, the FBI estimates, with five million new
guns purchased every year.)

In a recent essay in the Chronicle of Higher
analyzing America’s culture of violence, history
professor at Emory University, Michael A. Bellesiles asks: ‘How did
the United States reach a point where children shoot and kill?’ and
‘How did we acquire a culture in which Santa Claus gives a
6-year-old boy a shotgun for Christmas? For Christmas!’

To answer these questions, Bellesiles looks to history and the
media. ‘Most of the world associates the United States with
firearms,’ Bellesiles writes, ‘if not as the world’s leading maker
of guns, then for such global cultural icons as the cowboy, the
gangster, the street thug, and the heroic cop. At every level of
American culture, through all the layers of culture from lowbrow to
highbrow, firearms abound.’ He notes how guns have been a part of
the common rugged American identity, and sold by the media as the
immediate hand-held solution to all one’s problems.

Going to the source of the myth of ‘Armed America,’ Bellesiles
investigates how firearms are portrayed in American frontier
history books — only to discover that while it is assumed that
nearly all men on the frontier owned guns, there is little
historical proof for this. Yet today, he suggests, Americans cling
to the idea that guns were just as commonplace then as they are
today: ‘How else could a civilized democratic society place guns at
the center of its identity with such passionate devotion unless
this is an essential quality of its culture?’ — Amanda
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