General Question

mij's avatar

Why are you Americans so obsessed about guns? Is it really a historical throwback to lawlessness in the old Wild West?

Asked by mij (691points) March 8th, 2009

I find the general obsession with guns in the US frightening at times, but then I’ve never lived there and all I see is feedback from documentaries, books, news reports on television, and talking to the occasional American I meet up with.
Are all US States covered by the same gun laws or does it vary from State to State? Is it some form of paranoia?

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40 Answers

tb1570's avatar

Why do all you non-Americans make such gross generalizations about a country you admittedly have never even lived in?

sandystrachan's avatar

is there a reason why americans have guns then ?

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

@tb1570, because what we export about our culture, in terms of music and film, portrays the US in a certain light. From abroad, there is a lot about US culture that is both undesirable, unfathomable, and at odds with the rest of our national character.

jingram20's avatar

gun laws vary form state to state AZ you can carry any gun as long as you can see it and not concealed and other states you get it taken away fined and jail maybe but ya they vary but idk what the absession is with guns i meen ya there cool and id like to start collecting guns yet i dont see y we have them could you imagin if we never had them we would hae less crime and killings i bet you but hey it will never happen the humans in this world are all ways coming up with new thing and need to fight all the time idk y but we do but idk it sux anymore humans kepp messing with what we souldnt mess with and we are going to regret it one day

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

The right to bear arms is protected by the Constitution, but the states have different laws that cover ownership and licensing. While many Americans own handguns, the use is not as widespread as film would lead you to think.

There is widespread dissent within the US on this topic, and it’s probably second to the legalization of marijuana as a hot topic.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

Some people are hunters, and have them to hunt for sport. Others own handguns because they create the illusion of personal safety (although statistics show you are 400% more likely to be killed in a break-in if you own a handgun, and if you store it properly, you will not be able to get it and load it in time to use it.) Still others just like them, and collect them.

tb1570's avatar

@AlfredaPrufrock I live abroad. No need to preach to me about the mis-conceptions of America abroad. My point was not so much about America, but about generalizing and stereotyping in general. In my experience, if one truly wants to get a genuine dialogue started, one should avoid such potentionally inflammatory remarks as “Why do all so & so people behave this way…” As I already suggested to OP, s/he may get a much more constructive dialogue started by using softer phrasing in the question; perhaps something more like “From an outsider’s point of view, why does it seem that many Americans are obsessed with guns?”

If the intention is to troll, then phrasing questions like above is a good way to go.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

Not preaching intended, and kudos to you for living abroad. I live in the US, and I wonder about this question myself sometimes. It comes up quite often when we’ve had exchange students. Most are shocked that we don’t live in McMansions, have a swimming pool in the backyard, and spend all our free time at the mall.

loser's avatar

I really don’t obcess about guns. Am I un-American?

rooeytoo's avatar

I am an American living in a country that has strict gun control. Every time there is another school massacre at home, I wonder how the NRA maintains its control and shoots down (pardon the pun) virtually every piece of gun related legislation that comes along. I don’t know if ALL Americans are obsessed with guns, but apparently enough are to prevent any meaningful changes to gun control laws.

tb1570's avatar

@AlfredaPrufrock And kudos to you & your family for hosting exchange students and attempting to debunk a few of the common myths about America. And I think you could add your list (of things people outside of America are surprised to learn about America): We do not all eat McDonalds, we do not all eat hamburgers every day, we do not all run around having sex whenever we want with whoever we want, we are not all divorced, we do not all cheat on our SOs, over half of us do not own guns (and many of us do not like guns), about half of us do not support the death penalty, and on and on.

But you are certainly right that we have a tendency to export the worst parts (or views) of our society through Hollywood movies, prime time TV and modern pop/hip-hop music.

Still, my original intent was not to defend America so much as it was to encourage a more constructive way of asking questions.

Anyway, what the hell do I know? I’ll quit hi-jacking now…

klaas4's avatar

Yeah, I heard this too, but I don’t believe it. (I’m from the Netherlands btw., if you didn’t already know)

cwilbur's avatar

@rooeytoo: it’s not the NRA, it’s the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

Basically, the original founders of the government had just experienced a situation where the only way they could have the sort of country they wanted was armed rebellion. In order to make future armed rebellions easier, and thus (at least in their eyes) keep the government honest, they made it as difficult as possible for the government to disarm the citizenry.

Every time there’s a visible crime involving guns, some Senators and Representatives make a big to-do about stricter gun controls. This is almost always just noise, because they know (or damn well ought to know) that they can’t pass any law that contradicts the Second Amendment without having it struck down by a court. If they really wanted to make a difference, they’d work on repealing the Second Amendment—but that takes a supermajority in Congress followed by a supermajority of states, and that won’t be likely to pass. So they score PR points by visibly “doing something about the problem,” even though the something they’re doing isn’t going to make a bit of difference.

That said, most Americans are not gun-obsessed, although if your main source of information is exported American pop culture, it’s easy to see how you’d get that impression.

mij's avatar

No my main source of info isn’t American pop culture, probably info we hear in Australia that may well have been censored by someone or somewhere before we get the story.

cwilbur's avatar

Or not even just censored—the news media are biased towards sensationalism.

If a nutjob shoots another nutjob in a spectacular way, it’s guaranteed to make the news. If 300 million Americans don’t shoot anyone on a given day, it doesn’t make the news.

tb1570's avatar

@cwilbur Well spoken, indeed.

IchtheosaurusRex's avatar

Do you feel lucky?

marinelife's avatar

It dates farther back than the “wild west”. It goes back to militias in time of the country’s founding.

Jack79's avatar

I think like Alfreda said, it is protected by the constitution, but more importantly, it’s part of the popular psyche. People growing up in that culture find it normal and acceptable to bear weapons, for the simple reason that everyone else does it. Just like cultures where it is normal to smoke, to have tatoos or to cover your face if you’re a woman. It would be unthinkable for a girl in the Middle East (even a Christian) to go topless on a beach, just like a Scandinavian would never survive in a culture where she’s supposed to obey her husband’s orders and be treated like a possession.

What allows the average American to think of guns as “normal” (even if they personally own one) is that the USA started on a clean slate, and in fact the whole continent was populated from scratch, by people who (for whatever reason) needed the protection at the time. That’s how this idea was embedded into the popular conscience, and why it has been so hard to uproot, when the rest of the world has moved into more “civilised” ways of social interaction (molotov cocktails, stone-throwing, baseball bats, knives, etc).

kwhull's avatar

There is a town in Georgia (cant think of the name & I live in GA, UGH!) where over 90% of the adults own & carry guns all the time. They have an almost zero percent crime rate. If you know the odds are extremely high that someone you try to harm is packing heat, well, you wouldnt do it! I carry a gun alot, but I’m legal with it. I have a federal concealed carry permit. I keep my 45 auto in my purse or glovebox. Makes you feel just a little bit safer if you have to travel thru a “bad” part of town. Guns are very normal in my family. If you know what you are doing with them and are not a criminal there is no problem. Heck, I’ve walked thru the middle of Wal-Mart with “Betsy” in my purse & no one ever knew it but me! Just be careful with them.

laureth's avatar

@Jack79: Re “the USA started on a clean slate, and in fact the whole continent was populated from scratch”

We had Natives here before, but you’re right, they probably armed themselves and needed protection too. ;)

Jack79's avatar

I’m assuming “you Americans” did not in fact refer to native Americans, but to settlers from Europe. I’m against guns personally, but I can understand how every country just develops in a certain way, especially if it’s geographically removed from the rest of the world (as America was at first, and Australia is even today).

rooeytoo's avatar

@cwilbur – my opinions are not based on media madness, they are based on my observations as an American living in the country for over 50 years. I understand the constitution but as it has been stated, individual states have the ability to control the use of guns within their own jurisdictions. The NRA spends a fortune in advertising to perpetuate their own agenda, their lobby is one of the strongest and best funded and they in turn are probably funded by gun manufacturers in addition to the dues of members and sale of their own propaganda stickers, etc. They have a huge part in creating peoples’ perception of why they need a gun. And unless things have changed drastically in the last couple of years, I believe there are a lot of Americans who are obsessed with guns, I don’t know how you define “most.”

gailcalled's avatar

I am one of “you Americans” and I have never seen a gun, and don’t know anyone who owns one except for the hunters in season here. They have licenses and limits to the number of deer, and wild fowl they are allowed to bring down. The two men (father and son) I allow to hunt on my land eat the venison. They carry long fire sticks that I guess are shot guns.

mij's avatar

I liked Marina,s thing about the Militia, and I guess the majority of them would have been European of some sort?
I live in Australia which was largely settled in the early days by British convicts. But although we have guns [ not easily obtainable through proper channels and with strict licensing ] we don’t appear to have developed a gun culture as such?
Oh yes we still get sensational news headlines when some weirdo runs amok with a gun or children accidently shoot other children, but that’s the way papers get sold.
I apologize for the use of ” Most ” and ” You Americans ” I could have posed the question in a much better manner, I take them back. No offense intended…
What,s the % for and against guns within the general population, or does it depend on who gives out such info?
Thanks for all your replies I find them all interesting and informative.

cwilbur's avatar

@rooeytoo: “most” is at least 75%, and you probably want to put some qualifications on “obsessed” as well.

Scarlet's avatar

Liberals, please forget your “thing” of trying to dictate every facet of what you believe is best for others. Your controlling obsession agenda makes me ill.

Further, I assure you that it doesn’t require a gun to harm others. In fact, liberals do more harm to my country and its citizens than anything else I can name.

augustlan's avatar

Hahaha. Liberals are so worried about what everyone else is doing… like homosexuals, atheists, and the damn poor folks. ~

oratio's avatar

@mij yeah, about Australia and censorship… What the hell is going on down there? Has your government gone completely crazy? Though I admire the country for many reasons and I really would like to go there, Australia scares me. I’m afraid it will set an example for the rest of us.

rooeytoo's avatar

@oratio – What are you talking about censorship in Australia? And with regard to guns, there have been gun control laws in place for many years and no mass shootings since they were introduced. Is that a bad or scary thing???

oratio's avatar

@rooeytoo You are sarcastic about the lack of censorship in Australia right? Guns? I didn’t say anything about guns. Gun control laws? Are you talking about Australia there as well? I’m confused here.

rooeytoo's avatar

@oratio I live in Australia and I don’t know what you mean about censorship. The original question is about Amercans’ obsessed with guns. Actually I don’t understand any of this, “What the hell is going on down there? Has your government gone completely crazy? Though I admire the country for many reasons and I really would like to go there, Australia scares me. I’m afraid it will set an example for the rest of us.”

What are you talking about?

rooeytoo's avatar

None of it has been passed, it is the Australian version of the American moral majority, always protecting the children from evil and initiating legislation to make abortion illegal. I did think though that all porn sites on the internet were supposed to have the age questions before you can get it, but thanks to an earlier question here in fluther, I saw plenty of sites that just let you in. I am one of those people who think that people ought to be responsible for what their kids are doing on the internet and elsewhere but I think I am in the minority, most people want someone else to do it for them, like a filter or whatever. But I will research and see what I can find.

oratio's avatar

I agree. Yes, it’s the parents responsibility. Parents need to have a open and regular conversation with their children as well. Playing on fears of worried parents to regulate the net seems to work, as well as playing on the fears of terrorism.

TexasDude's avatar

Thank you for your question, mil.

As a gun-obsessed American myself, I’ll attempt to answer this to the best of my ability.

As other answerers have said, American history is very much based on an individualistic, frontiersman ideology. In the early days of the Puritan settlements, to the colonies, and well into modern American history, if you didn’t shoot, you didn’t eat, and you were often required to look out for yourself and others (especially in the vast rural areas of the US that still exist to this day). Guns just happened to be the best tools for this job, plus people have always needed a way to defend themselves from wild animals as well as certain ne’er-do-wells that happened to permeate the American frontiers.

This sort of idea of self-sufficiency via the gun stuck, and we have the modern “gun culture.”

Many people, particularly those abroad, tend to equate guns and shooting with violence and crime, and thus look on us gun-owning Americans as barbaric or uncivilized at times. As a member of the “gun culture” I can tell you that, more often than not, this isn’t the case. As a history buff (I’m specializing in history in school) I can tell you that guns for me are about history. I own several, and for me, they do not represent violence or death. They are mechanical devices that have played an important role in shaping world history, and they happen to be incredibly fun to shoot and collect. My guns have never gotten up on their own and shot up schools, and I have no desire to use them for violent purposes. They are just objects that I find interesting and beautiful, and my feelings about them are best summed up in this quote by William Morris:

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”

Also, to answer the last part of you question, you may find this link useful:

Hope that helps, feel free to ask if you have any other questions/comments.

gailcalled's avatar

Milo here: I would probably pack a pistol if I could find a gun belt small enough for my svelte waist (if you could find it. I’m a nice 14” 14” 14”.)

I could then turn into a morbidly obese cat who guns down mice instead of stalking and hunting the feline way.

Austinlad's avatar

The Constitution was written over 200 years ago. It was a very different world from ours. And by the way, just because the Constitution gives us the right to bear arms doesn’t mean we have to, or even should. Guns—I hate them.

jezz08's avatar

Americans should look at other countries such as Australia and learn from what we in Australia have been able to do, minimize the effects of gun use and keep semi to auto weapons off the streets.
You very rarely see mass murders in Australia caused by firearms.
I once looked at America as the place to be but it is becoming to violent.

rooeytoo's avatar

Australia is rapidly catching up in the gun department. Everyday there is news of a couple of shootings in Sydney and Melbourne. Don’t forget the guy in the Brisbane shopping center waving his gun. I personally think it is not if but when Australia has its next mass shooting. The NT has as many guns per capita as any place in the US. But yes it is not as easy to obtain an automatic weapon, but where there is a will there is a way, they are here, don’t delude yourself.

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