Gun culture in the US has always been a contentious issue. (Image credit:AP)
Eight people, including an Indian girl from Hyderabad, were killed in a case of gun shooting outside a mall in Dallas, reigniting disdain and debate around firearms
In another case of rampant gun violence in America, a gunman opened fire outside a mall in Dallas killing eight people and injuring seven or more. The shooter whose details have not been officially revealed was shot dead on the spot by the police.
Mass shootings, defined as killings of four or more people, have skyrocketed in the US as time has gone by, becoming a severe epidemic in the country. Cases of mass shootings are reportedly the highest till this time of year in a very long time.
A girl from Hyderabad was also killed in the Dallas shooting. Aishwarya Thatikonda aged 27 reportedly worked in a private company there.
An everlasting problem
America, as the iconic American writer Hunter S Thompson once commented, has been a country that has always been at war.
It is a new nation that has been built on violence and continues to ferry on that violence both inside their own country and outside to others as well.
Rampant gun use in the US might seem unnatural to outside spectators but is one that is deeply entrenched in the lives of American citizens from the country’s inception and thus despite being such a contentious and polarising issue still eludes a solution.
The roots of the existence of the issue lies in the history of the American civil war and the early way of life in the country. From hunting to sports and the early expansionism that took to assimilate different colonies into the American states, guns have since then been incorporated into the psyche of the American public.
It is not seen primarily as a weapon but is viewed as a symbol of freedom and as a representation of the American way of life.
A testament to this is that the Constitution of America, in its famous Second Amendment, clearly protects the right of its citizens to keep and bear arms. Various amendments to the law, first ratified in 1791, have only strengthened its use in both public and private.
With time the imagery of guns in the US has been linked to an expression of self-dependency and freedom, becoming a politicised statement, this has only resulted in both the owning the use of image being proliferated to such an extent.
For example, figures from the Small Arms Survey of 2018 indicate that America has over 390 million guns in circulation, approximately 120 guns for every 100 Americans.
From recreation and symbolism to violence
The change of how guns are viewed in America has an interesting journey. The use in its early times from ones primarily as hunting weapons and cultural symbols to then being used for self-defence, the use of guns in mass shootings now, all are traces of a similar vein but diversifying with time and circumstances.
A major shift in this happened as industrial manufacturing became more easy and made mass production of guns easy. The growing mass produced and easily assembled guns made it possible for a large number of people to now own guns, and the market for them was then expanded by advertisements and subtle propaganda as well.
Thus, from a cultural and purely utilitarian purpose the use of guns became more rampant and grew a new meaning. The National Rifle Association (NRA), since its inception in 1871, has played a huge role in the proliferation of gun culture in the US.
Though it is now seen largely as an organisation which made the issue extremely politicised and polarised, it has organised long-range shooting competitions called the ‘National Matches’.
Thus Gun Culture came from a hobby and hunting exercise to a practice in self defence and finally to symbolise American freedom.
Aided by capitalism as mechanised reproduction grew exponentially and later politicised by NRA, finally media depiction and internet echo chamber circles have now taken it to such an extent of mass shootings and what it is today.
What is behind the current trend of mass shooting
Today mass shootings and America have become synonymous. Though such cases exist in other countries as well, the numbers in America are exceptionally high when compared to others.
This has resulted in mass shootings to be now a part of America’s image outside the country as well, not only in the consciousness of its own citizens.
The reasons for this current trend are cultural as well. Despite the heavy political polarisation when it comes to the issue and the complexity surrounding the legal aspects of the debate, the pervasion of gun imagery in the popular imagination of American citizens is also to blame for the increasing number of mass shooting cases.
The accusations that movies have been subjected to, of glorifying violence are as old as the artform itself. Given to overexaggerated dramas it is natural for the medium to portray violence in a theatrical manner.
The impact that it has is that it normalises this violence and gun use and divorces the viewers from the reality of its consequences.
This is especially true for teenagers and young adults, who are mostly the preparators of these mass shootings.
The impressionability of youth also lends them to be easily persuaded by imagery, which in itself is a subtle but highly influential determination in one’s behaviour.
The newer forms of internet based information and propagation dissemination like chat forums and YouTube rabbit holes are also to be blamed. They market certain polarised set views to take hold of young minds and influence their behaviour as they become more engrossed in them and lose touch with ground reality and objectivity.
Such twisted and false views that dominate young minds might seem innocent in the start but with time can take hold to such an extreme that many young people then take extreme steps like killings in an attempt to publicise their views.
This in a way such mass killings becomes a press release of their views and in their monomaniac frenzy these close-looped circles of information and opinion form armies of such young people, some of them unfortunately turning into mass shooters as many examples suggest.
The turn that gun culture has thus taken in America has been a fairly long one and one which many could have never predicted.
It has been convoluted of its original meaning and though has now been vilified, for better or worse is still an inherent part of American cultural life.
Both these aspects along with the complicated legal and constitutional debate has to be balanced as one looks to gauge public opinion on the issue and monitor how internet forums affect mental health of the young and not make them susceptible to negative propaganda as well.
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone. The opinions and facts in this article do not represent the stand of News9.)