2022. In less than two weeks, two bloody shootings claimed the lives of ten African Americans, then nineteen children and the debate, as old as the United States, incomprehensible to all other developed countries, resumes.
Added to the legacy of the War of Independence, according to experts, is the ever-increasing conviction in the minds of Americans that they need to possess arms to ensure their own security, associated with a whole imaginary almost religious overtones.
This development was largely encouraged by an arms industry that played on fear of insecurity and racism, analyzes Ryan Busse, a veteran of this sector.
The recent massacres “are the by-product of an industrial model made to feed on hate, fear and conspiracy,” he wrote this week for online magazine The Bulwark.
– Weapons against imperialism –
In the very young United States of the 1770s and 1780s, firearms were a given.
Owning them means standing up to colonizing monarchies, especially the British army.
James Madison, considered the father of the Constitution, extolled “that advantage of being armed that Americans have over almost any other nation”.
The first American states, wary of a federal government still in its infancy, wanted their laws and their weapons.
So, firearms, essential in the fight against oppression? Shouldn’t we rely on organized local militias? But don’t these same militias risk becoming a new source of oppression?
A difficult debate to understand in particular for Europeans, whose conception of security is shaped by what the sociologist Max Weber has defined as the “monopoly of legitimate violence”: the idea that citizens defer to the forces of order to defend them, and renounce in exchange to take justice into their own hands.
Very far from the compromise found in 1791 in the United States, in the now famous second amendment to the Constitution: “A well-organized militia being necessary for the security of a free State, the right of the people to hold and carry weapons will not be transgressed.”
– The 1960s –
In the two centuries that followed, guns became an essential component of the great American narrative, in its most idealized pages as well as its darkest.
One cannot imagine the pioneers, confronted with a hostile nature and outlaws of all kinds, without their rifles. And what about western movies?
David Yamane, a professor at Wake Forest University who theorized this transition from a “Gun Culture 1.0” to a “Culture 2.0”, also recalls the role of firearms in the bloody submission of Indian tribes and slaves.
Beginning in the early 20th century, the increasingly urbanized United States found itself confronted with levels of gun violence unlike any other nation.
From 1900 to 1964, historian Richard Hofstadter counted more than 265,000 gun homicides.
The authorities took measures, such as the federal ban on machine guns in 1934, and the obligation for gun owners to declare them.
States have added measures prohibiting the carrying of weapons in public, for example.
According to a Gallup poll, in 1959 60% of Americans said they were in favor of banning firearms for individuals.
But that was without counting on the increasingly aggressive campaigns of arms manufacturers and the now famous lobby, the National Rifle Association (NRA), which prevented truly binding measures. All that remained was a ban, easily circumvented, on the mail-order sale of firearms.
– Sacrosanct Second Amendment –
The NRA then made common cause with the Republican Party around the defense of a second amendment interpreted as enshrining a “basic right” to possess weapons.
Matthew Lacombe, a professor at Barnard College, explains that to get there, the lobby has created a whole imaginary world around firearms, from which owners have drawn to define themselves socially.
Guns have become a powerful tool of political identification, especially in a rural America that Republicans have always sought to conquer at the expense of Democrats.
Jessica Dawson, a professor at the West Point military academy, also underlines the link forged between the NRA and the religious right.
She writes that the lobby has “begun to use religiously charged language to elevate the Second Amendment above the restrictions taken by a secular government.”
– Self-defense –
This did not immediately bear fruit. Gun sales began to decline as Americans gradually turned away from hunting and sport shooting.
In search of a new marketing lever, the NRA and the manufacturers then insisted on another use of firearms: the capacity to defend oneself, explains Ryan Busse.
The advertisements then staged riots and burglaries, and presented a whole range of “tactical” equipment, starting with bullet-proof vests, as well as increasingly heavy weapons. And this at a time when the election of Barack Obama was fueling a surge in white supremacy.
Some states have responded to the rise in violence with laws authorizing the carrying of weapons without a license: a turning point, according to David Yamane, which has boosted sales, in all categories of the population.
From 2009, sales increased sharply, reaching more than 10 million firearms per year since 2013, with a huge demand for semi-automatic weapons.
According to the Small Arms Survey from June 2018, at the end of 2017, Americans owned about 45% of the civilian firearms in circulation in the world, while they represented just over 4% of the population of the United States. world.