Huffpost Politics

Gun Culture An Integral Part Of United States History

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From folk hero frontiersman Davy Crockett to vigilante cop Dirty Harry, guns seem to be too deeply woven into the American identity for any amount of bloodshed to stain.

The slaying of 20 first graders and six staff members at a Connecticut elementary school Friday shocked a nation that has become accustomed to mass shootings, and sparked renewed calls for gun control.

But even though the powerful National Rifle Association lobby took the unusual step of saying Tuesday it was "prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again," experts said any change will be marginal at best.

"The prospect for real political and policy change is slim or unlikely," said Robert Spitzer, author of "The Politics of Gun Control" and a professor at State University of New York at Cortland.

The right to "bear arms" was enshrined in the US Constitution after the British colonial powers were overthrown in the American Revolution.

Guns remain a potent symbol of freedom and democracy, especially for those who mistrust the government.

"They look at Aleppo, at North Africa, at all these places where the government does terrorize the people and they say 'would these people be better off if there was an armed population?'" explained Gregg Lee Carter, a sociology professor at Bryant University and author of "Guns in American Society."

Firearms were further romanticized in the American consciousness as pioneers expanded the nation's frontier and relied on guns to defend their land from Indians, bandits and wild beasts.

They evolved into a beloved family tradition for hunters and those with rural roots.

"It is also a part of the American tradition of individualism, which is this value or belief that ultimately Americans need to rely on themselves whether it's personal self protection or other things," Spitzer said in an interview.

The horrifying crimes and random acts of violence that dominate the evening news and seep into the national consciousness through films and television shows have reinforced fears that people can't rely on the police.

A vocal minority of gun enthusiasts insists that the best way to prevent school shootings is to arm teachers or let students carry guns on college campuses.

One 11-year-old boy in Utah appears to have taken their warnings to heart. He was arrested Tuesday after bringing an unloaded .22 caliber handgun and a package of ammunition to school.

"He is alleging that he brought the weapon to protect himself and his friends from a Connecticut-style incident," Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley told AFP.

The adage "guns don't kill people, people kill people" still rings true for some in Newtown, Connecticut, even as they watch their neighbors bury their children.

"This hysteria over guns is from people who, I don't know, are foolish enough to believe that if you took all the axes away from people, there would be no more ax murders," a 72-year-old retired businessman who declined to be named told AFP.

Steven Clarke, who owns a shooting range in Warrenton, Virginia, echoed concerns that the actions of a mentally unstable murderer could impact all law-abiding gun enthusiasts.

"There isn't a single law that they could enact right now that could prevent this from happening again," he said.

"This happened because this person was not institutionalized. That's a very callous consideration but if we wanna be in a free society, we have to accept that."

Popular culture also contributes to the American fascination with guns, which play starring roles in films, television, music and video games.

"Guns are simply everywhere. We are saturated with them," said Jimmy Taylor, a sociologist at Ohio University and author of "American Gun Culture."

The expansion of concealed-carry laws allowing residents to carry concealed weapons and the politicization of gun culture has also changed the prevalence of guns in every day life, even as the number of gun-owning households has fallen from about 50 percent in the 1960s to between 30 to 40 percent today.

"Guns are no longer something that Americans throw under the bed and forget about unless they are unfortunate enough to experience a home invasion," said University of California, Berkeley sociologist Jennifer Dawn Carlson.

"Instead, they are now one of the first things that millions of Americans put on in the morning as they go about their daily business -- grabbing a cup of coffee, running errands and so on."

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