Translated from Gegenstandpunkt: Politische Vierteljahreszeitschrift 2-1999, Gegenstandpunkt Verlag, Munich

Guns are a citizen’s freedom — Gun control made in the USA

On April 20, 1999, in Columbine, Colorado (mistakenly reported as Littleton due to the school’s postal code), two students celebrated the Führer’s birthday. Superbly equipped with carbines, semi-automatic rifles, pistols, and pipe bombs, they staged a bloodbath in their high school, killing twelve schoolmates as well as a teacher and themselves. As always, when the “long chronicle of violence” in US schools gets another spectacular murder added to it, this massacre ignited the debate about young people’s access to weapons. So after the attack one learned quite a bit about normal, peaceful everyday life made in the USA. The fact that the two young men were able to accumulate enough weapons for a “small military unit” is by no means unusual, given the “liberal gun laws” in the land of unlimited opportunity. There is a government Bureau of not only Alcohol and Tobacco but also Firearms and Explosives, and it estimates that some 223 million firearms are in private hands. One in four Americans can make use of at least one of these “peacemakers” as needed, and one in five teenagers has at some time “borrowed” a firearm from dad and brought it to school. This is a cause for concern among “moderate opinion-makers,” especially when an innocent child has turned the schoolyard into a slaughterhouse again. On the other hand, gun control is a hot button in the land of the free. After all, it is not just that such massive arming exists, it is about every upright American’s right to it, something that must not be spoiled by a few trigger-happy youngsters, much less taken away by Washington.

Guns for America

Americans attach a lot of importance to their sacred right to keep and bear arms, the second highest right granted by the US Constitution to every upstanding and free US citizen. Other countries may make a strict distinction between public officials who are responsible for maintaining and enforcing the state’s monopoly on the use of force and are armed for that purpose, and ordinary citizens who are only entitled to a gun license in exceptional cases; but not the US. Alongside its publicly appointed and appropriately armed custodians of the law, it recognizes a great number of others who are qualified to defend law and order — i.e., basically every good American. The American state makes a point of not distinguishing between private individuals who are competing only to gain personal advantage, and citizens who are supposed to show loyalty to the polity alongside their private identities. Instead, it makes competing itself a service to the state, so that unconditionally asserting oneself in competition is the same as patriotism. In this way, the American state sees and acknowledges those trying to succeed in the capitalist struggle for life as its nucleus. Its citizens share this view completely. Their ability to succeed proves they are good Americans; the Stars and Stripes is the same as their personal mission in life. So those who have gainfully obeyed the state’s decree to succeed in competition get to bask in the knowledge that they have done their bit for the nation. What it does in return is increase the nation’s success by clearing away all obstacles for those trying to make it. Where there is a dollar, there is a flag — and vice versa.

So in the USA the mission to fight for the nation is pretty much the same as the mission to fight for oneself. The same can be said of the personal use of force that the state force grants its citizens. It is evidenced by every deputy sheriff, every neighborhood watch member who lays their righteous hands on a Black or other subversive element to maintain law and order. To a certain extent, the Federal government and individual states leave it to their citizens’ fanaticism to decide what to enforce as law on the ground and who is allowed and supposed to do it. This iron principle is not marred when, as often happens, the line is crossed between actual and lynch law, or well-equipped private individuals use their arms to enforce their quite private right illegally. When it’s a criminal who has the gun, that may be a shame but it makes it all the more important for every decent citizen to have one. So it is considered quite normal in the USA for people to go to gun shows and stores to equip themselves with pretty much everything they can afford that is not covered by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. No need to ask what their actual intentions are, the answer is clear. Like every good American, they see themselves as acknowledged personifications of their state power, as incarnating everything that makes “America” what it is and needs to be defended against all internal and external threats. So honorable citizens who organize in heavily armed vigilante gangs and spend their weekends doing private military exercises are seen by their fellow patriots as being at most a bit strange, but they are rightly not suspected of engaging in un-American activities.

But this suspicion is sure to come up when Washington reacts to assassinations or other privately held bloodbaths by announcing a crackdown on access to guns; when it for example bans trade in machine guns or obligates licensed firearms dealers to report the names of their customers to the local police. For it is not only as gun owners that Americans feel at one with their state power; they typically go around with the firmly anchored national self-image of being the personal representatives of their state’s morals and law. So they often see it as unnecessary or even harmful when the state power makes an appearance itself. In the US, the Federal government is already habitually suspected of interfering with its citizens’ rights and restricting them at every turn anyway, instead of clearing the way for their private success to promote the nation’s success at the same time, as it is supposed to. So it is bad enough when Washington makes its successful citizens pay too much in taxes only to squander the money on Black children and single mothers — it is even worse when it is out to infringe their freedom made by Smith & Wesson. Upright Americans will not be deprived of their guns, the proof of their intact morals, since they are carrying them for America. So anyone who tries to take them away is going against the nation. That is why the “gun lobby” is so “powerful” in the US, and neither Congress nor the government is terribly ambitious about curtailing it. When decent citizens insist on cultivating their American identity by fitting themselves out to form a private army — just in case — that is no anarchism that needs to be stopped. It is the extreme form of civic consciousness that “God’s Own Country” has achieved.

How many guns does the country need?

So it is no mystery what drives spree killers across the country and their copycats in Canada (that apparently has strong links to the USA outside the NHL too). Some un-American injustice or other has to be avenged by people who in such cases are said to be “followers of Adolf Hitler” or “branded” as “outcasts.” They are clearly violating the rules governing the pursuit of happiness, however. This sports-crazy country is instantly prompted to raise the question of how the “tragedy” could have been prevented, and the answers come like a shot. As soon as the nation gets over being “shocked and baffled” by “two perfectly normal young people who were in the Boy Scouts” but still planned to “destroy their school,” it inevitably starts asking if this and other massacres are due to too many or else not enough weapons in private hands. These two standpoints get along so well they can keep talking past each other for another millennium. The opponents of the “gun lobby” see clear proof that if the boys hadn’t gotten their hands on the big stuff they wouldn’t have been able to do so much damage. Can’t they stick to brass knuckles, irritant gases, and fixed-blade knives like students elsewhere, do they have to have the long-range firearms that can be acquired legally and without too much trouble in Colorado? So the call goes out to the state force to rein in private force by restricting access to the instruments for it. As for the gun-owner crowd, to them the matter is equally clear: “Guns don’t kill, people do.” So the only way to stop the spread of shooting orgies in American schools is to arm teachers as well — a conclusion that evidently has to be drawn in view of the teacher executed by a shot to the head. If the teaching and guard staff had been properly equipped and trained — “Draw, asshole!” — they would have quickly finished off the two young assassins as they deserved, before they were able to shoot themselves. Each side has plenty of statistical material to cite. Anti-gunners can say how many authorized firearms owners are on trial for murder. A Chicago law school professor, on the other hand, has found out that “in states where gun ownership has gone up, crime has gone down” — pickpockets here have to be afraid their mark will shoot them down on the spot.

But the advocates of righteous force do not simply write off the Columbine massacre as collateral damage. They lament a “loss of values and morals,” meaning people no longer have a sure feeling for when it is appropriate to use force righteously and when it might not be. Even though one has to be careful when “placing the blame” since it is a “nationally sensitive subject,” all sides agree on the main, universal culprit: the “real murderers” are “video games, barbaric Hollywood movies, and violence-filled TV news.” Now this is really unfair, since the Rambos and Schwarzeneggers of that “violence-glorifying media industry” make it absolutely clear that they personify private individuals as agents of righteous violence, being the living symbols of all those sorely missed values and American virtues — including the moral lesson that it is imperative to use all means available to make these values triumph. No self-respecting computer game will be about anything less than saving the world. So fans of the righteous use of force should not complain about it being playfully picturized, especially when kids have taken the message to heart that injustice calls for bombs without bothering with international law.


This is reflected by the reactions to the “Columbine shock.” They go cheap but are perfectly fair, fitting the American nation to a tee. On the one hand, there is the public-law approach, involving administrative encroachments on freedom: restricting the purchase of firearms to one per head per month; banning students from wearing loose coats that can hide weapons; stricter controls on the sale of explosives, especially to teenagers; child safety locks on handguns, and, last but not least, the principle that “parents are liable for their children” — even when they cause large-scale bloodbaths. Since the lamentable victims of the attack do not include the cherished rule that “everyone is their own sheriff,” there is no desire to impose any greater restriction than to try and prevent “deputies” from being underage or otherwise unsuitable if possible.

Then there is the private-law approach. This is already a fixture in the US as a competition battlefield that promises gains on a scale amazing to foreigners. Following the maxim that there is product liability in the USA for proven damage suffered (such as lung cancer after consuming tobacco products), the city of Detroit sued thirty manufacturers and dealers of handguns for $400 million in damages. However, smoking is only about the spirit of the cowboy — guns are about an American’s freedom itself.

© GegenStandpunkt 2023