How to explain to Europeans the role of guns in America
Generally speaking, the French, Germans and other Europeans don’t understand the role played by guns in the American way of life. It’s a delicate, political subject, but it is essential to understand one important aspect of American culture: personal freedoms, and the constitutional right to own and bear arms in the United States.
Is the American propensity for firearms a taboo topic in international business?
In international business practices, talking about politics and religion is fairly taboo. But the globalization of information and the availability of real-time information have made people less hesitant to discuss these topics. Two Americans were killed in Brussels during the latest terrorist attack. The United States and Europe are politically allied on this matter, and the French, Germans and other Europeans will very likely call upon the Americans about the role of guns in America.
The United States is a large country, and many of you denounce hasty generalizations in your comments on this blog.
Speak openly about this with others:
– Americans are very divided on the firearms question. In one 2015 study, 50% of those surveyed were for tighter controls on gun possession compared to 47% who wanted to protect this right.
– Whether there’s a real threat or not, Americans claims to own firearms to protect themselves. Since 2000, the number of firearms deaths has remained stable with between 11,000 and 12,000 deaths per year. But 56% believe that this figure has increased over the last 20 years.
Having spoken often with Americans, I know that the September 11 attacks left them with a profound sense of vulnerability. Figures from the PEW Research Center support this. Between 1999 and 2013, the proportion of Americans who declared owning a firearm to protect themselves increased from 26% to 48%.
– In January 2016, a Gallup poll announced that 62% of Americans were dissatisfied with gun legislation. A figure that increased by 11 points compared to 2015.
– Gun supporters argue that there is violence because there aren’t enough guns. According to them, if everyone had a gun, there would be fewer killings. They also argue that the statistics are skewed because it’s impossible to count the lives saved due to owning a gun.
Why don’t Europeans understand the role of guns in America?
Let’s be clear. The phenomenon of mass shootings is very uncommon in Germany, and was unimaginable in France...before the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the 2015 Paris attacks. These two events were recorded as Islamic terrorism, just as 9/11 and the San Bernardino shootings, as well as the March 2016 attacks in Brussels. So it has nothing to do with crime, domestic violence, gangs, etc. as I’ve noticed in the United States.
The availability of weapons in the United States is another reason for this misunderstanding. It’s easy to acquire a firearm here, whether on the side of the road or at a supermarket.
In Germany, the law does not allow citizens to own guns; on the contrary, it does everything to restrict firearms possession. It’s the same in France where bearing arms is prohibited. In Great Britain, weapons possession has been prohibited since 1996.
There’s one exception in Europe: Switzerland. Switzerland has a very liberal gun legislation. According to Wikipedia, the country ranks fourth in the world in terms of the number of light firearms owned by citizens, with 46 firearms for every 100 citizens.
The role of guns in America can be explained by its history and Constitution
The French love history and the Marquis de Lafayette is a hero in French history for having fought alongside the Americans. The historical argument will remind the French. Recall that colonial England prohibited colonists to be armed, for fear of rebellion. During the War of Independence, the colonists created armed militias that remained after the war and became the US Army.
When they created the country, the “Founding Fathers” put “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” in the constitution. It’s therefore a constitutional right fundamentally anchored in American DNA. It is more widely known as the second amendment.
As Thomas Walati, a blog reader commented on LinkedIn “the United States has a very long cultural history of owning guns: Revolutionary War, hunting for survival, very large and very hostile rural areas (larger then Germany & France put together) without regulated laws and police or the expansion into the American West. These have been tied with owning guns and weapons.”
And now, here are some facts to appease the Germans. The right to bear arms is protected by the Constitution’s second amendment. But most foreigners don’t know that each State, and to some degree local governments, can restrict this right. For example, New York City probably has the strictest legislation as it prohibits regular citizens from owning guns, even for protection.
Let’s talk about interest groups in general
The term “lobbying” has a strong negative connotation in France and Germany. It is generally used to describe corporate interest groups. It doesn’t mean there’s no lobbying in Europe, but it’s referred to using other terms like institutional relations, public affairs, advocacy, etc.
The French and Germans will therefore be skeptical about the role of the National Rifle Association. It could help to put the NRA’s mission “To protect and defend the constitution of the United States” into context, ” as it supports the second amendment both historically and legally.
A final word
During my first year in Washington, I found Americans to be overprotective. Their children, at least not here in Washington, don’t walk to the school bus or take their bikes to go play sports, or use public transportation to get around at an age when the young French or Germans are already completely autonomous.
Three years of living the American life, even in a trendy Washington neighborhood, have opened my eyes to the violence in the United States. Last Friday, following a mall shooting, my three children’s schools were on lockdown for three hours.
In this post I have tried to understand arms supporters… I would probably need another century here before I could embrace their opinions. But Thomas made a point, commenting this post on LinkedIn: “Americans are a self-governing people and have a right (not a privilege) to protect themselves, their family and ownership.”
I am also aware that Hollywood movies are not the product of the imaginations of feverish scriptwriters; they reflect everyday life. And even I think that some police officers are trigger happy, I still try to understand them. They do risk apprehending someone who is armed.
Photo credit by @olly