The US arms problem is very serious

How the USA became a weapons paradise

Oliver Winchester had shirts sewn before switching industries and setting up a weapons factory in Connecticut. That was in 1857, and the contracts came from the state. Most of his rifles went to the Washington government, not to private individuals. Winchester made a fortune in the American Civil War.

When peace reigned at home, he looked for overseas markets. Again he sold primarily to states, to Australia, France, Prussia and the Ottoman Empire. Glorifying weapons as a symbol of private freedom, as is happening today in the United States, would not have occurred to him.

Shotgun like plow

In the beginning, writes the historian Pamela Haag in her book The Gunning of America, manufacturers such as Winchester had marketed their products without any glory. The shotgun was a commodity, like a plow, "not a culturally charged object". That changed with advancing industrialization and urbanization of the country. Guns weren't something you needed now and then - to defend a ranch or to conquer Native American lands. Guns should be loved, writes Haag.

To spark love, the suppliers needed legends, preferably cowboys from the Wild West, whether they were real or not. In popular dime novels, good triumphed over evil by using a Winchester. Or the revolver from Samuel Colt's workshops.

Cowboys as mythical figures

In truth, they were poorly paid pieceworkers, the cowboys driving Longhorn cattle from Texas up to Kansas to bad repute hubs like Dodge City. Only the dreamy townspeople of the East, taught the Texan history professor Walter Prescott Webb, would have made shining figures of light out of them. Actors like Humphrey Bogart later gave the alleged mythical characters concise faces, so the hero story was perfect.

The fact that every citizen - because of their freedom - has a basic right to a weapon, this view is relatively new. The National Rifle Association (NRA), the five million member association of firearms enthusiasts, invokes the Second Amendment to the constitution. It consists of a single sentence that allows for different interpretations.

"Since a well-organized militia is necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to own and carry weapons must not be impaired," said James Madison, one of the founders of the republic and its most prominent constitutional lawyer. The NRA emphasizes the second part of the paragraph, while its critics emphasize the first.

In 1791, when the lines were put on paper, national defense was largely a matter for militiamen, not the army, whose power people like Madison wanted to limit, especially since it looked like a relic from ancient Europe. Only weapons are mostly not kept in the closet at home, but in well-guarded arsenals.

The pro-arms turnaround came in 1982

The turning point in the dispute over the interpretation of the second amendment came two centuries later in the form of a study commissioned by Orrin Hatch, a Republican senator from Utah. In 1982 the parliamentary subcommittee on constitutional affairs concluded that the authors of the Second Amendment understood gun possession as "an individual right of American citizens to protect themselves, their families and their freedoms".

The NRA, founded in New York in 1871 by a lawyer and a journalist, initially saw itself as a kind of shooting club that advised hunters, marksmen and collectors. It was only at the end of the 1960s that she entered the political arena in the role of the vocal advocate of the principle of "free arms for free citizens".

Donations for election campaign

She began by donating to election campaigners, around $ 20 million in 2016 in the case of Donald Trump. Wayne La Pierre, its current director, throws a slogan into the debate at every opportunity reminiscent of the Winchester commercials for the dime novels. "The only thing that can stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun." (Frank Hermann, February 16, 2018)