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Taking up arms

Exploration of American gun culture hits the mark

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/11/2015 (1652 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Arms deftly, albeit somewhat unorthodoxly, charts the history of gun ownership in North America.

London, Ont.-based journalist and novelist A.J. Somerset focuses mainly on the United States. But his evolutionary tracing of gun culture culminates in warnings of the recent import of American extremist views into Canada.

Somerset is a gun owner, former soldier and sports and target shooter. He fired rifles, pistols, sub-machine guns, machine guns and even 76-millimetre cannons on armoured cars while serving with Canada's armed forces. He hunts, and admits he enjoys it. In short, he knows his way around firearms.

But for all that, he views most pro-gun lobby groups in both Canada and the U.S. as nutbar organizations.

After a 15-year hiatus from much active gun use, he "got a dog, took my mandatory safety course and got my firearms licence and a shotgun" and took up hunting. But when he returned to the company of gun owners and hunters, he found "that I no longer quite fit in."

Americans are gun obsessed, according to Somerset.

No revelation there. The gun's an icon in the United States. It shows up -- stylized, realistic or as a logo -- on everything from T-shirts, golf bags and cufflinks to coffee mugs, bath towels and throw pillows.

More critical to his argument are the stats he cites. In the United States in 2011, the last year for which data is available, firearms killed 32,251 people, he notes. And while the U.S. has less than five per cent of the world's population, it's home to, by best estimates, 35-50 per cent of the world's civilian-owned guns, according to the Swiss-based Small Arms Survey project.

Somerset continually returns to the argument Canada is heading toward the same gun-nut culture that sees government attempts at gun control as totalitarian oppression, environmental regulation as a left-wing conspiracy and climate-change research as the Big Lie of the 21st century.

Case in point -- 24-four-year-old Justin Bourque who, in June 2014, dressed in army-surplus camouflage and armed with semi-automatic weapons, took a stroll through a Moncton neighbourhood with the intent of killing as many police as he could. By the time he finished his stroll, three Moncton police officers were dead and two severely wounded. Somerset sees him as a classic "gun nut," consumed by wacko bred-in-America delusions about overthrowing the state.

His history of American gun culture is eye-opening. The National Rifle Association (NRA) in the United States started out as a reasonable organization that encouraged responsible gun use, he argues, but morphed into a gun-manufacturers' puppet that lobbies against gun control, gun registration and gun safety, no matter how many or how often innocent citizens, or their children, are slaughtered.

The NRA has also fostered an American mindset that rejects "the very idea that we ought to put our disputes before the courts and allow cooler heads to prevail." Instead of justice, it demands retribution. "And how better to get retribution than to take care of it ourselves," protected by the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment-sanctioned right-to-bear-arms that amounts to allowing a gun in every pot in for American households.

He echoes former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger's remark "that the NRA's interpretation of the Second Amendment was a fraud on the American public." But sadly, it's Burger's selfsame Supreme Court that's given judicial approval to the fraud.

Somerset's writing is an odd but effective mix of classic argument/thesis prose and zippy school-of-New-Journalism narrative -la Hunter S. Thompson or Tom Wolfe.

The shifts from one style to the other are initially disconcerting. But once you tune into his blending of third-person research with first-person anecdotes, the book pulls you along.

Arms entertains -- even as it educates.

 

Douglas J. Johnston is a Winnipeg lawyer and writer.

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History

Updated on Sunday, November 29, 2015 at 9:35 AM CST: Correction: Bourque carried semi-automatic weapons.

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