My first reaction to the pics in this tome was: These people are clearly nuts! How can you want to have your picture taken surrounded by your firearms? And not just one firearm, lots of them. Moreover, the guys and gals look seemingly proud. It is way beyond me what is going on in their heads. On the other hand, it is generally beyond me what is going on in anybody’s head and that includes my own.
Politicians from both sides of the Atlantic often talk about shared values. Looking at the people portrayed in this book, I’m not sure what these values could possible be. To me, these people seem to inhabit a foreign planet. But, hey, aren’t Swiss citizens allowed to have guns at home? Yes, they are (and I do find that nuts too) but they do not talk about it. It’s like money, the Swiss do not talk about it either … although they are supposed to have lots of it..
Although I’ve been visiting the US many times (and once crossed it from East to West) and have of course heard about American gun culture, I hadn’t been aware of the dimensions this book informs me about: There are more guns in America – firearms legally purchased and owned by civilians – than people. How come? Journalist Gea Scancarello argues “it is a question of tradition, of a constitutional guarantee”. It is, she writes, the “ideal of freedom on which the entire American narrative is founded: limitless possibilities, minimal restrictions, self-determination. Ensured by guns.” It is also what Trump stands for: Me first. The American version of freedom, it needs to be stressed, is not a universally understood concept.
Gea Scancarello quotes a sixty-six-year-old shooting instructor from Pennsylvania: “I think that revolvers are the quintessence of this nation.” Well, I’m not surprised that a shooting instructor would say that, I’m however doubtful that a yoga teacher would say the same. But who knows? Race, gender, religion, political affiliation or wealth do not seem to matter when it comes to gun ownership, at least according to this book. I’m not so sure about this.
The pro-gun lobby uses catchphrases such as “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” On the face of it this seems plausible although it isn’t much more than an argument for selling guns. And where there are lots of guns there will be lots of guns used. That is pretty obvious, isn’t it? How come, so many Americans can’t see that? Because we are unable to learn from history for, as the old Romans knew, mundus vult decipi, the world wants to be deceived.
By the way: “An average of two-thirds of firearm-related deaths are suicides; a ‘mere’ third are homicides, a negligible few of which are in mass shootings. Of the 38,658 who died in 2016, 22,938 took their own lives; those killed by others numbered 14,415, of whom ‘only’ 71 were in mass shootings. Lastly, there were slightly more than 1,300 domestic accidents.” I find especially the suicide rates disturbing, they make me also think of the many drug-related deaths. The issue here, it seems to me, is violence and specifically self-destructive violence.
How did the photographs come about? Gabriele Galimberti explains: “I asked my subjects what they were keeping in the house. Then, I arranged everything in an orderly and geometric way, as if each object was an integral part of the environment surrounding the subject.” I must admit I have quite some difficulty with this approach – why not have the subjects arrange their guns themselves? I also thought it baffling that people who claim they want to decide as much as possible for themselves let somebody else decide how they should be portrayed.
The ones shown in this book consented to pose for these pics, they wanted to demonstrate “that they are not the ones who should be viewed with suspicion.” Although I doubt that these images will achieve that, I was left with the impression that there are more deep-rooted issues at the core of the seemingly never ending gun-ownership debates in the United States and this tome does an excellent job at highlighting this by dividing it into four chapters – family, freedom, passion, style – that address the major themes that are instrumental for many American attitudes towards guns.
Despite the abundance of guns shown on these pages, this isn’t really about guns, it is about how the ones portrayed see the world and themselves in it. Very American, I’d say, but it is not the America and the Americans that I know.
The Ameriguns is a very instructive book!
by Gabriele Galimberti
with interviews and texts by Gea Scancarello
Dewi Lewis Publishing, Stockport, England 2020
Also published on Medium.