Wednesday, August 5, 2015

A farewell to arms - and U.S. militias?

Yet another shooting...

As James Holmes - the 2012 Aurora cinema shooter who killed 12 people and wounded 70 others - was awaiting his sentence, another shooting at a movie theater happened in Lafayette, Louisiana. This time it happened at the screening of the movie Trainwreck in which comedian Amy Schumer, who is the second cousin of U.S. senator Chuck Schumer, stars. The both of them held this press conference to speak out against not only gun violence, but also against the apparent ease with which people - including people with a violent past - can get a gun in the U.S.

For Europeans, the fact that guns are so common in the U.S. can seem odd - and maybe even at little eerie. Because why should they be necessary in the first place? There shouldn't be any reason to assume that Americans should be any more prone to violent behavior - genetically, at least - than Europeans. So why this obsession with guns?


Part of the reason is most likely historical. Europeans sometimes forget that the birth of the U.S. came about in the first place because of a rebellion against a king that was seen as a tyrant. And rebellions - then as well as now - often require weapons. And so, the successful rebellion against the king was partly due to the settlers' access to weapons. They relied on their own strength and weapons to gain their freedom from tyranny.

In the American constitution it states under Article II - which describes the role of the executive power of the President - that the President "shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States [...]". The word "militia" has probably changed a great deal in meaning since then, but nonetheless it seems like a relic of the past when we read the Constitution today - for the obvious reason that the people of the U.S. are no longer subjects of a king. They are free, and therefore they can put down their arms. But they don't. Instead, they treasure their guns and see them as symbols of the American people's struggle for freedom, it can be argued. Some symbols, though, belong in museums and not on the streets or in our homes.

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