Among all the Facebook postings I have viewed in the days since the Newtown murders, one of the most astute went something like this: “When the Second Amendment was being written it took three minutes to reload a musket and during that time you could rush the guy and kick the crap out of him.” Much has changed since the end of the 18th century, but the largest shift is the amount of personal wealth. And it is fully linked to the emergence of gun culture in North America.
Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente wrote an atypical column last week (though not atypical for the Globe) making a case for consumerism during the Christmas season. She described the thesis of Deirdre McCloskey’s Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World, a look at the rise of middle-class consumerism and it’s place in economic history. In essence, McCloskey examines the benefit of the long climb from $3/day that people earned from ancient times to the average of $125/day today. The steepest part of the increase has come since 1800, about the time the US Constitution writers were imagining muskets in the hands of free citizens.
My argument is that people buy guns because they can, because in a consumerist culture we tend to take up new interests and have the material resources to do so. And while many will try to peer into the soul of gun collectors and killers (or both) and offer an explanation, the simple answer may be excess cash.
More culture: Of all the murder shows on American television, the only one I enjoy is Bones, a show about forensic anthropology. It has compelling characters and interesting story lines, and a tacit embrace of guns. Even among the clever scientists who use intelligence to solve crime there is an underlying respect for the utility of having a gun handy.
And so, like any product placement so common on television, people see a Glock pistol (used by 65% of police) and they want one. Then they travel to Glock.com (with the tagline “Perfection”) and read “Glock Amazing Stories” because, it seems “Everyone has a story about their Glock.” Spend enough time on the website and you will want one too, or maybe four, or however many you can afford. There are lots of variants to keep the collector busy. A Glock 17 costs about the same as an iPad.
So it is neither people killing people, or guns killing people, but middle-class consumerist culture killing people, because we have the material prosperity to acquire numerous weapons that end up lying around the house. And if you think this is strictly an American problem, think again: Gun sales in Canada have increased 10% per year since 2008.*