Why are Americans so obsessed with guns?

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1. For the love of guns

The love of guns in the United States has been well documented, as have multiple mass shootings across the country such as those in Orlando, San Bernardino, Newtown, and Virginia. The ease of access to guns in American society comes at a shocking cost.

As of September 2016, almost 11,000 people have been killed as a result of gun violence. Despite this high death toll, mass shootings in America show no sign of disappearing.

The Stateside obsession with guns can appear baffling to UK observers unfamiliar with its origins. So just how did this gun culture become so deep-rooted in the American psyche?

2. Birth of a nation

For many Americans, the gun represents the heart of their nation’s foundation and identity, a symbol of their freedom.

“The right to keep and bear arms” from the Second Amendment of the US Constitution is the regular defence of current gun laws. This right is inherited from the militias who rebelled against the British during the American Revolution of 1776, and it allows Americans to own and use a firearm to this day.

The Founding Fathers wanted to protect their newly independent nation from the tyrannical rule of the ‘old world'. With the constitution in one hand and a rifle in the other, pioneers claimed the Wild West, and a new kind of citizenship was born.

Fast forward two centuries and guns are a hot topic in the US. For some, gun rights go beyond the constitution, with former vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin saying that “Jesus would fight for our Second Amendment”. On the other hand, President Barack Obama has admitted that he views his failure to pass “common sense gun safety laws” as the greatest frustration of his time as president.

3. Comparing gun cultures

Infographic comparing the US and the UK on gun incidents, deaths and ownership

Sources: 1. CIA World Fact Book 2. UNODC 2012 3. Small Arms Survey 4. Everytown Research (as of 11 November 2015) 5. Gun Violence Archive 6. Home Office, Police Scotland.

4. The legacy of Dunblane

The UK’s attitude to gun control has evolved over the years. The incident that most changed UK gun laws was the killing of 16 children in the Scottish town of Dunblane in 1996.

Tragedy leads to change

Following the Dunblane massacre, the government was quick to ban the ownership of handguns in mainland Britain, which resulted in some of the toughest anti-gun laws in the world. Firearm amnesties were organised across the country for people to give up their guns and ammo with nearly 23,000 firearms surrendered. And anyone who flouted the new laws risked heavy penalties.

Lacking a 'gun culture'

Apart from the laws, the main difference between the UK and the US is the role that guns play in everyday life. In the UK, most gun lovers are involved in shooting sports and are mostly based in the countryside. The idea of using a gun for self-defence is generally pretty shocking in Britain, even within the shooting community, and most people believe that guns should be the preserve of the police or armed forces.

5. Why is the gun still number one in the US?

What drives the continued interest in guns, and the growing number of them, in the United States?


In some states, you can buy a gun before you can buy a beer, and without thorough background checks.

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In Texas, the buyer has to pass an FBI background check, but only those deemed "mentally defective" or previously committed to psychiatric care are prohibited.


With such widespread gun ownership in America, it can seem more logical to have a gun yourself.

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Following the Sandy Hook shooting, the NRA suggested that schools would be made safer by arming teachers. South Dakota enacted a law to allow this in 2013.


Guns are big business in the US and more guns are being manufactured than ever before. In 2013, 10.8 million guns were made, more than in any previous year.

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The firearms business is vital to the US economy. The annual revenue of the gun and ammunition manufacturing industry stands at $13.5bn.

Social and cultural pressure

If you grow up in a culture where gun ownership is normal, imposing any kind of regulation is difficult.

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Public opinion on guns is almost evenly split. The Pew Center tracks this shift, with 50% currently supporting more gun control to 47% advocating gun rights.