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I thought I’d use this week’s theme to take a shot at what some believe is the fastest way to deal out justice – the gun. To Americans, easily the most targetable people in rhetoric and practice, ownership of a gun is a right second only to free speech. Meanwhile, Europe and the Eastern world exercise the understandable restraint one would require when using firearms, and look on the US like trigger-happy cowboys. Your exposure to guns may only extend to yelling expletives when somebody no-scopes you in Call of Duty, but to make sense of America’s almost mythic idealisation of guns, it helps to contrast how other cultures understand weapons and warfare, such as Japan’s.
Japan’s martial philosophy is derived from Shinto and Buddhist principles, and its view on conflict formed from the upper-class samurai. Weapons are simply tools, which must be carefully and rigorously mastered with full purpose of body and clarity of mind, a philosophy that predates the advent of firearms. Today, the only guns available to purchase in Japan are handguns and air rifles. Gun-owners are registered with the police, rigorous background and mental health checks are undertaken, and owners must take a test every three years. On average, Japan has as few as two gun-related deaths per year.
America, by contrast, was founded upon the Enlightenment values of the Founding Fathers, emphasising a desire for personal freedom above all else. The nation was made and won by guns, and as such, any hard-working American can own a firearm as quickly as possible. Guns are seen as empowering, not constrained to training or class, and capable of making you a do-gooder, a hero.
We need only look at the recent news to learn how this mythologisation can be taken to extremes. Consider the militaristic police response to the events in Ferguson, Missouri, or the death of Trayvon Martin, in the name of doing right and stopping conflict. In 2011, 11,068 homicides were attributed to firearms, or 3.6 deaths per 100,000 in the population. Film critic Roger Ebert, a man who knows a narrative when he sees one, criticised the media for drawing attention to school shootings; “When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. …The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous.”
I am by no means aiming to soapbox this issue; I aim to educate, not to advocate. But I do ask: is justice being dealt here, or is the capacity to use violence misconstrued as justification to use violence? Give some thought to it next time you’re mowing down soldiers made of zeroes and ones in Modern Warfare.