What was the first gun you owned

United StatesThe weapon as part of identity

"It's about the freedom to own a firearm. And the freedom to be able to defend ourselves."

"For me as a Christian, to carry a weapon means to see my concern for God's creation."

"The guns aren't the problem, it's the people who carry them."

"Many Americans say we have to be able to fight the government if necessary"

"Being a gun owner is an important part of their identity. It's not a tool or anything. The gun defines them."

Wait a minute: weapon and freedom - is that a unit? Have weapons so that you can fight your own government if necessary? Christian responsibility towards God's creation means bearing arms? Owning a gun is part of identity?

The latter is not something anyone says, but Juliana Horowitz from the renowned research institute "Pew Research Center". In an extensive study, she examined the relationship between Americans and their weapons.

"For gun owners, the right to guns is just as important as freedom of speech or other freedoms that people have. It's different with those who don't own guns. They consider everything else to be central. Just one gun is not a significant freedom for them, everyone should have. "

Americans and their guns

30 percent of all Americans own a firearm, 40 percent live in a household with a rifle or a pistol.

About half of the white men have a gun. For women and non-white men, it's a quarter.

(Music by Lynyrd Skynyrd)

God and guns - this is what this country is built on. That's what makes it strong - sings the southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd.

"For God and the Land": For some Americans, carrying a weapon means taking care of God's creation. (AFP / Seth Herald)

Where does this deep-seated emotional relationship with pistols and rifles come from? It seems like tearing a piece of your soul out of your body when you take their guns from Americans. Why is that? Guns in hardware stores, practically no controls in many states. How can that be? Especially in the face of more and more rampages with pistols and rifles.

After the country gained independence, gun ownership made it onto the list of fundamental rights in the USA as a second amendment to the constitution. Equal rights alongside the rights of freedom that guarantee, for example, free opinion, freedom of religion or freedom of the press. Not everyone thinks this is up to date for a long time. The split on the question is primarily one between town and country, according to Stephen Halbrooke, lawyer and weapons historian.

"Many people in the USA still have the feeling of being a settler. So you can only rely on yourself, independence, freedom. And then on the other side we have those who believe that meat comes from the supermarket. They would be helpless in an emergency. And these basic attitudes are passed on from generation to generation. Within families, among friends, in schools. "

But in order to explain the emotionality with which it is discussed, it is necessary to take a closer look at three original experiences of American development. Primal experiences that are practically burned into the DNA of "being American":

The colonization of the American West. People on their own. Guns as life insurance.

The struggle for independence. British colonial rulers who claim the gun monopoly for themselves.

And: The deeply religious early immigrants, oppressed and persecuted in Europe because of their faith at home. Christians who want to be able to defend themselves against new state tyranny.

Primeval experience of the history of the settlement

(Clip "High Noon")

"High Noon". The original title of the western this scene belongs to. "12 noon". The western, arguably the most American form of the fight between good and evil. The ritualized showdown, the strictly regulated duel with pistols and rifles.

"If you were out in the border country, out there in the west, you needed the rifle to defend yourself."

The western, however, ties in with this primal experience of American settlement history. The land, taken from the indigenous people, had to be defended against attacking Indians and bands of robbers alike. The most important food was animals that had been shot themselves. Those who did not have a weapon starved and were defenseless.

That was more than 100 years ago. The feeling of having to help yourself has remained.

"These values ​​were inherited. We always had a gun in our family. Who would give that up? And why?"

"I've never had to defend myself with my weapon. But I see that people have the right to do so. Many live in dangerous areas. And I see that it is necessary to have a weapon there."

Millard Stanley deals in guns. His customers, mostly from rural areas.

Those who live in the country know that in an emergency they cannot rely on the state. Police, fire brigade - everything is far too far away.

"People want to feel safe in their home. They say here: When seconds count, the police are minutes away."

Or, as a popular country song by Josh Thomson puts it: "Our house is protected by God and a gun. If you are not welcome here, you will get to know them both."

This also shows one of the very different developments between town and country, says Stephen Halbrooke. Even if it depends a lot on which part of the USA you live in. In the south, many townspeople also have a weapon, in the north less so.

Americans and their guns. The facts:

Around half of all adults in rural areas, regardless of their origin or skin color, have a rifle or a pistol. It's less than a quarter in the city.

Two thirds of gun owners say they want to defend themselves. For women, buying a pistol is usually the only motive. Men also want to use it to hunt and shoot as a sport.

Three quarters of gun owners say: It's important to my freedom.

The struggle for independence

The other, downright traumatic, basic experience lies further back, in the War of Independence. British soldiers always tried one thing in London on behalf of the king: to disarm the American settlers. To deprive you of your right and ability to defend yourself. It was only because the Americans had guns that they could gain independence.

"They took up arms and won their freedom. So they said:" It would be good to guarantee that in the constitution. "

The future President James Madison once wrote that the Americans trust people with weapons, but the European monarchies do not. And so the all-important question at the time is reflected in gun ownership: democracy or monarchy. The question remains, even if it is no longer about monarchy, according to historian Bob Tupper:

"That leads to the central theme: How powerful should a central government be? This is the heart of the arms conflict. Can the government in Washington take my weapon away from me? Symbolically, it would take far more than the weapon. My independence and the possibility of To resist. "

This has become deeply embedded in the narrative of American historiography, and that's how children learn it in school. There needs to be a balance between government and citizens. Whoever has no right to arms can never be an equal.

This reflects the general attitude of many Americans who are critical of the government. And the legislation.

For example: The American federal government is not allowed to confiscate or register private weapons. This is what a law from 1941 says. And that has to do with Germany, according to lawyer and weapons historian Stephen Halbrooke:

"Before the US intervened in World War II, Congress passed a ban on confiscating or registering weapons. The reason was that this happened in Nazi Germany, Communist Russia, in all the dictatorial countries."

From 1933 onwards, the Jews in Germany had been systematically disarmed. And the anti-Jewish pogroms of 1938 had been reported extensively in the American newspapers. Popular opinion: The Jews could have defended themselves against the tyranny of the Nazis with weapons. That should never happen to Americans.

When parents have guns, boys in the US shoot themselves for the first time on average at age 12 (imago / Matthew Hatcher)

Americans and their guns. The facts:

40 percent of male owners of a pistol have it loaded ready to hand. For women this is 30 percent.

If their parents have guns, boys on average shoot for the first time themselves at 12 years old. Girls at 17.

Arms fair in a small town in Virginia, not far from the Blue Ridge Mountains, where it gets very rural. Stand after stand is lined up in the local multi-purpose hall.

Dough Stockman, one of the dealers, sells everything from pistols to machine guns. He owns a whole range of weapons himself, and usually puts a loaded pistol in his pocket when he leaves the house. For him, weapons mean freedom to defend yourself and yourself. He hopes never to need them, but when he does, he has them with him.

"It's about the freedom to own a firearm. And the freedom to be able to defend yourself."

Customer Jane is in a wheelchair, picking up pistols and small rifles. She got new shoulder joints, because her old rifles became too big and too heavy.

And with her, too, the word falls: freedom. Weapons have something to do with America's very own idea of ​​freedom.

With weapons against religious oppression

Many of the first settlers came for religious reasons. It was mostly radical Protestants who were persecuted and punished in Europe for their beliefs. They saw their opportunity in the new American colonies. Here they could live their faith freely and build their "shining cities on the mountain". However, when they said "freedom of belief" it was seldom liberal. What was meant was freedom from state interference in religious matters. That the church interferes in the state, on the other hand, was intentional.

"They had an ideology of freedom. And the idea that they could defend this freedom by force. And then there was a very practical aspect for the settlers: they just had to survive."

The descendants of the religious immigrants had the greatest influence on what would become the United States and its culture. Most of the other settlers had come to make money and maybe to leave. They wanted to stay. Create a society in your own image. It was they who built schools and universities, developed their curricula, and selected teachers. In the end, they also shaped the constitution. Including the right to own guns. Weapons that you can use against your own government if it wants to take away your freedom.

“If you look at the profile of gun owners, we see that white evangelicals are more likely to have guns than others.

Karen Swallow Prior, professor at the Protestant Liberty University, sees no contradiction in this. On the contrary, for them weapons are a tool for fulfilling God's mandate.

"For me as a Christian, to carry a weapon means to see my concern for God's creation."

This attitude is highly controversial within the Christian denominations. Most refer to the Christian commandment of peace and interpret it as peace without arms. Not so with the evangelicals, to whom around a quarter of Americans profess. The pastor and author Troy Newman, for example, sees no contradiction in a panel discussion. He fights against abortion and for gun possession at the same time.

"The rights come directly from God. And the first right given to us is the right to life. If you look around the world, Stalin, China - millions have killed. We have to end all violence. But the best way that the thing to do is have armed people guard this building. "

This is always the individual right to arms. Not the right of the state to protect by force of arms. Exactly not.

Large demonstration in Washington for stricter gun laws. (ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP)

Americans and their guns. The facts:

Twice as many Republicans as Democrats own a gun

Two thirds of all gun owners would allow teachers to be armed in class

Four in ten Americans say they know someone who was shot.

Every fifth person has been threatened with a weapon at some point

Barack Obama reads the names of victims of a rampage in a black church. Whenever something like this happens, there is a call to regulate weapons.

The discussion about it is then highly emotional. Because it's about more than laws. It's about freedom, individuality and often hard-won rights.

Guns are part of the collective narrative of who you are. What it means to be an American. The country has a social history of development behind it in fast motion, short enough and intense enough to allow formative basic experiences to have an effect up to the present day.

The colonization of the West, where everyone was dependent on themselves and their neighbors. The struggle for independence, at the same time for civil rights, freedom and democratic participation. The invention of a new, unique society.

And the flight from religious persecution and oppression, the self-made promise never to give up the freedom once won.

When seventeen people were shot dead in a high school in Florida in the spring of 2018, not only did another outcry go through the country, but hundreds of thousands of young people took to the streets. They say: stop your old stories. Ensures that guns get off the streets and gun ownership is regulated. We want to live safely.

"We are witnessing the beginning of a revolution. This is only the beginning. Nobody should believe that that's it. Especially not the politicians who are supported by the gun lobby."

The then 17-year-old David Hogg, who becomes the eloquent figurehead of the student protests. From one day to the next, the subject of weapons turns into a generational conflict, which at the same time accelerates the drifting apart of urban and rural life. Because of course the student protests take place in the big cities, not in the small communities of the Midwest. Once again there is a threat to one's own lifestyle.

And weapons, as Juliana Horowitz found out in her study, are an important part of the identity of their owners. And then the announced revolution inevitably triggers fear. Fear of losing this own identity.