Documentary review 3 part 2

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The American Gun Culture

Institution Affiliation

The American Gun Culture

Inside the NRA- USA documentary

In the documentary, Inside the NRA-USA, Washington Correspondent Lisa Miller addresses the agony of Veronique Pozner who lost her six year old son, Noah, in the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre. Veronique Pozner is representative of thousands of Americans who have undergone the agony of losing their loved ones in instances of mass shootings and gunfire homicides. The case in point led to the death of 20 children and 6 teachers in a local school in December, 2012 after a mentally disturbed man wielded an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle («Inside the NRA — USA», 2016).

As a result of the death of her son, Veronique Pozner, who had not given gun control serious thought before, becomes a campaigner for gun control. Her effort and that of others of her caliber, however, faces strong opposition from the monolith, the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA is considered one of the strongest lobby groups in the United States, having shaped the political rhetoric for decades. Politicians opposed to its philosophy have had to contend with its large membership and strong financial support. Debra Maggart attests to that effect. After having been a lifetime member and an ardent supporter of its agenda, her refusal in 2012 to support a bill seeking to allow Tennesseans to keep guns inside their locked cars invited trouble with the NRA. As she says, the NRA used bully tactics to ensure that she lost in the 2012 primaries («Inside the NRA — USA», 2016).

The NRA agenda has been to campaign against gun control in the U.S. Richard Feldman a former NRA insider reveals to Lisa that the lobby group gets billions of dollars from arms manufacturers. He further adds that the NRA employs the use of fear tactics to raise funds, boost membership and intimidate politicians. The NRA is cited to base its philosophy on the provisions of the Second Amendment to the constitution of the U.S. In the amendment, the Supreme Court intimated that enactment of gun control legislation by the government would be in violation of the provisions of the Bill of Rights. The NRA, therefore, support their agenda by citing that possession of fire arms is for self-defense and is supported by the constitution («Inside the NRA — USA», 2016).

Why America has a strong gun culture

Gun culture in the United States is a term that is used to refer to the attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs that Americans have about firearms and their usage amongst civilians (Taylor, 2009). Gun ownership is a constitutional right in the U.S. as provided for in the Bill of Rights. Americans widely use firearms for self-defense, recreational uses such as target shooting, and for hunting (Bellesiles, 2000). Gun politics is an extremely sensitive issue that is polarized between two groups of almost equally influential individuals. On one hand, advocates of gun rights spend millions of dollars to further their agenda through campaigns and massive membership recruitment (Burbick, 2006). Supporters of stricter gun control, on the other hand, have given themselves to pointing out the adverse effects of gun ownership amongst civilians (Miller & Hemenway, 2008). By making reference to the numerous homicides and mass shootings perpetrated by civilian gun owners, they work tirelessly to appeal to Americans to support gun control legislation as a remedy for such vices (Squires, 2012).

The United States’ gun culture is unique in terms of permissive regulations, number of firearms owned by civilians, and high levels of gun violence. As earlier stated, gun ownership rights are entrenched within the constitution of the United States in the Bill of Rights (Squires, 2012). The Second Amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court in 2008, cemented on the right to own firearms by civilians. The existence of such permissive legislation makes gun culture in the United States very strong. Over the years, it has proved very difficult to enact legislation to control gun ownership especially because of the existence of extremely strong and influential lobby groups such as the NRA. Gun culture has been at the center of the political debate in the U.S. Advocates of gun control have undergone unprecedented suffering to the extent of some losing their political careers (Sugarmann, 1992).

The U.S. has the highest private gun ownership in the world. Statistical estimates in 2007 revealed an ownership of 88.8 guns per 100 Americans (Squires, 2012). The ownership has been on the increase. U.S. private gun ownership accounts for 42 percent of the world’s private gun ownership. Looking at the ownership relative to the fact that the U.S. population is 4.43 percent of the world’s population reveals a very strong gun culture (Miller & Hemenway, 2008). According to a general social survey, the guns are owned by a minority of the U.S. population (Graham, Shirm, Liggin, Aitken, & Dick, 2006). The implication of these statistics is that a large number of American adults own more than one gun. It means, therefore, that gun ownership in the U.S. goes beyond self-defense and recreational purposes to a hidden civilization push amongst American citizens. The civilizational attachment to gun culture in the U.S. makes it very strong (Miller & Hemenway, 2008).

The role and Impact of the Second Amendment and the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court interpretation of the Second Amendment on June 26, 2008 in District of Columbia v. Heller has had far-reaching implications on gun culture in the United States to date (Lund, 2009). The Second Amendment statement is not self-evident, and has therefore, given rise to much debate relative to Supreme Court Decisions. In the ruling, the Court interpreted the Second Amendment as to give individuals the right to own a firearm for conventionally lawful purposes such as self-defense and hunting (Fox & Fridel, 2016). The Court also ruled that the District of Columbia was in violation of the right mentioned above. The District of Columbia had a provision that banned handguns and another one that required lawful firearms in the home to be trigger-locked or disassembled (Lund, 2009).

Lobby groups such as the NRA have based their philosophy on the interpretation of the Second Amendment by the Supreme Court to advocate for gun ownership by civilians. The NRA, for example, emphasizes on the last 14 words of the 27-word amendment to back their argument (Fox & Fridel, 2016). The Supreme Court focuses on “well-regulated militia” and “security of a free State” in its ruling that the Second Amendment rights are a reserve for states and their militias and not private individuals (Lund, 2009). Such controversies sit at the center of gun culture in the U.S. and make it increasingly difficult to strike a balance. It is incumbent on the Supreme Court to provide guidance in the interpretation of the Second Amendment.

The power of the National Rifle Association

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is the most powerful lobby in the Washington. It mode of operation including how it maintains active members and how it recruits new ones has given it immense influence over legislators at the federal as well as the state level (Sugarmann, 1992). Unlike most corporate lobby groups, the NRA derives its power from its powerful activist base and massive membership, coupled with the millions of dollars it obtains from due and corporate sponsors, especially firearm manufacturers (Squires, 2012). Members of the NRA are gun owners who are also voters who are aggressively loyal to the organization, and who are fervently passionate about firearms. The NRA funds their gun clubs, coordinates their hunting trips, and trains their children how to shoot. In turn, industry supporter in conjunction with the members fund the NRA. They are always ready to mobilize in case they are called by the group. The NRA is simultaneously a campaign operation, a lobbying firm, an industry group, a popular social club, and a generous benefactor, making it very powerful (Melzer, 2012).

The NRA shapes the political landscape of the U.S. It rallies support for political aspirants who support its agenda and uses its influence to ensure that those opposed to its philosophy do not sail through. President Barrack Obama, for example, utilized the influence of the NRA to win in the 2012 elections. Debra Maggart, as intimated in the documentary discussed above, loses the 2012 primaries because of her refusal to back a legislation favoring the agenda of the NRA. The political influence, coupled with massive support and involvement of the media makes the group a juggernaut of influence in the U.S. (Fox & Fridel, 2016).

Relationship between mass shootings and deficiencies in Americas’ mental health system

For the past few decades, there has been a rise in the cases of mass shootings perpetrated by patients of mental illness in the United States. Mass shootings at a South Carolina church, at an Oregon community college, a Nebraska shopping mall, a Colorado cinema, and at Sandy Hook elementary school were perpetrated by individuals who had a mental illness history (Fox & Fridel, 2016). Such occurrences have elicited debate on the role of mental health system (Burbick, 2006).

In their research, Fox & Fridel (2016) point out that the mental health system focuses on the red-flags from mass killers only in the aftermath of the deadly shooting sprees. They, therefore, recommend proactive measures to combat such occurrences. The research further reveals that mentally disturbed individuals are more likely to carry out mass shootings than mentally stable individuals. The lack of actionable proactive intervention strategies by the mental health system was cited as the major drawback in preventing these heinous crimes. The findings of the research are in consistent with previous research (Altheide, 2009; Melzer, 2012; Squires, 2012; Fox & DeLateur, 2013).

The scale and impact of mass shootings on American political culture

Mass shootings have been and continue to be an issue of serious concern in the American political culture. After mass shootings there arises numerous groups of lobbyists advocating for gun control (Burbick, 2006). Likewise, supporters of gun ownership mount pressure on politicians to advocate for the possession of more guns by civilians for self-defense. Such debates have a big impact on the political culture of the United States (Lund, 2009). President Obama, for example, has been seen to become increasingly emotional and disgusted in his speeches after the numerous mass shootings that have occurred within his tenure (Hrebenar & Scott, 2015). He is especially frustrated about the unwillingness of the Congress to do anything to stop it. Members of the Congress have their hands tied because their involvement in enacting laws for gun control could mark the end of their political careers (Fox & Fridel, 2016).

In conclusion, the American gun culture is entrenched within the provisions of the constitution of the United States. The provisions of the Second Amendment as interpreted by the Supreme Court in 2008 have been the main foundation of the agenda of lobby groups such as the NRA. The NRA influences the political landscape of the U.S. due to its large membership and influence. In addition, deficiencies in the mental health system have been cited to be one of the major causes of mass shootings.


Altheide, D. L. (2009). The Columbine shootings and the discourse of fear. American Behavioral Scientist, 52(10), 1354–1370.

Bellesiles, M. A. (2000). Arming America: The origins of a national gun culture. Alfred A. Knopf New York.

Burbick, J. (2006). Gun show nation: Gun culture and American democracy. New Press.

Fox, J. A., & DeLateur, M. J. (2013). Mass shootings in America: moving beyond Newtown. Homicide Studies, 1088767913510297.

Fox, J. A., & Fridel, E. E. (2016). The tenuous connections involving mass shootings, mental illness, and gun laws. Violence and Gender, 3(1), 14–19.

Graham, J., Shirm, S., Liggin, R., Aitken, M. E., & Dick, R. (2006). Mass-casualty events at schools: a national preparedness survey. Pediatrics, 117(1), e8–e15.

Hrebenar, R. J., & Scott, R. K. (2015). Interest group politics in America. Routledge.

Inside the NRA — USA. (2016). YouTube. Retrieved 4 May 2016, from

Lund, N. (2009). The Second Amendment, Heller, and Originalist Jurisprudence.

Melzer, S. (2012). Gun Crusaders: The NRA’s Culture War. NYU Press.

Miller, M., & Hemenway, D. (2008). Guns and suicide in the United States. New England Journal of Medicine, 359(10), 989–991.

Squires, P. (2012). Gun Culture Or Gun Control?: Firearms and Violence: Safety and Society. Routledge.

Sugarmann, J. (1992). National Rifle Association: money, firepower & fear. National Press Books Washington, DC.

Taylor, J. D. (2009). American Gun Culture: Collectors, Shows, and the Story of the Gun. LFB Scholarly Pub.