Open Fire: Understanding Global Gun Cultures

Open Fire: Understanding Global Gun Cultures

Open Fire: Understanding Global Gun Cultures

Open Fire: Understanding Global Gun Cultures


Guns are everywhere: three quarters of a billion guns - from pistols to machine guns - exist in the world today. And guns are everything: a hard-won symbol of individual freedom, an index of crime and disorder, a whole industry legitimately contributing to an economy, a popular piece of sports equipment, and an object of desire, endlessly duplicated by toys, video games and films. Open Fire presents a broad analysis of the social, cultural and political significance of firearms and the worlds they create. Illustrated with a wide range of case material - from North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa - Open Fire explores and questions this global icon of our times. Why do guns proliferate? What does it mean to shoot or to be shot? Who owns guns and who does not? How is a firearm, a manufactured thing, very different from any other object? Is there such a thing as a "gun psychology"? How are firearms regarded in places where they are largely non-existent? Is a gun a different thing when held by a white man?


Charles Fruehling Springwood

On December 13, 2003, US forces finally captured Saddam Hussein near his hometown of Tikrit, in Iraq. Many still recall the television images of a disheveled Hussein being pulled out of an obscure underground bunker. He was alone when he was found, and he was clutching a pistol, which he never attempted to fire. In addition, the bunker contained two AK-47 assault rifles and some US$700,000, in cash. Hussein's handgun, in 2006, is in the possession of George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States, and it is kept in a small study adjoining the Oval Office at the White House. A small group of Army Rangers brought it all the way from Iraq in order to give it to their Commander-in-Chief. Reportedly, the President takes special pride in showing the gun to select visitors, and he clarifies that, contrary to certain media reports, the weapon contained no bullets when it was taken from Hussein (Gibbs 2003).

The mise en scène of George W. Bush brandishing the pistol of his captured arch-nemesis while strutting through musings of a war he authorized seems to demand some sort of analysis, almost surely of a psychoanalytic sort (see “Bush's Possession …” 2004). Of course, the firearm has so frequently surfaced as a phallic metaphor, and the battlefield practice of annexing the weapon of one's vanquished foe as a symbolic castration souvenir started long before Bush amused himself with the deposed Iraqi leader's gun.

In this instance, the social and symbolic significance of the gun is primary. Guns matter, and although Hussein failed to utilize his firearm to wound, if not kill one or two of the many soldiers who converged on him, merely grasping it perhaps offered him some kind of comfort. And, in the hands of the President of the United States, it clearly means many other things. In fact, guns are frequently at the center of ostentatious stagings of political power and celebration. Hussein, indeed, made use of such symbolism himself, as he was frequently seen brandishing a rifle during public appearances. When George Bush Senior lost his reelection bid in 1991, Hussein reportedly shot his rifle into the air to celebrate. And within militant Islam the assault rifle is a requisite feature of video transmissions, and Osama Bin Laden is seldom pictured without a gun leaning against the wall behind him. In another instance, the firearm has been literally . . .

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