The Social Life of Guns: An Introduction
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