Last year, 64% of homicides in the USA were caused by guns, compared to 4.5% in the UK. It’s no wonder when travelling to the US, the topic of gun culture is something I’m keen to explore. Even as I’m writing this now, in the last 72 hours, there have been 6 deaths and 19 injuries caused by guns in the US. However, after speaking to four individuals, two in Illinois, two in Texas, I find the topic awkward and divisive to discuss.
“My gun is like my cell-phone, I don’t leave my home without it”, Katrina says whilst closing her garden door to keep her pitbulls outside. Katrina lives with her son and daughter in the suburbs of Dallas. Not too long ago, Texas became an open-carry state; meaning you can carry your firearm on your hip or strapped to your back for everyone to see. Forty-five of the US states now allow open-carry, leaving just five which have stricter laws.
The US seems to be fighting fire with fire when it comes to tackling gun crime. There was a spike in gun sales right after the Las Vegas massacre in October. Disturbingly, there was a sudden popular demand for the same rifle modification which the killer used, allowing people to fire hundreds of rounds per minute. There’s a desire to protect themselves whilst arming themselves, a paradox of sorts.
Richard, a truck driver from Dallas, sits in his living room which is littered with asthma inhalers. He lights up a cigarette, “The firearm stays in the house. I bought it for her”, he nods towards his wife in the kitchen. “I don’t need it, but if you come into my home and try to hurt her…I’m going to take care of my business”, he says before exhaling a cloud of smoke towards my face. His comment echoes Katrina’s primary reason for carrying a gun: defence. When you’re living in an armed nation, is it wise to be unarmed yourself?
The gun debate has a huge political impact too, with 74% of Americans saying the right to own a gun is “essential.” There are approximately 357 million firearms nationwide in the USA, which is staggering when you compare it to the country’s population of 317 million. It’s a sensitive issue for a politician to oppose in any way. The NRA, (National Rifle Association), handsomely sponsors any candidate who is pro-gun; they spent $21 million on Trump’s election campaign. An NRA official told Politico during the height of the 2016 presidential race that Hillary Clinton had to be “defeated at all costs.” Hilary had proposed to tighten the laws concerning the availability of firearms to the general public.
Cabrez lives on the outskirts of Chicago with his wife and two children. He walks down the stairs carrying a backpack. “These are my two Glocks”. He places them on the coffee table. It’s the first time any of the people I’ve met have allowed me to see their weapon. The usual response is, ‘I’d rather not’, or a straight, ‘no’. Cabrez demonstrates how to load and cock the gun. “I think it’s OK to own a gun. It’s not OK if you have any type of violent history.” Cabrez says he’s never had to use it, but he has had to intimidate people before. “The main problem is that any situation can get out of hand because people feel like they have some power or dominance. Sometimes people misuse their dominance and it’s scary.”
2017 was the year brands took a stance on political and social issues. One question is whether brands will address this elephant in the room? Three years ago, Chipotle, the fast-food restaurant, banned open-carry in their restaurants. It was after a couple posed for a picture inside with their AK-47s. The chain put out a statement saying the guns “caused many of our customers anxiety and discomfort.” A number of other establishments including Starbucks and Whataburger have also banned open-carry firearms on their premises.
Wholefoods took it a step further after a mob of mums campaigned to ban all open-carry and concealed weapons from within their stores, arguing that the sight of guns contradicted the brand’s message of a ‘healthy lifestyle’ and ‘smart family choices’. Interestingly, a poll in 2014 found that 55% of Americans prefer that shops and restaurants forbid guns.
At last year’s NFL, we saw brands voice their opinions about border control, immigration and human rights. These issues carry a similar political weight as gun violence, however, we’re yet to see a brand truly get behind or release an anti-gun campaign. At the moment, it’s just independent anti-gun organizations such as States United to Prevent Gun Violence speaking out. In 2015, the #ImUnloading campaign saw Snoop Dogg head up a group of public figures in the hope to persuade people to go to their financial advisor and demand there are no gun investments in their 401K retirement savings plan.
Cabrez puts his two glocks back in his bag. When asked what the future holds for guns in the US, he lets out a strange smile which gradually turns into a grimace. “We’ve become hypocrites on a lot of different things. We can change parts of the Constitution but we won’t change this.” The 2nd Amendment hasn’t been changed since 1791. Back then, there weren’t automatic rifles capable of the damage they do now. So what does it come down to? What separates this issue from something like same-sex marriage? “Money”, Cabrez says. “There’s too much money at stake”. If the government can’t grapple this bull, perhaps it’s time influential brands do; after all, we’ve seen the positive impact they can make.
Here’s a short film featuring interviews with the people mentioned above. Interviews conducted by Emily Gillingham and Tom Law.