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Trigger-happy nation: Guns deeply embedded in US culture

America Letter: Republicans increasingly clinging to the right to own weapons

Lunchtime earlier this week in a small restaurant in a town in rural Arizona.

Displayed prominently is a photo of a belt-fed heavy machine gun on what appears to be a sofa.

Above it is written: “Eat chicken, shoot guns.”

Essentially it is an advertisement for a promotion under which customers buying a particular chicken meal could avail of a free magazine of bullets at a nearby shooting range.

It summed up the easy relationship that exists in many parts of the US between ordinary people and guns.

In Ireland guns are primarily for the Army or the Garda or for farmers who may own a shotgun.

However, guns are not part of everyday life in the way they are in many parts of the US.

On the 80-mile drive from San Antonio to Uvalde in Texas, the scene of the horrendous school shooting this week in which 21 people were killed, there are billboards in some places advertising guns and ammunition.

Americans constitutionally can possess weapons and an increasingly conservative judiciary seems set to uphold that right.

The supreme court, which now has a decisive conservative majority, is set to rule on a challenge to a New York law on who may obtain a licence to carry a concealed firearm. This decision could have implications for gun legislation in other states.

It is estimated that there are about 80 million gun owners in the US.

In some parts learning how to shoot as a youngster is as normal as learning to drive.

In some states young people have to be 21 to buy a beer in a bar, but they can legally purchase an assault rifle at 18 years old.

For many Americans owning a gun is a fundamental freedom, just like free speech, and any restrictions are viewed as an infringement by the government on this right.

Many see that in a country awash with arms, owning a gun is the best way to protect themselves and their property from any attack.

As the politics of the Republican Party moves further towards the right, it is increasingly embracing gun-ownership rights.

The New York Times reported this week that as the midterm elections in November approach, more than 100 television advertisements promoting Republican candidates have used guns as talking points or visual motifs.

Late last year Republican congressman Thomas Massie from Kentucky caused controversy when, shortly after a school shooting in Michigan, he posted online what was in effect a Christmas card of himself and his adult family with each holding a rifle or submachine gun.

Not to be outdone, within days another Republican politician, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, shared a picture of her family, including young children, carrying weapons.

In an election advertisement in advance of the election in Alabama this year, the governor, Kay Ivey, is seen taking from her handbag lipstick, an iPhone and a pistol.

The Republican message seems to be that although gun violence and mass shootings are tragedies, the fundamental rights of the law-abiding majority should not be infringed by any measure to limit their ability to own and bear weapons.

Republicans – including the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, this week – blame mental illness for the rise in gun attacks.

US president Joe Biden says he supports gun ownership. However, he questions the need for ordinary people to own what he described as weapons designed for the battlefield.

He has asked on several occasions why someone hunting would require an assault rifle, questioning whether a deer would be wearing Kevlar body armour.

Democrats are also increasingly dismissive of the “mental illness solely to blame” contention.

Democratic senator Chris Murphy, in whose state the largest mass school shooting was carried out at Sandy Hook a decade ago, was blunt in his reply: “Spare me the bulls**t about mental illness. We don’t have any more mental illness than any other country in the world. You cannot explain this through a prism of mental illness because we’re not an outlier on mental illness… We’re an outlier when it comes to access to firearms and the ability of criminals and very sick people to get their arms on firearms. That’s what makes United States different.”