America’s Gun Culture and Its Historic Origins

Handgun lying over a copy of the U.S. Constitution.
Four men dressed and equipped like soldiers in the Continental Army (the rebel army) during a re-enactment of an episode of the Revolutionary War against Britain.
A gavel and the Second Amendment.
Men shooting various types of firearms at a shooting range.
Woman taking out a handgun from her purse.

The United States’ founding fathers codified the right to keep and bear arms into law by enacting the Second Amendment in 1791, just as the country was founded. By doing so, they formally gave people a right which, in practice, people already took for granted, since a great many Americans already owned firearms and regularly used them for hunting and self-defense. Even so, making gun ownership a constitutional right was important to the founding fathers, since their aim was to keep the citizenry perpetually armed and thereby, in their belief, make the United States safe for the future.

A bulwark against tyranny

The founding fathers linking an armed citizenry with national safety harkened back to the Revolutionary War against Britain of the 1770s and 80s, which was still fresh in the mind when the Constitution was created. During this war, privately-owned guns had been used to overthrow colonial rule, and Americans generally reasoned that without citizens having been armed, the United States would not have been able to free itself from the British yoke. Codifying the right to keep and bear arms into law, therefore, was seen as a way to create a bulwark against any future tyrannical government, since Americans owning guns would always have the capacity to revolt if a government became too abusive.

Many gun owners

Still today, more than two hundred years after the Second Amendment was passed, basic gun laws in the United States remain the same as they were two centuries ago, and the American gun culture continues to thrive. In almost half of all American households, some estimates hold, there is at least one person owning a firearm, and the United States, by a broad margin, is the country with the most civilian-owned guns per capita in the world.

A significant portion of all civilian-owned guns in America, admittedly, is owned by dedicated gun collectors and therefore mostly lying idle. However, many gun owners also regularly employ their firearms, for example at shooting ranges and for hunting. Moreover, as some people go about their daily lives, they passively carry handguns with them, openly or concealed, in the many states where this is permitted. This habit of bringing your gun with you — if we exclude the habit of packing heat in crime-ridden inner cities — is usually a sign that one is mindful of the constitutional amendments and values the ideals set forth by the founding fathers. Nevertheless, gun owners who regularly have their weapons on their bodies is a relatively small group. Instead, the common thing to do is to store your firearm near the bed or at other strategically located places in the home, as a last line of defense against home invaders and other ill-willed people.