The Land of Hope and Glory is, for all intents and purposes, a “gun-free” zone. Yes, British subjects can own a shotgun – provided they jump over more hurdles than a steeplechase horse and suffer through the bureaucratic equivalent of a proctological examination. And of course, the police have plenty of guns. But to say the British press is anti-gun is like saying Miley Cyrus doesn’t mind taking her clothes off for publicity (these days). The Guardian newspaper‘s article – Armed to the milk teeth: America’s gun-toting kids – proves the point. And how . . .
In May last year, a two-year-old girl was shot dead by her five-year-old brother with a small rifle made specifically for children. The accidental shooting happened in Cumberland County, Kentucky, when the boy was playing with a gun purchased from a company in Pennsylvania called Keystone Sporting Arms, which, in 2008, produced around 80,000 rifles for children. The guns, which sell under the model names Cricket and Chipmunk, were originally advertised on a “Kid’s Corner” on the company’s website (it has since been removed), which showed children firing them at rifle ranges and on hunting trips. The guns are produced in bright blue, pink and rainbow colours and marketed like toys, under the tag line “My First Rifle”.
Context much? Nope. Let me help.
For the year 2010, the Center for Disease Control pegged the number of “unintentional firearms deaths” for children ages 1 through 14 at 62 (out of a population of 57,283,060). Tragic, yes. But again, context. The same CDC reports that 3,107 children under the age of 15 die from accidental drowning each year.
Anyway, it’s not about numbers for the Guardian, who say nothing of the millions of children in America who own or shoot guns who manage to reach adulthood without shooting themselves or others. [Click here to view TTAG’s Facebook photo gallery of kids with guns.] It’s all about the anecdote. Or, if you prefer, a condescending “freak show.”
When the photographer An-Sofie Kesteleyn read about the story in De Volkskrant, the Dutch newspaper she works for, she began making plans for a trip to the American south. “I wanted to go and search for these families who bought guns as presents for their young children,” she says. “I began by visiting a rifle range in Ohio, where children are taught to shoot, then travelled down through Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas and Louisiana. What I found was that there are loads of children out there in America with their own guns, but not that many parents who are happy to have their kids’ portraits taken with those guns.”
Because they know how anti-gunners roll. Anyway, An-Sofie Kesteleyn “convinced” some [gullible] parents to let her do the Diane Arbus thing. And fulfilled the expectations of the parents who declined her kind offer to exploit their children for her brilliant career.
“I went to gun shops and shooting ranges just talking to people,” Kesteleyn explains. “What I came away with was the sense that there was a lot of fear and paranoia among the adults, and that fear was handed down to the children along with the guns. The children have childlike imaginations and the usual childhood fears – zombies, monsters and wild beasts. They are not born with these adult fears; they are infected with them.”
Infectious, but nice!
On her journey, Kesteleyn encountered “mostly ordinary families who loved their kids and trained them to use the guns safely and responsibly”. Nevertheless, she remained bemused and disturbed. “The adults talked about protection all the time. They believe that you have to have guns to protect yourself from the other bad people out there with guns who want to do you harm.”
As opposed to the bad people with cameras and newspapers who want to do you harm.