What are you hoping to achieve with the book?
That it will initiate a discussion that we really haven’t had in America about how to confront this monstrous situation we’ve built for ourselves. I see it as a national project that I’m willing to go on the stump for and to be a missionary for, and I very much want to see what kind of effect it will have. Hopefully, it will be instructive for people outside the US too, because a vast number of my British and European friends are completely lost when it comes to trying to understand American gun violence. So I tried to explain the history behind it.
You show how America’s love affair with guns began far longer ago than I imagined…
It started right at the beginning. The first British settlers in North America were scared – they were really frightened to death. They were few and the Indigenous population were many. The fear of being massacred was immense. So they armed themselves and made sure they were the first to attack – and our attachment to guns began right there.
In the book you say the second amendment, framing the individual’s right to bear arms, was largely ignored until just a few decades ago, when it began to be seen as a fundamental text about what it means to be an American. Why did this happen?
Because of the 1960s – the assassinations and the chaos. People were frightened. And also because of the Black Panthers, who were obviously not white conservatives, but they were the group who originally set forth the argument that gun ownership is a right and that it’s for self-defence. It is hugely ironic: the Panthers were wiped out but their ideas stuck and were adopted by the white right wing. Now, for many, the second amendment has an almost religious component to it. The right to own a gun is seen as a kind of holy grail.