America’s baffling but lethal love affair with guns goes from strength to strength. New figures show 2020 was the deadliest gun violence year in decades.
At the same time, Americans are buying guns in record numbers, while Texas lawmakers this week became the latest to vote to allow people to carry handguns without either a licence, background check or any training.
The British response is traditionally to sigh in weary bewilderment and just be glad that such a terrifying arms race doesn’t exist in the UK. And yet there’s reason to be alarmed.
British police report that a growing number of firearms bought legally in U.S. gun shops are finding their way illegally to the UK, where they are being used by criminals who remove their serial numbers to make tracing them far harder.
Between 2017 and 2020 nearly 900 illegal weapons seized in Britain originated in the U.S., and officials fear that gangs can increasingly turn from knives to guns.
Last weekend, Black Lives Matter activist Sasha Johnson was shot in the head at a London party. She was treated for her critical injuries in hospital.
Back in the U.S., the most often quoted firearms fact is that it’s the only country in the world with more guns than people — around 12 guns to every ten people, or 390 million in a population of about 331 million (although if unregistered guns are also included, it’s estimated the total could be almost double that).
However, those astonishing figures are deceptive — more than three-quarters of adult Americans say they don’t own a gun, while a few people drastically drive up the total by owning vast arsenals, as they are legally entitled to do.
Fifty of those one-man, or frequently one-woman, armies are profiled in a shocking new book, The Ameriguns, in which photographer Gabriele Galimberti asked members of Facebook gun enthusiast groups to pose with their weaponry.
They include clergymen and jewellery makers, as well as more predictable gun enthusiasts such as ex-servicemen and police.
The photographer found a family in Texas that owns more than 200 firearms.
Former FedEx delivery driver Stephen Wagner, 66, from Pennsylvania, has 70, and still fondly remembers the moment when he was eight and his grandfather put a revolver in his hand, explaining how it worked.
‘We Americans are very lucky,’ he told Galimberti. ‘It’s wonderful to have a bond of this sort with our country.’
‘A Good Patriot’
Katie, 41, displays her firearm collection after moving to Texas because of crackdowns on gun ownership in her native state of California
Originally from California, Katie moved to Texas because of crackdowns on gun ownership in her native state.
The 41-year-old says: ‘Me and my husband decided to move here mainly because the government of California was becoming a bit oppressive.’
Katie runs a business called The Good Patriot, producing home decor items focused on freedom, the U.S. constitution and the Second Amendment, which enshrines in law the right of Americans to bear arms.
‘I can be any man’s equal’
Instagram influencer Brickell Clark, 36, poses on a yacht with her gun collection
Instagram influencer Brickell Clark has nearly 20,000 followers at @ americangunchic and likes guns for two reasons: they’re chic and great levellers.
The 26-year-old from Key West, Florida, says: ‘While everyone has a right to own guns, for a woman it’s also a way to be any man’s equal.’
The mum with 170 firearms
Parents Joel and Lynne, from Austin, Texas, proudly display their immense firearm collection
Joel and Lynne live with their children Paige and Joshua in Austin, Texas.
Lynne is the gun fan, owning around 170. Aged just 11, Joshua walks around the house with a handgun he built himself from a catalogue.
‘They let us defend our family’
Gun shop owners Floyd and Lesia McMillin, both 49, keep some firearms loaded and ready to fire at home
Floyd and Lesia McMillin’s home is a showcase of hunting trophies, featuring stuffed deer, squirrels , ducks and geese.
In the bedroom are the guns — only one or two ready to be fired at a moment’s notice ‘in the defence of the family’.
The collection of the couple, both 49, who own a gun shop in Topeka, Kansas, consists of 65 pieces.
‘Dad gave me a pistol aged 10’
Robert Nordyke, 43, from Topeka, Kansas, got his first gun at just 10 years old and his collection has since grown to around 50 firearms
Robert Nordyke’s dreams came true when he opened a gun shop and shooting range in 2015. The 43-year-old, from Topeka, Kansas, has about 50 guns. He got his first pistol aged ten from his father.
‘I can recall those days we spent in the fields trying to hit tin cans. They were so much fun.’
Now, his range houses a ‘simulation room’, where, thanks to virtual reality, players face extreme situations using real or fake firearms. He teaches customers how to shoot and rules about how to be safe.
‘I collect military weapons’
David Kikukawa, 25, from Hawaii, said that he collects guns to protect himself
From the age of eight, David Kikukawa nursed a desire to own firearms. He bought his first revolver just after finishing high school, not long before enlisting in the army for four years.
Since returning to civilian life, the 25-year-old from Hawaii collects guns to protect himself.
‘I have military-type guns. In the beginning I liked having them for practice, but today I think they’re excellent for self-defence.’
‘I’ll never tire of new guns’
Kitija Shiroma, 29 has the biggest shooting range in Hawaii as well as She one of the largest collection of firearms on the island
Kitija Shiroma, 29 — Mae to her friends — has the biggest shooting range in Hawaii. She owns it with her stepfather, a former military man.
It was he who instilled her passion for firearms. She says: ‘I used to watch Hollywood movies and my father would take me hunting up in the mountains.’
She has one of the largest collection of firearms on the island, consisting largely of antiques. ‘I could never get tired of having new guns,’ adds Kitija, from Honolulu.
‘Shooting feels so powerful’
Tuck driver Collin Singletom and factory worker James Prince who met at a shooting range in Atlanta, Georgia
Five years ago, truck driver Collin Singletom and factory worker James Prince met at a shooting range in Atlanta, Georgia.
‘I started liking guns when I was really young. The first time I shot a gun, I was 16 years old. I remember feeling so powerful. It was a great feeling,’ says Collin, 45.
Forty-one-year-old James’s father put a revolver into his son’s hand at the age of six and taught him how to use it. He now has 18 firearms in his collection, but is outgunned by Collin with 43.
‘There are no weapons I would ban ordinary citizens from owning’
Every day, nearly 900,000 people wait for Torrell Jasper to make his appearance on Instagram and show off one of his guns
Every day, nearly nine hundred thousand people wait for Torrell Jasper to make his appearance on Instagram and show off one of his guns.
To find him, just type in ‘Black Rambo’, a nickname he’s extremely proud of, and make sure you don’t end up on his son’s account by mistake (at 13, he’s already trying to make a name for himself on social media). Torrell, now 35, learned to shoot from his father as a child. A former Marine, he spent a few years in war zones, ‘where pulling the trigger and hitting the target was a question of life or death.’
Now, back in civilian life and working as an A/C systems installer, Torrell, a.k.a. Black Rambo, mostly just has fun with his guns. People have fun watching him, too. ‘There are no weapons I would ban ordinary citizens from owning, but if I had to name one, well, a bazooka isn’t really something you need,’ he admits.
‘My collection? It’s big. Really, really big’
Every two weeks, Will Renke buys a new firearm. How long he’s been doing this and how many guns he has, he prefers not to say
Every two weeks, Will Renke buys a new firearm.
How long he’s been doing this and how many guns he has, he prefers not to say. ‘My collection? It’s big. Really, really big.’ Underneath the solid image of a bright young entrepreneur, it’s clear that he’s moved when he thinks back on the time he first fired a gun, at the age of 10, and on the shotgun itself, a Fox Savage .410 that he keeps carefully preserved.
‘Nothing is more important, because I don’t think of it simply as a gun. It’s a piece of history, something that was given to me by my grandfather and that I will want to give to my children.’
His grandfather imparted another lesson, as well, about ‘the importance of safety and the knowledge that you never pull the trigger unless you know exactly what’s in front of you’.
He is firmly convinced that violence is intrinsically linked to human nature and to a decline in values, both family and otherwise. ‘People only care about their own interests, so, if hurting someone is in that interest, they won’t hesitate. The next generations will have a chance to improve things if they learn responsibility, if they know how to communicate with others, if they respect their families, their schools, and the President, too, even when they don’t like him.’
‘If I’m wearing pants, it means that my handgun’s there somewhere’
In a dream mansion just outside Las Vegas, in a room that’s more of a museum, is where Robert Baldwin Jr keeps his guns, behind a bulletproof showcase window so like a mirror that, unless you turn on the lights inside, you can’t see the collection at all
In a dream mansion just outside Las Vegas, in a room that’s more of a museum, is where Robert Baldwin Jr. keeps his guns, behind a bulletproof showcase window so like a mirror that, unless you turn on the lights inside, you can’t see the collection at all. It comprises hundreds of pieces.
None of them have historical significance, but Robert is nonetheless quite attached to them. ‘I like to give myself a gun as a gift to mark important moments, like Christmas or my birthday.’
It’s a family tradition. When he turned 6, his father gave him his first .22-caliber rifle and taught him how to use it. ‘He used to shoot for fun. He was a hunter, and he wanted to bring me along, to forge a special bond. He succeeded.’
Today, Robert is a well-known rally driver. He’s competed three times in the Dakar rally-raid and has twice won the Baja 1000, one of the most famous such races. He never goes out unarmed. ‘If I’m wearing pants, it means that my handgun’s there somewhere.’ He is against any restrictions on owning weapons, although he does concede that ‘no private citizen should be able to have a nuclear warhead.’
‘An anomaly, in this ultra-liberal area’
When Bree Michael Warner decided to leave Manhattan and the city for somewhere less fastpaced, she put a lot of thought into what county would be best. In some, guns are strongly frowned upon, in others, they are better tolerated
When Bree Michael Warner decided to leave Manhattan and the city for somewhere less fastpaced, she put a lot of thought into what county would be best.
In some, guns are strongly frowned upon, in others, they are better tolerated. She owns 18 and is ‘an anomaly, in this ultra-liberal area.’ Most importantly, she has turned that fact into a cornerstone of her life. For 15 years she worked as an actress and TV-show host in California.
It was there that she really got to know guns and to love them so much, in fact, that she became an NRA member and a firearms instructor. Now she teaches women how to shoot, not only for self-defence, but also just for fun. Her first piece of advice to her students is, ‘It’s much easier to use a long gun than a handgun. They’re more accurate and it’s easier to hit the target.’
She still takes acting jobs sometimes, in TV and film, but she and her tips about guns have become a point of reference for a large social media following. ‘I always try to be genuine. I never talk about a gun if I don’t really like it. I don’t take instructions from companies, even if I do have longstanding relationships with a few different ones.’ What qualities does a gun need to have for her to like it? ‘I don’t look only at aesthetic qualities, although, as a woman, I do like pretty guns. What I want is for them to be practical, both for teaching others and for self-defense.’
The Ameriguns by Gabriele Galimberti, published by Dewi Lewis and Skinnerboox at £35.