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A Smoking Gun: Gary Younge On Another Day in the Death of America

Posted on 9th July 2017 by Martha Greengrass

'The National Rifle Association calls itself the nation's oldest civil rights organisation. Their appeal goes beyond the weapon itself to the tested American tropes of rugged individualism, masculinity, small government and homestead.'

On a single night in America in 2013, 10 children and teenagers were killed by guns, seven of them were African-American, the youngest just 9 years old. In Another Day in the Death of America Gary Younge tells the stories of these 10 victims and their families, painting, through their stories, a picture of modern America in crisis. Here, exclusively for Waterstones, he discusses what America's relationship with gun ownership reveals about the fault lines of a divided nation.

Throughout the 12 years I was a correspondent in America, British people would ask the same thing every time there's a mass shooting: “Surely, this time, they'll do something about this?” And yet, after just a few months living there, it took no great insight to realise that no matter how large the body count, how harrowing the pictures, how tragic the circumnstances, that nothing would change.

This was not because Americans loved their guns and loathe gun control. The number of Americans owning guns is falling and most support further regulation. It was because the lobby that advocates for gun ownwership was well-funded – by the gun industry – and they had done an excellent job of mythologising gun-ownership as being a 'right' bequeathed to them by their revolutionary forbears, that could not be violated. The National Rifle Association – the principle gun lobbyist – calls itself the nation's oldest civil rights organisation. Their appeal goes beyond the weapon itself to the tested American tropes of rugged individualism, masculinity, small government and homestead. “If someone broke into your house, what would you do,” they ask. “Wait for the police to defend you? Wave a bat at them? Or would you defend your family?”

In a system where most of the congressional seats are gerrymandered they could threaten anyone who stepped out of line on the issue of gun control with deselection. It has long been easier for politicians just to fall in line.

Another Day in the Death of America does not deal with mass shootings. It is about the 10 kids who were shot dead on one random day – November 23rd 2013 - in the country. Nor is it a book about gun control. It's just a book made possible by the absence of gun control. These deaths, which disproportionately occur in low income black and latino neighbourhoods, don't provoke much news interest, even though it's how most kids are shot. Time and again journalists would intimate that the death of children in such areas was not really news because it happened to regularly. One of the most painful discoveries when writing the book was that black parents had all factored I the possibility that their child might be shot. “I didn't think it would be him,” said the mother of one 16-year-old boy was shot dead in Dallas. “I thought it would be his brother.”

Given the current political climate it is unlikely that this situation will improve any time soon. After Sandy Hook – when 20 small children and seven adults, including the shooter, were shot dead in a primary school in Connecticut – Obama pushed for gun control but could not get even the most tepid legislation through Congress. Since this was the first time for a long time that anyone had raised the issue at that level, we should be more surprised that he tried than that he failed. He reintroduced gun control to the political conversation. It is unlikely that Trump's election will steer that conversation in a constructive direction.

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Saturday, 23rd November 2013. It was just another day in America. And as befits an unremarkable day, ten children and teens were killed by gunfire. Through ten moving chapters - one for each child - Younge explores the way these children lived and lost their short lives. What emerges is a searing portrait of childhood and youth in contemporary America.
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Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge is out now in paperback (Guardian Faber, £8.99)

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