The House Gun: A Social Commentary on American and South African Gun Violence

 

“A house gun. If it hadn’t been there how could you defend yourself, in this city, against losing your hi-fi equipment, your television set and computer, your watch, and rings, against being gagged, raped, knifed? If it hadn’t been there the man on the sofa would not be under the ground of the city” (Gordimer 155). Recently in the United States, there has been a massive debate on whether guns should be more strictly controlled. Similarly, this debate also extends to South Africa, the setting of Nadine Gordimer’s The House Gun. In the above quotation, Gordimer expresses the dilemma that plagues most Americans and South Africans today: guns are a problem because they regularly cause unnecessary loss of life, but how else will citizens protect themselves if weapons of this nature are not readily available?

The House Gun tells the story of Duncan Lingard, who, after finding his girlfriend with another man, shoots the latter in cold blood. The story follows Lingard and his parents as they navigate through the legal system, ultimately ending with Lingard sentenced to seven years in jail. To many readers, this may seem like an insignificant amount of time to serve for taking someone’s life. However, when the reader understands how common this type of violence is in this setting, they have to realize that if everyone was put away for life for killing a man, the prisons would not be capable of holding all the criminals. Gordimer notes,

[Cases of violence] were so many; in a region of the country where the political ambition of a leader had led to killings that had become vendettas, fomented by him, a daily tally of deaths was routine as a weather report; elsewhere, taxi drivers shot one another in rivalry over who would choose to ride with them, quarrels in discotheques were settled by the final curse word of guns. State violence under the old, past regime had habituated its victims to it. People had forgotten there was any other way (Gordimer 48-49).

Gordimer uses a strong metaphor here, comparing the violence to a weather report, to accurately depict the ridiculous way people think of gun violence. Gordimer says in the above quote that, “…a daily tally of deaths was routine as a weather report…” which should sound ludicrous to the reader, but it’s absolutely true. Events like this happen every day in South Africa, which is what Gordimer wants the reader to understand. From April 2016 to March 2017, according to TimesLive, “between 18 and 21 of the 52 South Africans murdered per day are killed with guns” (Gous). Similarly, in the United States as of May 2018, the total number of gun-related incidents this year was 20,350 according to the Gun Violence Archive. Of those incidents, there have been 5,055 deaths and 9,096 people have been injured. However, these incidents are not given the attention they deserve. Most of these incidents will be ignored by the media, labeled as everyday occurrences. According to an article in the New York Times, shootings are even ignored by the police. 

When someone dies in a car crash, the local police fill out a detailed form that is shared with the federal government. Researchers have mined that data to see how policies…can reduce the death toll from driving. When someone is killed in a shooting, the data collected is skimpier, more haphazard and not reported to the federal government from every state… it limit[s] the ability of policymakers to fully understand what laws could make a difference (Bui &Sanger-Katz). 

 When police don’t fully cover shootings, it makes finding a solution to gun violence even harder. Even when shootings are covered, like the Parkland High School shooting on February 14th, 2018, attention is diverted within a few weeks, and the majority of the population forgets it ever happened, except for the victims. Those who had to live through the shooting will carry that trauma for the rest of their lives. Not long after that event is forgotten, another one occurs. On May 19th, a student fatally shot ten people and wounded ten others. According to CNN, “the alleged shooter used a shotgun and a .38 revolver that were legally owned by his father” (Hanna, Andone, Allen & Almasy). That is exactly why gun laws should be stricter, especially in the United States. There has to be a way to prevent this kind of tragedy. However, Gordimer does note in her novel that there is a dilemma associated with stricter gun laws. How will citizens protect themselves against others without easily accessible guns?

“It was the gun kept in the house so that if someone was attacked, intruders broke in, whoever it was could defend himself. Everyone” (Gordimer 214). It is noted here in the novel that the gun Lingard used to kill his friend was never intentioned to be used in this manner. It was simply for self defense. Though harm was not the intention, because the gun was available, a needless death occurred. This poses the question, how can someone have a gun in their home for protection while minimizing the risk of unnecessary harm? One answer to this dilemma would be  stricter regulations on background checks for people that want to own guns. According to an article published on National Public Radio, 

Two recent studies provide evidence that background checks can significantly curb gun violence. In one, researchers found that a 1995 Connecticut law requiring gun buyers to get permits (which themselves required background checks) was associated with a 40 percent decline in gun homicides…Similarly, when researchers studied Missouri’s 2007 repeal of its permit-to-purchase law, they found an associated increase in gun homicides by 23 percent…(Kurtzleben).

This proves that background checks matter in the fight against gun violence. However, these background checks are not one-hundred percent accurate in deterring criminals from accessing guns. The same article in the New York Times says, “As the New York Times found in a December investigation, the guns used in many recent high-profile shootings were purchased legally by people who passed background checks” (Kurtzleben).  Referring back to Duncan Lingard from The House Gun, he would have definitely passed a background check, therefore allowing him access to a gun and to commit the same crime. In the novel, a few psychiatrists are brought in during the trial seen in which they note Lingard had a sound mental state. Also, according to Giffords Law Center, a background check, “contains information about individuals’ criminal and mental health histories and any civil orders entered against them that might affect their eligibility to purchase or possess a gun, such as domestic violence restraining orders” (Locher). Duncan was a man of sound mental state, had no prior run-ins with the law, and even went to military school. Obviously, he would have passed this background check and had the opportunity to kill his girlfriend’s lover. So what can be done? Is there a way to almost completely eradicate gun violence among citizens in the United States? Though there is hope, the answer is probably no.

 

Looking at Australia’s gun policies might be the answer the United States needs to eradicate gun violence, at least mass gun violence like the Parkland shooting. According to the New York Times, “Australia introduced a comprehensive gun control regime after a massacre in Tasmania 22 years ago, and mass shootings [t]here dropped to zero. Some experts regard it as the most effective gun control system in the world” (Patrick). 22 years seems like a lifetime ago. According to Time Magazine, 74 mass shootings have happened in the U.S. since the Australian law was passed (Wilson). Why hasn’t gun control been revised in the U.S. if it was so successful in Australia? The above article in the New York Times also notes, 

…the Australian model won’t work in the United States. Here’s why: We Australians have a profoundly different relationship with weapons. Americans love guns. We’re scared of them. This difference explains why a conservative prime minister was able to confiscate some 650,000 privately owned firearms and ban semiautomatic weapons without a single reported act of violence (Patrick).

Gun control in America will most likely never be successful. All it took for Australia to pass this strict gun control policy was one mass shooting, the Port Arthur Massacre, in which 35 people were shot and killed in Tasmania. The fact that there have been 74 mass shootings in the United States since Australia’s legislation was passed makes it doubtful that there will ever be change.

Hasn’t there been legislation passed that has changed gun laws in the U.S.? The answer is yes, but this legislation has actually made it easier for people to obtain guns. President Trump actually made it easier for “fugitives” to buy guns. According to New York Magazine, 

The 1993 Brady Act, which mandated federal background checks on gun purchases, says that gun dealers can’t complete the sale if the prospective buyer is a “fugitive from justice.” Since 1998, the background-check system issued 180,000 denials for that reason…In February 2017, Trump’s Justice Department sided with the ATF and purged about 500,000 people previously labeled “fugitives” from the system (Hartmann).

Who knows how much gun violence has transpired since these potentially dangerous people have been taken off the list? There is also another, more ironic example of Republicans making gun control more lenient. The article aforementioned also states,

A bill that would loosen restrictions on buying gun silencers, known as the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, was originally set to get a hearing in June 14, 2017, but it had to be delayed when a gunman opened fire that morning on members of Congress practicing for a charity baseball game…It was marked up by a House committee in late September, but the vote was delayed again after 59 people were fatally shot during a concert in Las Vegas on October 1. A day later, Politico reported that the vote wasn’t anticipated “anytime soon”— but it’s expected to pass eventually. The bill would also make it more difficult for the ATF to classify ammunition as “armor piercing,” and ease restrictions on the interstate transportation of weapons (Hartmann).

It is surprising that, even after a gunman opened fired on members of Congress, the bill is still expected to pass. Or is it? Survivors of the Parkland shooting have been calling out in desperation for reform on gun laws because they are frightened that events like that shooting might happen again. However, they haven’t been heard. The students seen advocating for their own safety are often mocked on social media, and even now their voices are being swept away by time. The only hope for gun reform is if the young adults directly impacted by the shooting get involved in politics themselves and start the reform laws over from scratch. Starting over is what worked for Duncan Lingard’s parents in The House Gun, after all. They are able to accept what happened to Duncan, and even gain a small child out of it. Even though they went through terrible grief during Duncan’s trial, they are able to come back from it and live their lives happily. Duncan as well, after serving his seven-year in prison, will be able to come back to society and live his life as well. Maybe that’s the hope Gordimer is trying to convey. Even though guns can have terrible effects on the world, starting over can hold great opportunities. The young adults of the Parkland shooting will be the ones to make American gun laws “start over.” They will change them, make them more progressive, and hopefully children don’t have to be afraid to go to school anymore.

Nadine Gordimer’s The House Gun tells a compelling story about Duncan Lingard’s murder trial, but it’s more than just a detective novel. Gordimer uses it as a social commentary on gun violence, not only in her home country but throughout the world, hoping to make the point that guns are weapons of destruction and should be regulated heavily because of it. In this way, she allows readers to have a necessary discussion about the dangers of guns and invites them to look for examples of this destruction in their own lives so that they may do something about it.

Works Cited

Andone, Dakin, and Keith Allen. “Alleged Shooter at Texas High School Spared People He Liked, Court Document Says.” CNN, Cable News Network, 19 May 2018, www.cnn.com/2018/05/18/us/texas-school-shooting/index.html.

Bui, Quoctrung, and Margot Sanger-katz. “There’s an Awful Lot We Still Don’t Know About Guns.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Mar. 2018, www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/03/02/upshot/what-should-government-study-gun-research-funding.html.

Gous, Nico. Between 18 and 21 South Africans per Day Killed by Guns. www.timeslive.co.za/news/south-africa/2017-10-24-between-18-and-21-south-africans-per-day-killed-by-guns/

“Gun Violence Archive.” Gun Violence Archive, www.gunviolencearchive.org/.

Hartmann@MargHartmann, Margaret. “Every Attempt to Change Gun Laws Under Trump.” Gloria Steinem on the Relationship Between the Black Power and Women’s Liberation Movements — New York Magazine, 15 Feb. 2018, nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2018/02/every-attempt-to-change-gun-laws-under-trump.html.

Kurtzleben, Danielle. “Research Suggests Gun Background Checks Work, But They’re Not Everything.” NPR, NPR, 9 Jan. 2016, www.npr.org/2016/01/09/462252799/research-suggests-gun-background-checks-work-but-theyre-not-everything.

Locher, John. “Mass. Slow to Send Records to Federal Gun Background Check Database, Prompting Concerns – The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com, The Boston Globe, 22 Feb. 2018, www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2018/02/22/mass-slow-send-records-federal-gun-background-check-database-prompting-concerns/OtkIbsKOPT8sk1E9SpDVkK/story.html.

Patrick, A. Odysseus. “Australia’s Gun Laws Are Not a Model for America.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 24 Feb. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/02/23/opinion/australias-gun-laws-america.html.

 

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