By Will Worley
On Wednesday 22 April 2015, the Frontline Club welcomed investigative journalist and director of policy and investigations at UK charity Action on Armed Violence, Iain Overton for a discussion on his latest book, Gun Baby Gun: A Bloody Journey into the World of the Gun. The event was chaired by ANC former politician and author Andrew Feinstein, who has written extensively on the global arms trade.
Overton began by reading an extract from Gun Baby Gun, describing the aftermath of a brutal shooting in Brazil. Soon after witnessing this event, he visited a basement gun repository in Sao Paulo, where he found “thousands and thousands of guns across the walls, a bit like a horrific library, where every sort of gun seemed to have a background story.”
This “basement of horrors” led Overton to realise that every single gun present “told this story of disconnected realities.”
The ignorance of arms manufacturers and dealers as to the eventual fate of their guns “made me think how the gun is separated in all of its different segments.”
Overton elaborated on the many aspects of the gun covered by his book: “its dead, its wounded, the suicidal, the killers, the criminals, the police, the military, civilians, hunters, traders, smugglers, lobbyists, manufacturers.” The relationship between gender and the cult of the gun is even explored in a chapter aptly titled ‘Sex Pistols.’
“Every single isolated group around the gun is seen through my eyes as part of a whole.”
Guns are the biggest killer in war – 90% of deaths during conflict are a result of guns. They are also the biggest killer in armed violence – 60% of all violent deaths are by the gun. In the USA, 20,000 people commit suicide every year with a gun. Although the National Rifle Association (NRA) claims that gun deaths in the US have fallen significantly, this is down to significant advancements in trauma care, largely developed as a result of the experiences of the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. What is not often taken into account is the colossal rise in the numbers of those wounded by guns annually.
The ubiquity of guns in some parts of the world and the resulting violence go largely unreported internationally, despite huge numbers of casualties. Central America is a particular case in point, as El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico witness huge levels of violence as a result of the ongoing US-led ‘war on drugs’.
Overton also pointed out that many Central American cartel members have their guns made to order north of the border in the United States.
— Jenny Marc (@JennyLMarc) April 22, 2015
In many instances of violence globally, the presence of a gun has become an assumption, rather than a newsworthy element of the story. “The gun has just become a background noise in violence.”
Overton went on to highlight the transformative power of the gun. There is a “very physical transformation that occurs in a man when he picks up a gun.” Being in possession of a gun emboldens people to the point of recklessness, he added.
“It transforms power, it transforms situations. And for the people who are in the midst of despair, it doesn’t take a lot to pick up a gun and end your life.”
“I don’t think the book is anti-gun,” concluded Overton, as the discussion drew to a close. “If someone has their life dictated by going out hunting at the weekend, they see the gun as purely a tool to take down a deer.”