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“This violence is born of a human shipwreck”

To continue to consider the second amendment of the Constitution untouchable after the Uvalde massacre as the Republicans do is irresponsible and murderous, judges the anthropologist Patrick Declerck, a great connoisseur of the United States and guns.

Patrick Declerk © belga image

“There were guns in my house, because my father liked to shoot a rifle. He gave me my first pellet gun when I was 6 years old. And my uncle was a Katangese mercenary. In the United States, I had a 22 Long Rifle and I belonged to a shooting club. Born in Brussels into a Belgian-French-English family, Patrick Declerck emigrated to New York at the age of 11 and lived for about twenty years in North America.

Having been immersed in an environment open to the handling of weapons – “an activity of precision and control of breathing and gesture”, according to him – does not prevent Patrick Declerck, who became a psychoanalyst and anthropologist after settling in France, from posing a a critical look at weapons and their exacerbated use in the United States. “I hate hunting, hunters and all sadism,” he says. Weapons are inherently extremely dangerous. When I consulted at Nanterre hospital, I met two men who had been shot and left with terrible wounds, scars and holes in their leg muscles.” Having gone to take precision shooting courses in 2012 and 2016 in this Arizona not so far from Texas, where the Uvalde massacre took place on May 24, he drew a story from it, Sniper in Arizona (1), which expresses both his knowledge of guns and his revulsion for those who misuse them. “My text is not intended to idealize weapons. This book is a new exploration of the limits of humanity as I try to do book after book. I want to explore the limits of this humanity which too often borders on the monstrous.”

This violence is also born of a malaise, a rage, a human shipwreck. We enter the field of psychopathology. Patrick Declerck, psychoanalyst and anthropologist.

Were the participants in the courses you took in Arizona representative of American society?

American society is even more brutally divided than our European societies. There really is a disconnect between the worldview of the Democrats and that of the Republicans. It is as if there were two American peoples. The people I met in Arizona are representative of this white, popular, alienated America, which does not understand much about this postmodern world. These are fanatics that we find within the National Rifle Association, the powerful firearms lobby in the United States, or that we could observe on January 6, 2021, during the assault on the Capitol, in Washington. They were dressed the same. They were flying the same southern flags. They were all big fans of Donald Trump. Among some, there was obvious racism.

For Patrick Declerck, being able to buy AK-47s, semi-automatic weapons, as is the case in the United States, leads to disaster.
For Patrick Declerck, being able to buy AK-47s, semi-automatic weapons, as is the case in the United States, leads to disaster. © Getty images

Do they profess a rejection of the elites?

For them, New York is the “People’s Republic of New York”. It’s an insult to who they are and what they believe in. The majority of my classmates were followers of this American evangelical theism mixing religious extremism and racism, radically removed from European Protestantism. We were in that logic. For them, New York exudes the Jewish intellectual, leftist and democrat.

Is the level of violence in American society directly correlated to the ease of access to purchasing guns?

It’s obvious. But it is not only necessary that the weapons are available. This violence is also born of a malaise, a rage, a human shipwreck. We enter the field of psychopathology. The cultural environment also plays a role, in the sense that it favors certain behaviors more than others. On the mode “I will shoot in the heap. Then I will either kill myself or be killed by the police. But what is certain is that I will be on CNN. We’ll talk about me. And I’ll show who I really am.” The road is marked to express its perversion, its destructiveness and its megalomania. It’s a vicious circle. How to get out? There are approximately four hundred million guns in the United States. Reducing the sale is an objective to be achieved. But in the immediate future, what do we do with these weapons and these billions of ammunition?

How to explain the paralysis of the political world in this area?

In a truly villainous way, the Republican Party defends unconditional access to the purchase of weapons by promoting a dangerous and pathogenic American identity. The second amendment to the Constitution, written in 1791, speaks of “armed militia”. The fact that individuals personally possess weapons does not necessarily constitute a militia, a function assumed by the National Guard. To consider this text as untouchable, as the Republicans still did after the Uvalde massacre, is not only irresponsible and murderous but also a scam. And this, especially since the weapons in question in 1791 have absolutely nothing to do with the lethal power of those of today.

Democrats are doing what they can, only the equation is nearly impossible to solve.

Wouldn’t a medium term still be possible, by limiting the sale of certain weapons or by strengthening controls on buyers?

Apparently not. Or only for a tiny fraction of Republicans. The challenge is however there. Being able to buy AK-47s, which are semi-automatic weapons, leads to disaster. With this type of weapon, you just have to pull the trigger and you can fire in bursts. This is madness. However, varieties of these semi-automatic weapons are also accessible in France for those who have a shooting license authorizing them to hold a handgun. They are on the market, even if you have to meet more conditions to acquire them. In my case, thanks to my membership card of the French Shooting Federation, I was able to buy a Remington 700 with a scope, a silencer and a bipod. In short, complete equipment even if I have not used it once. I just wanted to show that it was possible. That we can buy all this, including silencers, in a country where the terrorist risk remains significant, is unintelligible.

The assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, illustrates well
The assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, illustrates well “this white, popular, alienated America, which does not understand much about this postmodern world.” © Getty images

What do you think of the declarations of the Republicans calling for the arming of citizens and teachers?

The proarmes like to highlight a news item that occurred on the evening of May 25, 2022 in Charleston, the capital of the state of West Virginia. A driver had been asked to drive more slowly because, in the neighborhood where he was passing, there was a party with many young people. Furious at this injunction, the 37-year-old man, named Dennis Butler, returned armed and shot dozens of people. A woman attending the party shot him with her handgun before he managed to injure anyone. This kind of story gives arguments to Republicans: if someone intends to shoot citizens, it is interesting that other people can neutralize it. But if this “solution” were chosen, the number of people who would have immediate access to weapons would increase. However, the more weapons there are in a family, the greater the risk of acting out, not only because of their owner, but also because of a child, a brother, an uncle. , of a cousin… This type of reasoning should in principle make doubt the promoters of an over-armed society. But it is very difficult to convince them. Democrats are doing what they can, only the equation is nearly impossible to solve. We could also try to convince the Americans to surrender most of their weapons. That would be immediate electoral suicide. We are therefore faced with a phenomenon from which we do not really see a way out.

Is the political stake too high?

Sure. And it is also an identity issue. Proponents of unconditional gun access see themselves as real men, real Americans just like the cowboys of yesteryear: “Don’t touch my gun or I’ll shoot you.” We are there for half of the Americans who need to possess weapons to feel they exist and be recognized. According to them, their opponents want to destroy “the American way of life”. This extremist discourse that we hear more and more in the United States conveys clichés that testify to a deep misunderstanding of modernity and an inaptitude for contemporary life.

(1) Sniper in Arizona, by Patrick Declerck, Buchet-Chastel, 384 p.
(1) Sniper in Arizona, by Patrick Declerck, Buchet-Chastel, 384 p. © National

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