I don’t know where we’re going.” Paul Auster on the US and guns

“American society was built by religious fanatics who promoted armed struggle, conflict, war, violence, annihilation and what we would now call genocide,” says Auster. He notes how the Declaration of Independence, passed by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, announced the separation of 13 North American British colonies from Britain. The second paragraph states that all human beings are created equal and have been endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. Namely: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Auster describes this rock-solid creed on which the American republic was founded “as a hypocritical lie.” He has an argument. After all, slavery was legal at the time these words were written. “Violence was part of the whole American project from the start,” says Auster. “The United States is a made-up country, based on the premise of capitalism, in which there is conflict, competition, winners and losers.”

Jacob Blake, who was shot seven times in the back by Rusten Sheskey, a white police officer.

Jacob Blake, who was shot seven times in the back by Rusten Sheskey, a white police officer.Credit:

He then spends a great deal of time and ink deconstructing the text of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. Passed in 1789, along with nine other amendments known as the Bill of Rights, it read: “A well-regulated militia, necessary to the security of a free state, shall not violate the people’s right to possess and bear arms be hurt.”

Auster says, “The Second Amendment is worded so confusingly that no one can really make sense of it. It seems to indicate that Americans have the right to form militias. But it has nothing to do with individual property rights [of guns].”

Today, many Americans continue to interpret these words in different ways.

“Right now, there are tens of millions of diehard Second Amendment supporters who believe that gun ownership is essential to the American way of life,” says Auster. “In fact, it serves no purpose other than killing people. A weapon is an instrument of destruction.”

Auster’s polemic is accompanied by a series of striking photographs taken by his son-in-law, Spencer Ostrander. The New York-based photographer spent two years visiting the sites where more than 30 mass shootings have taken place in the United States in recent years. Appropriately, there are no human figures or weapons in the photos. They are predominantly portraits of desolate, ugly buildings in uncharacteristic, neutral, forgotten American landscapes where horrific massacres were committed by angry, lonely men with guns and rifles.

Darnella Frazier (second from left), seen on a police bodycam image, films the murder of George Floyd.

Darnella Frazier (second from left), seen on a police bodycam image, films the murder of George Floyd.Credit:AP

“The photos are very powerful and represent the empty, anodized void spaces of the American landscape,” says Auster. “The book is essentially a conversation between words and images, and the reader must use their imagination to project themselves into those places at the moment these horrific crimes are being committed.”

oyster hopes bloodbath nation can start a much-needed conversation about gun violence in the US. “We’re talking about a major health crisis that needs to be addressed in the same way that we address road fatalities, for example.”

He points out that since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, gun violence in the US has increased exponentially – with homicides in the largest cities increasing by a staggering 30 percent since 2019.


Auster believes there will be no peace in the United States without an honest conversation about the country’s violent and racist past. But that doesn’t seem very likely at the moment. “America has entered new, previously unimagined territory, and [nobody] has the faintest idea what’s going to happen next,” he says.

However, there is a small glimmer of hope. Auster speaks about the case of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was jailed for 22 years after being convicted of the April 2021 murder of 46-year-old black man George Floyd.

The guilty verdict, seen as a turning point in US police accountability, was made possible thanks to Darnella Frazier. Using her cell phone, the brave 17-year-old filmed the entire eight-and-a-half minutes of Floyd’s cold-blooded, senseless murder.

Auster also mentions the case of Rusten Sheskey, a white police officer, who fired seven bullets at Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man who was subsequently left paralyzed, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020. The shooting sparked protests, and later a 17-year-old white boy, Kyle Rittenhouse, arrived at the scene armed with a semi-automatic rifle and shot dead two protesters.

“I keep asking myself, who owns the future of the United States?” Auster asks. “Is it the 17-year-old girl with her cell phone in Minneapolis or the 17-year-old boy with the gun in Kenosha?

“These are the adults of tomorrow,” concludes Auster. “I don’t know where we are going as a country. But I know that guns today are at the forefront of what’s wrong with us in the United States.”

bloodbath nation will be published by Faber & Faber in April.

https://www.smh.com.au/culture/books/america-built-by-religious-fanatics-who-promoted-armed-struggle-paul-auster-20230306-p5cpqm.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_culture I don’t know where we’re going.” Paul Auster on the US and guns

Jaclyn Diaz

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