The Ameriguns: Gabriele Galimberti’s analysis of US gun culture

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From the history of the second amendment, to Instagram influencers and inherited weapon collections, Galimberti’s latest publication charts America’s obsession with guns

Despite making up just five per cent of the world’s population, the US is home to more than half of the world’s firearms; twice as many as Yemen, three times as many as Uruguay, and ten times as many as Egypt. In the US, there are more guns than there are people, and more gun stores than there are pharmacies, Starbucks, and McDonald’s restaurants combined.

Gabriele Galimberti first met a gun-collector in 2018 in Kansas, while he was on commission shooting dinosaur fossils for National Geographic. He had a few days off, and was intrigued by a huge gun store he passed in the middle of nowhere. “I’m a curious person, so I started to speak with people,” he recalls. “I was talking with this guy, and I asked him how many guns he had. He said, ‘probably more than 60’.” By instinct, he asked if he could photograph them, and within an hour, he was in his front room, surrounded by a collection of pistols, shotguns, and rifles.

© Gabriele Galimberti from The Ameriguns, published by Dewi Lewis.

Galimberti is the author of several photobooks that take a topological approach to their subjects. Toy Stories pictures children with their favourite toys, while In Her Kitchen pictures grandmothers from across the world, photographed with their signature dish. Confronted by this huge collection of guns, Galimberti realised he had found a new subject matter to continue with this “visual formula”.

Carrying on with the dinosaur assignment in Montana, Galimberti visited another gun store, and within a couple of hours, he was in another home, photographing an even larger collection of guns. He followed this pattern in three more states, and returned home with a collection of five portraits.

Back in Italy, he continued to research, joining Facebook groups for gun enthusiasts, and reaching out to over 500 people to ask if they were willing to be photographed. He found 50 willing subjects in around 30 different states, and booked a flight to America, where he spent the next two months travelling and photographing individuals and families, posing proudly with their collections.

Bookspread from The Ameriguns, published by Dewi Lewis. © Gabriele Galimberti.

Galimberti’s latest photobook, The Ameriguns, is the result of this journey, backed up by two years of research. “I try to analyse why guns are so deeply ingrained in American culture, and how the second amendment has changed its meaning over 250 years, from the moment it was written into the constitution, till now,” he explains. The book is split into four sections — freedom, family, passion, and style — “the four big values that keep Americans so attached to guns”.

For many families, guns are an inherited tradition. “For example, here in Italy, when we are six or seven years old, your father teaches you to ride a bike,” says Galimberti. “In the US, when you are six or seven, your grandfather will probably teach you how to shoot a gun. In the same way that we learn how to bike, they learn how to shoot. It’s just a tool that they have in the house, and they need to know how to use it.”

© Gabriele Galimberti from The Ameriguns, published by Dewi Lewis.

Along with the portraits, the photobook includes essays about the history of the second amendment – the right for American people to bear arms, ratified in 1791 – as well as infographics and statistics, and excerpts from the social media profiles of gun enthusiasts and influencers, who are increasingly being hired to promote guns. In the US, it is illegal to advertise guns on social media, so hiring influencers has become a loop-hole for many manufacturers. “The gun industry is working exactly like the fashion industry. They use Instagram and Facebook to sell guns as a ‘cool’ product,” says Galimberti.

“For me… it was a big surprise to see that the bias that many people have about gun lovers is not really true,” he continues. The people who Galimberti reached out to were not the bible-toting conservatives that the media tends to portray. “It doesn’t matter if you are Democrat or Republican, it doesn’t matter if you’re Black or white, rich or poor,” says Galimberti. “Guns are attached to the DNA of America.”

Ameriguns by Gabriele Galimberti is published by Dewi Lewis.

Marigold Warner

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.