Saturday, 12 December 2015

Guns in America: a short rant

This is not going to be a long post, as what I'm going to say has been said many times before by people far more eloquent and informed than me. As a Brit, it's probably not even a subject I should hold a strong opinion on, but having a husband who has lived in the US for long stretches, and having spent a lot of time out there myself, I do.

The shooting last week in San Bernardino, California, was the 353rd mass shooting in the USA this year. Fourteen people killed, seventeen injured and the legislative response to such a shocking, appalling waste of life?  For the 353rd time this year, nothing, zip, zero. 

The Republican party's blocking of any form of gun control or even more disturbingly, any form of publically funded research into gun crime, highlights not only a casual disregard for human life, but also an apparently intractable issue in the US system of politics. While the two-house congress structure ensures checks and balances, in certain circumstances (e.g. when the opposition party controls one or both houses), it also prevents the US president, allegedly one of the most powerful people on the planet, from acting to protect his citizens.  A majority of Americans back greater gun control, but unfortunately, in the House of Representatives, gun advocates are in the majority, which means that any attempts to introduce legislation to better vet gun owners is voted down, every time.

Many argue that stricter gun control laws will not necessarily change gun death rates in the US much (although a total ban on hand guns almost certainly would), but even a small decrease would be important, as would the symbolic value to both US citizens and those internationally who look on with horror at the total lack of political action towards such routine slaughter.

I am aware of the mythical history around gun possession in the USA, of the constitutional right to bear arms, of the arguments put forward about guns being necessary to stop a dictatorial government rising up and oppressing the people, of the suggestion that the only thing that's going to stop someone with a gun is another person with a gun... Unfortunately, it's all utter bullshit without any foundation in empirical research, or even reasoned argument.  Look at any country in Europe (and many beyond), and you'll see that mass gun ownership is totally unnecessary to maintain peaceful, democratic nations.  The reality is that these beliefs stem not from fact, but from right-wing media generated fear, the glamorisation of guns and the macho culture surrounding them, and the lobbying power of the NRA and major arms manufacturers.

The problem is that mass shootings, which are on the up in the US despite a drop in other forms of violent crime, have become so commonplace now that they have seeped into the common consciousness.  If you are an individual on the edge of sanity, or belong to a culture where violence necessarily begets violence, shooting a bunch of people has become a legitimised response to whatever grievance you may have, and you have numerous past examples to inspire you.  With few restrictions to prevent you obtaining your weapon of choice, it's simply a matter of point and shoot until the bullets run out.

I am all for freedom - freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of belief. Freedom to purchase an assault rifle with, realistically, no other purpose than to shoot a lot of people in a very short space of time seems like a very perverse freedom to me though, given that it robs other people of their freedom to live unafraid, and could very well rob them of their lives.

Drake and I had the option to start a new life in the USA a few years back.  There are many things I love about America (mac 'n' cheese!) and most Americans, like people anywhere, are decent, honest and kind.  Were it not for my family ties, we would have gone.  Now we have a child though, I'm not sure I would consider it, not because I'd worry Duckling would get shot - the risk of that is actually still very small (though given you're thirty times more likely to be murdered with a gun in the USA than the UK, I would worry a little bit more), but because I don't want him to grow up in a country where lethal weapons are so revered by so many, and where guns - which, let's face it, are designed with the sole purpose of injuring/killing - are seen as an unfortunate but necessary tool for living in a civilised society.  Because no society where essentially one mass shooting takes place every day of the year can really be considered civilised; I don't care how good the mac 'n' cheese is.

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