A Disgusting State of Affairs


The U.S. amazes me. You have a country of great vigour and influence, huge energy and great riches. I enjoy my visits to my family in the US.

At the same time it disgusts me. A country of huge divisions where some of the richest people in the world happily pick their way through abject poverty every day. A country with some of the best health care in the world yet far too many can either not afford or bankrupt themselves and their families for that same care. A country where schools and universities have world wide reputations for excellence and students are crippled with huge student loans to pay for it or cannot afford it.

Then there is the final disgust. A country which has gun violence levels commensurate with failed nation states in Africa such as Sierra Leone. A nation which in ten years had as twice as many mass schooling shooting as the rest of the world combined.

And what do you do? Every time you wring your hands and shed your crocodile tears and change nothing. You allow the entire debate to be suborned by vested interests. You allow your politicians to be bought and sold by influential but small lobby groups. Your argue over your Second Amendment. You even allow your Christian lobby to use the massacre of twenty children under the age of ten as an excuse in favour of school prayer. I’m not the only person to think so, this article The Newtown massacre: Fake tears, in The Economist agrees with me.

What could you do? In 1996 Australia had major shooting massacre at Port Arthur that horrified our nation, just as the US is now horrified, just as the US has been horrified by previous tragic shootings. The difference is that Australia did something, our Federal government dragged our State governments to the table and sweated out a national agreement that banned a large number of types of guns, including handguns. You can read a quite good guide to gun politics in Australia on WikiPedia.

One of the things that surprises me about US politics is that despite a huge national pride in your democracy you seemed scared of government, the bigger, the more the fear. It’s as if you haven’t recovered from the revolution and the civil war, as if large parts of the country still expect they will have to fight a government again.

Australia by comparison has an implicit trust in government, we allow it to dictate to us and control us in a number of ways. Not just gun control but a mainly nationalised health system. We even allowed the government to change our currency system back in 1966; back in 1970 we started moving to the metric system and finished in 1988. We even allowed the government to take away our $1 and $2 notes and 1, 2, and 5 cent coins. All of this was done with little more than token grumbling.

So what else holds you back? I don’t pretend to understand half of what goes through the collective psyche of the USA but I know that the objection to gun control runs deeper than that pesky Second Amendment. That’s one of the legal justifications but there is something more than that going on.

Let’s start though by having a look at the Second Amendment. Over recent times there has been a shift in thinking about it and most of what you believe about it would have been considered wrong as little as fifty years ago.

One of the best articles I have seen summarising the debate around the Second Amendment and the misinformation pushed by the NRA and it’s friends is by Gary Wills, To Keep and Bear Arms, in the New York Review of books. The truth behind all the obfuscations and lawyerly arguments that have consistently broadened the Second Amendment is that what you and I might think of as the meaning of “keep arms” and “militia” may well be, and probably is, totally different to that of the men who wrote the amendment. You might also like to read Jeffrey Toobin’s So You Think You Know the Second Amendment? from The New Yorker.

Once you get past the Second Amendment issues others say you need guns for “self defense”, that in a country where it is far too easy for a criminal to have a gun you need one too. The first problem with that argument is that the gun you have for “self-defense” is much more likely to be used on you or a member of your family than it is to be used on a criminal. The guns that Mrs Lanza owned were no protection, her son used one of them to kill her before the tragic shootings in Newtown.

The second argument against “self-defense” is well outlined by Michael Boylan in “The Gun Continuum”. If you get yourself a weapon for self defense then the criminal is more likely to arm himself with a more powerful weapon and the spiral starts off until, if we take it to it’s logical but absurd conclusion you will both be armed with nuclear weapons. Boylan also points out that from this starting point if we then reframe the debate from “gun control” to “weapon control” it makes it much easier. Nobody is currently arguing that US citizens should be allowed to buy or own rocket propelled grenades or hand held surface to air missiles, so we have already agreed to weapon control. Now the debate becomes not one of control or no control but where you draw the line.

Finally we have the argument that the right to “bear arms” somehow protects citizens against “tyranny”. This post “What happens when they take your Guns away…….. A short History Lesson”” on ‘The Twilight’s Last Gleaming’ is typical.

The first problem that this argument has is that correlation does not imply causality. Just because we can point to a number of times where a tyranny imposed gun control and also rounded up or massacred a significant number of people it does not prove that the gun control causes or allows the tyranny.

We can also find counter examples in modern times. Both the UK and Australia instituted severe gun control in the mid nineties and neither government has started a pogrom of any sort. Counter examples on the other side are a little harder to come by but if we go back in history one of my favourites would be the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacres in France back in 1572. With both sides armed the Catholic controlled government allowed around 10,000 Protestants to be murdered across France in a matter of weeks.

It seems that the United States is prepared to pay for the “freedom” of badly controlled gun ownership with the blood of your children. Make no mistake, the small children whose lives were taken and the lives of so many others died as a result of your stupidity, as a result of your inability to face the truth, as a result of your inability to stand up to vested interests and say “enough is enough”.

The truth is that in a mature and civilised society there is not only no need for widespread gun ownership there is no real desire for it. Here in Australia we have strict control over weapons, at the same time farmers still farm, hunters can still hunt and sports shooters can still practice. At the same time gun crimes and accidental shootings are a rare occurrence.

In the US it’s probably too late. You already have far too many objectionable weapons, too many offensive, huge ammunition magazines and far too many people relying on this disgusting trade. Of course given your recent history you will never start the attempt, you will dry your eyes and go on with your stupid arguments and do nothing. Perhaps the rest of the world will just have to wall you off and let you wallow in your violence and misery while we go on becoming more and more civilised and more and more caring of each other. As it was put in The Economist last July you are “a bitterly divided, hatefully cynical country where insane people have easy access to semi-automatic weapons, and occasionally use them to commit senseless atrocities.”

I am sorry if you are offended by this post. I am sorry if you feel, as an Australian rather than an American, I am speaking out of turn. I have spent many days thinking about these issues and writing this post, these things need to be said.

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