In the cross-hairs of history: Guns and politics in the United States
America needs a mature national conversation about the continued need for an individual to bear arms, and the abuses that this has brought to modern American society. Don't expect it any time soon
For the last few days the perennial issue of gun ownership in the United States has come up for discussion. This tired debate resurfaces only in the aftermath of some particularly heinous event, something that actually shocks the masses from their stupor.
This time it was a shooting in a cinema. Previously it had been high schools, universities, the senseless deaths of senseless celebrities, or the heart wrenching assassination of national leaders and presidential candidates. The events in Colorado, therefore, are part of a pattern that looks set to continue.
It will continue irrespective of the debate that is held outside the United States. It will continue irrespective of how many children are killed in their classrooms by fellow students, in schools with airport style metal detectors and armed police on their grounds. It will continue despite the inevitable gangland style shooting of the next singer with an over inflated sense of his own self-importance and streetwise values.
It will continue despite the next assassination of a presidential candidate dedicated to offering a new direction to the United States. It will continue despite the next murder of a president, beloved abroad, but hated by an angry section of his own countrymen.
It will continue because there is neither the political courage nor incentive to do anything about it. It will continue because even in the 21st century, there remains a frontier mentality in the United States that feels the need to arm itself to the teeth to demonstrate that the cowboy is still alive.
We have been here before on countless occasions; tragedy in America, followed by soul searching, the furrowing of brows and presidential commiserations. This is a divided America, torn between those that want to do something to prevent someone else committing such a crime, and those who simply want to ensure that the guilty party cannot commit crime in the future.
Overseas the charade is viewed with increasing disdain and dismay. This, however, is an element in the constant misunderstanding of the United States, in particular in Europe, where it is assumed that Americans are like ‘us’ rite large.
They are not, and the nation is not. There is a mentality that most foreigners never comprehend and an approach to life that is equally incomprehensible to most non-Americans. And why should this not be the case? After all, most foreigners never set foot in the ‘America’ that is currently under debate.
The perception that most non-Americans have of the United States is derived from superficial vacations and hours spent in front of the television watching idealised versions of ‘America.’ But America is not Disneyland, Disney World, Six Flags, or Universal Studios. Neither, ultimately, is it New York, L.A., Boston, Chicago, Orlando or San Francisco.
It certainly isn’t Friends, Fraser, Cheers, Sex and the City or Boston Legal. This is the liberal interpretation of the United States, sold to the world as a perfect holiday destination.
These cities, these destinations, these shows are what most foreigners identify as being ‘America’. They are also the epicentres of the Democratic Party’s voting base, and as such representative of precisely HALF of the United States’ demographic.
Anyone who claims to ‘know’ America having spent time in any one of these places is deluding themselves and anyone dumb enough to listen. They may as well have spent all their time on ‘It’s a Small World’ at Disney for all that they will have gleaned about the USA.
No one can seek to comprehend the ‘America’ that clings to its guns, its God and its freedom from government if they insist on flying over the Red States. So long as visitors stay hemmed in between the East Coast and the Appalachians or the West Coast and the Rockies, they will never comprehend the three thousand miles of conservative heartland that lies in between.
It is here that the explanation for the continuing tale surrounding gun control can best be understood. It is here that people fail to look for answers and why such debate is flawed, patronising and irrelevant.
It is here that Washington D.C. feels as far removed from people’s lives as it would to a foreigner. It is here that small town values are still adhered to and are a part of daily life; where people feel no need to lock their doors; where communities are close knit, yet often miles apart.
This is the agricultural heartland of the nation; inherently white, agrarian, religious and Republican. They do not cling to the second amendment out of a perverse wish to own semi-automatic weapons. Some in the farming community will need firearms as a way of life.
Most, however, adhere to the second amendment as a protection of personal freedom to defend oneself, if necessary, against the government. It would be feared that repealing the second amendment would be the first step on a slippery slope towards government infringements on all aspects of everyday life.
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