(I wish to direct people to What A Witch, who also blogged on this matter a couple of days ago. As an American, she perhaps gives a more grounded and rounded interpretation of the issue than I can.)
And so again we are faced with the news of yet another mass shooting in America. As it stands at the moment, The Age newspaper in Australia is reporting that 20 children (aged between 5 and 10 years), and eight adults are dead. Killed at a primary school in Connecticut by a single assailant wielding two handguns and a rifle.
When I heard about this, my first thought was, “oh, not again”, because I wonder how a seemingly intelligent people can continue to make the same mistakes over and over. Pondering this found me arriving at a cross-roads of three conclusions in relation to the unending gun violence in the States: either Americans are more violent by nature; Americans “enjoy” greater access to guns than others; or Americans are so enamoured with their “rights”, that they feel it is their patriotic imperative to possess a gun.
Now, although the Yanks gave us Rambo and the UFC, I’m inclined to dismiss the first assumption. So too, the second, because other countries – particularly Switzerland – have a similar level of access and ownership of firearms, but do not have to put up with the same level of violence. So that leaves us with the third. This finds us in a situation where guns are not so much owned for protection – as a single handgun would suffice for this purpose, as opposed to shotguns and multiple semi-automatics – but as symbols of fervent nationalism. The household that possesses “many guns to necessitate a (gun) rack” does so to show that they are more American than the next house. One only needs take note of its place in the Amended Constitution to realise that the American psyche is predicated more solidly on gun ownership (2nd Amendment) than it is on due process (5th Amendment), abolishment of slavery (13th Amendment), and gender equality (yet to be ratified).
To an outsider, one who can only speak from didactic rather than lived experience, it appears that Americans, perhaps more than any other cultural group, place personal liberties above all other concerns. A good friend of mine who is American believes in absolute freedom of speech, even arguing that racial vilification laws are problematic. He also says that he is prepared to accept some innocent deaths at the hands of guns, in return for the freedom to own them.
To me, this thinking is completely anathema to a modern civil society.
For let us look at the notion of freedom in America, or for that matter, anywhere with a modern liberal democracy. Freedom in these places is largely an illusion, or at least, absolute freedom is. We are prohibited from doing any number of things because in their doing is an increased chance of something bad happening, especially to others. Driving too fast in your car is a perfect example. As is driving drunk. We are prohibited from smoking indoors, from jaywalking, from owning some species of wild, exotic animals. We are unable to own large quantities of recreational drugs. As much as I would love to, I can’t operate a street-food stall without a permit and as much as I would hate to, I am prohibited from practicing law unless I have met certain criteria.
Some of these may sound pretty silly – and that’s because we all take them for granted – but they are all examples of encroachments on our absolute freedom imposed by the state. We do not have the freedom to do whatever we want, because if we did, there would be chaos. Humans are not loveable little creatures by nature, and a Lord of the Flies mentality is what awaits a world which does not impose restrictions on our actions. Laws restrict freedoms and do so to protect the society and enable it to (ironically) allow for the greatest possible freedom for the greatest possible number.
Further, these laws should be able to adapt with the times and with additional information. My home state of Victoria, Australia was the first place in the world where wearing your seat belt was mandatory. This was in response to the experiences and experiments of many that concluded that seat belts greatly reduced the incidence of serious injury and death in the case of an accident. Left to our devices, and for any number of reasons, we may choose to not put on our seat belt when we drive. Ergo, we don’t always act in our best interest. And so the freedom to not wear a seat belt was stripped, and we are all the better for it.
Americans who champion the 2nd Amendment are not locked in a battle protecting their freedoms. They are promoting conservatism, a belief that things should remain the way they are, regardless of any evidence to the contrary. It is a blinkered, illogical, and perhaps amoral view that has run its course. To argue against gun control because it impinges on your personal freedom to own one, is selfish in the extreme. Furthermore, it is anachronistic, the citizenry no longer needing to protect themselves against their government, nor from invasion.
Championing freedom over all other concerns is by no means unique to the ole’ US of A, but to my mind, no other state-sanctioned freedom enjoyed by any citizen, anywhere in the world, results in 47,856 people being killed in a five year period. Primarily because they do it for the wrong reason, Americans have proven that gun ownership is a freedom they are ill equipped to enjoy, and so it should be taken away. For when the right to bear arms is more important than the right for a 5-year old to learn without being shot in the face, you are clearly doing society wrong.
And that’s what I think about that. Thanks for reading.