No Easy Choices

I don’t see any point in preaching to you about Friday’s events in Newtown, Connecticut.  Like many people worldwide, I felt a sense of futility and horror as the story developed in real time and got steadily worse with each reading.  You know how you feel, why you feel it and what you think should be done about gun laws.

At this point in time, thanks to a powerful combination of national mythology, entrenched fear of violent crime and a fiercely guarded right to self determination, it seems like insurmountable effort beyond the ability of any American president to introduce legislation which will reduce gun ownership.  

“If you take away our legally-obtained guns’, so goes the argument, ‘How do we defend ourselves from criminals who don’t care about licenses, waiting periods and legality?”  Try to intervene as a government in a constitutional right which so many Americans regard as integral to their pursuit of life and you run the risk of initiating a path which ends in full-on Civil War.  It might seem fanciful to a Briton who lives happily without ever seeing a gun in real life, let along owning one, but that’s the way it is.

The notion that America will one day be a gun-free society is so esoteric that it barely deserves discussion – for many Americans, the genuine distrust they feel for government necessitates (in their minds) their right to own weapons and protect their freedom from interference and tyranny.  We’re too far gone, it would seem, to change that way of viewing the world.

How do you begin to convince a people that this line of thinking only serves to perpetuate the cycle of horror that they’ve found themselves in? That’s the task that America now sees itself tasked with.  

Do you continue down this road, where each year sees multiple, gun-related atrocities committed by a malcontent, mentally ill spree killer whose suicide invariably acts as the climactic act of their destructive path?  Or do you try to change the way that your society functions, with no concrete guarantee of changing hearts and minds in your lifetime?

I should contextualise my remarks by telling that I’m not a parent, so the rawest emotions that many of you reading this will have felt over the weekend are not ones which I can honestly profess to feel – I think Charlie Brooker’s column in the Guardian today sums up what many families will have felt at one point or another in the last few days.

The only reaction that I can have is empathy for those who have lost loved, cherished, yearned-for children in circumstances so utterly distressing and vile that they pierce the hardest, most cynical heart.  I can’t purport to solve the situation that Americans now grapple with, nor absolve my country of the myriad issues and inequalities which tax our ability to function as a nation.

When children die in banally horrific situations like this we should look deeply at our world. We can all be better than this – we should want to be.  


Filed under Random Notes

2 responses to “No Easy Choices

  1. I’ve spend quite a bit of time on web forums with Canadians, Brits, Aussies, and people from other countries these past few days who are not drawing the same conclusions as many (not all of course) Americans as to the proper response to this horrific school shooting. I think it’s really hard to clarify the difference between the cultures of the US and UK when it comes to guns because of the superficial similarities of the two cultures. Yes we both speak English, but we are saying different things with it.

    So you can put me down as yet another American who is a gun owner, has been around guns all my life, and although I don’t have a particular obsession with them (they are mostly tools for recreation for me), I regard them as an innate part of my culture, both the social and political. My prediction is that not much will come from the current calls for gun control. The State this occurred already had some of the strictest gun laws in the country and by federal law, schools are “gun free zones.”

    All that added up means that gun control already existed, and didn’t stop this massacre, just like it didn’t stop any of the others we’ve been cursed with; all occurred in areas where guns were already controlled. Just like it didn’t stop the school shootings in Germany and Scotland, in spite of very significant gun control.

    Law doesn’t stop crazy.

    That doesn’t mean there isn’t any answer. But the ubiquitous of guns in the US means no gun confiscation would ever work. Even politically left people own guns here and are no more likely to turn their weapons in than a good ole boy hunter.

    Connecticut had just voted down a law earlier this year that would have allowed greater ability to involuntarily commit people who were judged a danger to themselves or others. That would have been more likely to have prevented this tragedy than any tweeking of gun laws. Decades ago the US had a system of State mental hospitals that treated people who were determined to be dangerous. It was by no means a perfect system. If you’ve seen One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest you know why. But it was better than what we have now, which is very little. Instead we have hundreds of thousands of mentally ill homeless living out on the street, and people who are dangerously mentally ill with no ability for the families to get them the care they need. The shooter’s mother seems to have been well aware of her son’s problems and tried to get him help, but he was an adult and it’s very difficult to commit someone unless they’ve already committed a crime.

    Anyway that’s my two cents on the issue. I do appreciate that your commentary was some of the most even handed I’ve seen from across the pond. On the web forums I frequent the arguing is a bit more shrill.

    • Thanks for that, Mike.

      I don’t believe that there are many things in life which are binary – there isn’t absolute good or absolute evil in the world, just subtle degrees of both, perfectly capable of existing within each of us.

      The issue is that our political systems want to operate on a one size fits all principle which rarely solves social problems and often contributes to them. Witness our charming riots in the UK last summer – down, in some part, to kids frustrated at changes which took away access to education and social programmes, down certainly to bloody-minded, thuggish opportunists looking for any chance to behave like cretins.

      Changes to legislation can be made – legislators can limit the amount of ammo in a magazine for all the good that will do – but it isn’t going to stop a situation like this happening again and again.

      Making a quick, snap change to law doesn’t stop crime – look at the number of knife deaths and gang violence which besets London to this day.

      I wish you and your loved ones a safe and Happy Christmas, Mike.

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