As a movement boils up into the streets and our consciousness, guns are the issue of the moment in America. The rest of the world looks on with amazement, not understanding how it got this far in the first place. Why do Americans love guns?
Why, indeed, do we have so many unusual problems in America which are not shared by other developed nations? Why don’t we have a reliable social safety net? Or a health care system of some kind? What is it that gives the United States the color of a developing nation?
Ah, yes, color. It’s about race. Racism is the poison that affects every single public debate in this nation one way or another. White people may think that they never feel the sting of racism, but they do. We all do. We are, actually, one people – but dividing us up by race is the original sin, the disease at the center of all other problems.
Freedom. It’s the basis of not just our system, but the values that the system was created to protect. Americans value their freedom above everything else.
But do we really have what it takes to be truly a free people today?
Another senseless gun tragedy – this one bigger than the previous. When does it end?
It ends when we as a nation get serious about the situation. Like nearly every problem we have it is primarily a mindset. New gun laws aren’t necessarily going to be the answer unless they are part of that important change.
If you were to run down a list of hot-button issues which inflame the electorate on both sides, gun control would be near the top. The majority of the population favors stricter laws according to most polls, but those who are against new restrictions are much more vocal. Only 10% of the population favors weakening restrictions.
Given this, it may come as a surprise that in recent years laws regulating gun sales and ownership have become considerably less restrictive. This is due to a combination of reasons that start with a large Republican control of 30 state legislatures. Ultimately, however, the main driving force is a Supreme Court ruling which stated that the Second Amendment deals with individual, not militia rights.
Guns. There is currently no more emotional issue in the US and nothing that polarizes more. You’re either in favor of guns or you aren’t, and if you’re in favor of them the ownership of a gun is probably viewed as a fundamental right. There isn’t much room for compromise.
Into this debate we have a nearly constant litany of shootings, sometimes with legal weapons and sometimes not. President Obama has decided to act where he can, more or less working on tightening up the existing background check laws and enforcing them more uniformly and rigorously.
There was a time when gun advocates called for us to “enforce existing laws” rather than write new ones, but even this action is controversial. But it shouldn’t be.
Another terrorist attack by Islamic fundamentalists strikes at a great Western institution. More than fragile human bodies, the target is picked out of revenge and the sense of fear it is supposed to instill. But this time, it was not a seat of power or finance that was hit – it was our values.
Free expression is a central value throughout the western world, only accepted after centuries of struggle and violence. It is something that we hold as a “certain unalienable right” at the core of who we are as a people. What exactly that means, however, has been an important question long before these anti-Western reactionaries committed their despicable act.
The news of George Zimmerman’s acquittal on all charges related to the death of Trayvon Martin bubbled through the sultry summer air. Millions were angry and took to venting themselves on social media, but thankfully not with violence in the streets. Millions were angry at those who were angry, generally claiming that racism works both ways.
There were so many things that fed into how it all went down on Trayvon’s last night on earth. Florida’s horrible gun laws certainly made conviction nearly impossible. They were born of a cultural PTSD endemic in a land wracked by violence that crackles with fight-or-flight adrenaline at the first sign of trouble – a biochemical instinct that sometimes becomes addictive. I’m also sure that once the Sanford cops learned Trayvon was from Miami they were ready to assume the worst about him. But all of that only amplifies and distorts the core problem, that of White Privilege.
White Privilege is generally little more than the benefit of the doubt. But when the volume is turned up and the noise is deafening, only baser senses remain. The simple benefit of the doubt often adrenalizes into violent, destructive action.