Gun Control, the view from the Azores

Once again I’ve succumbed to the temptation of blogging about something other than my beloved Caterham. I've often joked that after more than thirty years in the US my accent is neither Brit' nor American, somewhere around the mid Atlantic ridge maybe, say the Azores. As a British immigrant to the US, and Naturalized citizen, I've always found it a difficult experience debating the subject of gun control. The reasons for this are simple, I grew up in the UK but I became an American by choice, it’s hard to defend both viewpoints, and this subject is particularly difficult. Exposure to the Piers Morgan versus Alex Jones debate on CNN brought the whole thing to the forefront and I felt compelled to put something down on (virtual) paper. Let it be said, however, that I may just decide to sign the 'deport Piers Morgan' petition. After all, he is an obnoxious and vocal Arsenal FC supporter, and we really don't need any more of those around. Mr. Jones, on the other hand, seems to be, shall we say, a little out there, and not really a great advertisement for the pro gun lobby ... much to the delight, I’m sure, of said Mr. Morgan. Nothing like interviewing someone seemingly determined to prove to the world that if ever psychological testing was introduced he would instantly be deprived of his undoubtedly large arsenal. Which might also deprive him of his ability to take part in his promised return of 1776 and the tea party (the original tea party, that is, the one that actually did accomplish something) ... Brits, when discussing America, tend to have either a very rose-tinted, or a particularly scornful view of America and Americans, with very little in-between. The latter attitude drawn, it seems to me, partly from a real sense of history, partly from a false sense of moral superiority and partly from a rather large dose of envy. But even those Brits with generally positive opinions of the US, myself included, have always had difficulty in understanding the US attitude to gun control. Growing up in the UK guns were just not part of the world I lived in, perhaps they were common in the countryside, where there were people who actually hunted game, but certainly not in the urban and suburban jungles of my youth. Thank goodness they weren't, can you imagine a football hooligan with an AK47? It would have made my after game runs down Scotland Road in Liverpool a lot more ‘interesting’ than they already were, AK47 wielding Leeds supporters could have stormed Moscow. Given this, the US love affair with guns has always seemed a little strange, an opinion shared by the vast majority of Brits who just don't get it. In the sixties and seventies murder in the UK was incredibly rare, and murder by gun almost unheard of. While things have to some extent changed, gun ownership in the general population is still rare and closely controlled; and gun violence is still scarce, with only 35 gun related killings in the UK in 2011. After thirty plus years in America I've come to admire both the wise intent of the Constitution and a citizenship that revere’s and defends it with such passion. The Constitution is a document the likes of which the UK does not posses, and in my opinion is all the poorer for not having it. The closest British document, the Magna Carta, admittedly historical and important in its own right, does not come close in either granting the breadth of freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, nor the majesty of the words used to enshrine those freedoms. When debating the issue of gun control Brits tend to largely dismiss the Second Amendment as a leftover piece of history, no longer relevant in the modern world. Along with this comes a tendency to characterize Americans as immature boys not willing to give up their toys. It’s an easy argument to make, if something of a cheap shot, but seductive nonetheless and perhaps it holds a grain or two of truth. At least when applied to that noisy minority of gun owners that insist that the constitution guarantees them the right to own fully automatic AK47's, grenade launchers, enough ammunition to satisfy North Korea and boxes full of Magnum Research Desert Eagles. I might even confess to having some sympathy for this 'boys and their toys' point of view. Truth be told there are powerful arguments in favor of limited access to guns as in most of the rest of the world. One could say data doesn't lie, and the little factoid that a country with five times the population of the UK has more than 300 times the rate of gun deaths is pretty hard to dismiss as lies, damn lies and statistics. The uncomfortable part for me in this particular argument, is in pointing out to the Brits that it is all well and good to espouse the superiority of the UK model, but it’s clearly not practical. This particular Genie has been out of the bottle for over 200 years and the vocal minority 'cowboys' are not really representative of the general population. I simply wish I had a viable alternative ... More to the point, and this is where my sympathy moves westward, the general US population has been brought up to believe passionately in the Constitution and to have a healthily skeptical view of their own government. The latter encouraged by the constitution itself, and the actions of a government that has given many of examples of genuine duplicity over the years. Pointing out to a Brit that a more jaundiced view of their own government might be appropriate generally draws blank stares. Despite ample evidence that the UK government has its own share of uncomfortable secrets to keep ... we all have warts, and good comes with bad in most cases. Americans, though, do tend to roll out the mantra of the second amendment with little or no thought, as if it needs no other explanation or justification. As noted, the Constitution has proven itself a wise and powerful document; but to completely dismiss any discussion on the relevance of the Second Amendment to the present day, or even the meaning of the phrase 'a well regulated militia' just reinforces the immature cowboy view. As does the tendency of pro-gun Americans to quickly devolve the argument to good guys versus bad guys (and the bad guys have guns) and it all becomes emotional very quickly. It's as if this particular subject cannot be argued dispassionately, which may in itself be a clue that the real unspoken reasons for such vehement defense are not necessarily logical. Usually thrown in to the argument is the 'guns don't kill people, people kill people' sound-bite, which seems to me to be specious at best; or the 'there are more deaths on the road and/or by alcohol' argument, both of which are undoubtedly true but also a deflection in that it implies that 11,000 gun deaths are acceptable because there are more deaths on the roads ... It’s difficult for me to understand why many intelligent, well meaning, people refuse to connect the easy access to guns, especially assault weapons, to the use of guns to kill lots of people, quickly. Perhaps if we were to re-phrase the above ‘guns don’t kill people’ homily as: 'people with guns kill people easily, people without guns have a much harder time doing it', we might strike a chord. Unfortunately, it doesn't really roll off the tongue, or make a good sound-bite so I'm betting that we won't be seeing it featured on the cover of next weeks Time Magazine. So, at the end of the day, who am I kidding here, the NRA will probably just wait it out again, and the next mass murder may be in my local mall, so I'm staying away from malls for a while. Come to think of it, maybe that’s the answer, if retail sales plummet the economy will tank and the government will have to do something ... hit 'em where it really hurts, in the pocketbook. So Mr. Jones, after all this, please don't start a petition to deport me, I like living here, warts and all. I’ll gladly take the good with the bad, I made that decision thirty years ago, and for me it was by choice, not an accident of birth. But that doesn’t mean I have to like the insanity some try to pass off as logic, or defense of an indefensible position ... Oh yes, I forgot, I'm a citizen, I'm protected against that kind of thing as is my right to disagree; it's guaranteed in a little document called the Constitution. That's something America should celebrate, come on everyone, get out on the streets and shoot your guns in the air (just watch out for the black helicopters and observation drones) ... In the meantime, I’m thinking of getting my family lessons in how to handle a gun, we're going to need it when 1776 comes again  ...