A funny thing happens when you get out of your fishbowl and can experience life outside the water for a bit.
Expanding personal experiences has a way of changing you.
As many of you know I have been living abroad in Europe since late August. It has been my observation that although many parts of Europe are very westernized, you can still detect very distinct cultural differences when contrasted with the United States. Whether it be driving on the “wrong” side of the street or treating the local bars like we treat our bathroom experience -everyone must go at least once every day to maintain health- there are some cultural variances from the US to be sure. One area of very strong distinction is a rather fundamental one: The attitudes towards and use of guns.
I never really thought much about guns and have not carried strong positions either for or against their use or ownership. I have reacted to anti-gun advocates who seem to pop up after a school shooting, yet this has far more to do with condemning anyone who would use a tragedy to seize an opportunity to promote an agenda –not to mention living in a country of re-actors as opposed to pro-actors, the latter being my preferred set of people. Yet now I can reflect outside the bowl on the dry, primarily gun-less, lands of Europe.
One could argue America is built on a philosophy of gun rights. The right to bear arms is as fundamental to American cultural practices as hot dogs and apple pie, and to many perhaps a much tastier and sweeter experience. When I came to find out that even British POLICE OFFICERS (sorry for screaming, yet this is a biggie) do not carry firearms, I was stunned. Speaking of stunned, not even stun guns….only pepper spray.
Of course this does not apply to all police officers, just the rank and file ones that you and I are most likely to run into on the streets. You know, the ones who roam the blocks, eat crumpets and do the most community policing.
I asked myself how in the world can a police officer do his or her job, even if it is in the less dangerous positions, without a gun?
The truth is that they can…and, in Britain’s case, they do.
This has caused me to reflect long and hard about my personal philosophy concerning guns. For a large metropolitan city like London, it is exceedingly safe with low crime. Somewhat contrary to what my intuition might suggest, the criminals are not running amok taunting the unarmed police officers; not having firearms actually works well for public safety in the UK.
I have come realize that I was born into a gun-obsessed culture. Guns are an integral part of the US cultural landscape and are woven into our basic social narrative from a young age. Little boys and girls are birthed into a type of gun mania. Although I never allowed my children to play with fake guns, as soon as they were old enough to point their index finger out with their thumb up and yell, “bang!” they did. Why? Certainly we are not born into this world with a genetic knowledge about guns, rather they are so pervasive through all forms of media that many children are enthralled with them as we marinate them in a violent stew of gun use since day one.
One would be hard pressed to find, let’s say, a tribal African child playing with said pretend gun, in fact, it would probably be impossible.
And so this cultural sheep wandered right into the pen of violent gun culture. As soon as we started having children I went out and purchased a short barrel shotgun for my families protection -due to living in the very dangerous and violent streets of suburban Santa Clarita. Of course, statistically speaking, this shotgun has a far greater chance of doing great injury and harm to myself or family members than it ever will protecting them, but what is sound logic and reason when we have a second amendment ethos with which we must contend?
“I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands,” declareth the National Rifle Association. They just better hope they are not one day prying it from their child’s cold, dead hands -which is the far more likely probability.
So now I am rethinking my gun culture. In many respects the gun cat is out of the gun bag in the US, thus following a UK model would likely not work…at first.
“But Jimmy, what about guns to protect us from a potentially tyrannical government and attacks from foreign invaders?” Well, frankly, if we were to be attacked, nuked or taken over with tanks and heavy artillery, I hardly believe my lil old shotgun will fare well in that battle. This would be like suggesting we should not ban aspirin because Ebola is coming -a mere band-aid for a gushing wound. Good luck with that.
Another major factor in my rethinking of the role of guns in society is the seemingly great rise in police officer shootings of innocent victims. It seems there are new stories everyday of mentally ill, homeless, and otherwise innocent individuals getting shot by police officers who seem to be looking for any excuse to use their guns. Perhaps there is no greater example of law enforcements lustful infatuation with their Smith and Wesson then when a manhunt was underway for a 6 foot something, 200 something lb., African American man named Christopher Dorner in Los Angeles in February of 2013. Eager to use their firearms, police officers unloaded over a dozen rounds of ammo into the car of two innocent victims…both 5’ tall, diminutive female Hispanics, who they mistakingly believed to be Dorner.
Forget the disparity in gender, color, stature, or ethnicity: The vehicle they shot at was neither the make or color of Dorner’s.
Whoops, their bad. Another example of men thinking with their gun and not their brain.
Many (I did not say all) police officers are assholes anyway, and what can be worse than an asshole with a gun? And to my dearly beloved traffic cops, why in the world do you even have a job? Let alone a gun.
“But Jimmy, many more police officers are also being shot at these days.” I agree. This gun stuff does seem to be working well for either side now, does it?
I realize statistics are just numbers waiting for an argument, though did I mention the fact that the US has 10.3 gun deaths per year per 100,000 people while the UK’s number is a mere .25? Wow. Only Japan and Hong Kong have less.
So, let me play a little cause and effect game if my math is correct. In the country with guns there is over 10 times more homicidal gun violence than the country (essentially) without guns. So guns are…NOT good for society? I think this to be simple logic a child can perform. I realize we can all perform statistical gymnastics in any manner to obtain our agenda and objective…yet I have no agenda and objective. I just want a better and more civil society and gun proliferation does not seem to be working.
As I observe UK law enforcement, they are quite friendly, helpful and seem to not possess US arrogant bastard type “attitude.” For example, I found myself one day on the bus to Belsize Park when I approached 4 officers to inquire as to if this was the correct stop for my destination. Each of them eagerly assisted and interrupted each other to explain to me the various exits and directions- nice as hell. Imagine how I felt when I saw a police car nearly hit two jaywalkers when he slowed down, waved and yelled, “Sorree!!” (By the way, London has no jaywalking laws…perhaps another Brit tidbit that would work well in the US of A).
That shotgun has been sitting in my closet collecting dust for about 27 years now. I shot it once, at a can in the desert. The attack on my family never came, thank FCBE. But if it did, I would have been ready.
But maybe being ready is not worth the costly price we all must pay. And if the UK is any example, it is not.
It is soon time to get back in the water. And this time the water will have one more inhabitant quite critical of its current gun state of affairs.