It''s hard to know whether to smirk, guffaw, dismiss as not surprising and more of the same, or bemoan the dimming of American civilization due to a recent article in the New York Times about legislation in Georgia and other states in behalf of guns.
The article describes a wave of pro-gun legislation in various US states that would allow the carrying of weapons in bars, airports, shopping centers, schools and college campuses, all justified as means of defense against other gun carriers. The wave overcomes an uptick in anti-gun initiatives due to one or another of the gruesome mass shootings. Whether the backdrop is Newtown, Virginia Tech, Columbine, a McDonalds or a mail sorter going postal, the response seems destined to be more rather than fewer guns, and--thanks to Stand Your Ground laws--individuals ready to shoot.
The confusion of federalism is part of the citizen''s problem. The plurality of possibilities and conditions is baffling, compared to what prevails in most other places claiming to be enlightened, where there is a national regime that defines what is permitted and forbidden.
America''s rate of murder is more than twice as high as its nearest competitor among western democracies, and more than four times that of other places.Yet because crime is one of the justifications for the pro gun laws, it may be pointless to compare murder rates with gun ownership. Insofar as violence is as American as apple pie, more guns means more deaths and then even more guns.
Looking for another horrible example of bizarre government, it is tempting ti cite Malaysia, America''s gun friendly legislation is as much a stain on the national reputation as is Malaysia''s incapacity to explain what happened to one of its planes and 226 passengers, if indeed, it got that number correct.
A few states and localities have instituted gun buyback programs, but they pale in comparison to gun exchange opportunities which show up when Googling buyback. Gun exchange encourages the trading up to something more powerful or easier to use.
With the US having almost as many guns as people, and twice as many guns per capita as the closest western democracy, it may be too late to cope with the combination of fire arms and violence.
The political weight of the National Rifle Association, the economic weight of manufacturers and retailers, and a problematic reading of the Constitution are part of the story.
Years ago I had some limited success with The United States: A Study of a Developing Country. It dealt with the retarded south, the urban and rural underclasses, and my home town of Fall River. In the 1950s, the average adult in that city of about 100,000 population had only 8 years of education, and 30 percent of my age cohort did not finish high school. Recent data shows some progress, but not much. Now the average adult has 9 years of education, and some 28 percent quit school before graduation.
Along with being the world center for technological innovations, finance, and consumer luxuries, the United States has large segments with dismal social indicators. The South is more like the rest of the country than it was a half century ago, but still has higher scores on poverty, crime, and illiteracy. A Black family in the White House does not make up for the western world''s most troubled ghettos. The US may have more personal motor vehicles per capita than any other country, but it is also a leader in drug use, and the catastrophes associated with it.
American achievements in medical research and innovations is coming up against the prospect of failure in implementing a long delayed catch up in the field of medical delivery. The nasty combination of political opposition, and bungling implementation may leave as many as 30 million Americans without health insurance.
Insofar as the US has lost the war against drugs as well as guns, it may be best to think of another spurt of prohibition gone bad, legalize the stuff and save all the money spent on interdiction, law enforcement and imprisonment. Let those Americans who wish to drug themselves to death join those who eat themselves and smoke themselves to death, and concentrate on the more promising elements of society.
Campaigns may help against drugs and eating, as they have with respect to smoking. Enforcement doesn''t work, and has bad side effects.
The New York Times article about an increase in pro-gun legislation brings back the images of the Wild West and Chicago gangsters, as opposed to that side of the United States that has seen the ascendance of women, Blacks and other minorities into the upper occupational strata, a growing concern for the environment, and at least the prospect of national health insurance.
The US remains a complex and fascinating place. Much of it is groping to reach what Europeans achieved years ago, while other elements claim to be at the summit of western civilization.
Somewhat disturbing is a national leadership that lectures the rest of us how to behave.