I was in the USA last month, for the first time in many years. Contrary to what you might expect from a grumpy, socialist pro-european, I’ve always enjoyed my American visits, and found the people friendly and open. Even New York city, which I expected to feel threatening, if not downright frightening, is actually a really nice place to wander around. At least in the more touristy areas.
This time, I was in New Orleans to play some gigs with Scream Blue Murmur. Actually, in some ways it wasn’t like being in the USA at all. I read in one tourist guide that New Orleans is really the largest and most northerly Caribbean city. That’s an exaggeration, but there’s surely some truth in it. But again, unique as it is, there is a lot of New Orleans which is generically American.
With the large amount of US television offered to us, on this side of the Atlantic we probably feel that we know the culture pretty well. I certainly think so, after all, I’m practically bilingual. I speak American real good. But I happened to bring home a newspaper I picked up. As it was the day before Thanksgiving, the paper had a lot of ardvertising supplements and inserts, since the day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, is where Americans get up before 4am to go shopping in the crazy sales.
One of the inserts is from academy.com “Sports and Outdoors”, and one of the items they had on sale was the Taurus 609B Compact Handgun, down from five hundred bucks to a mere $289.99 (ammo is only $10.99 for a box of 50). It’s hard to convey how shocking I found that advert. And I have in the past had some experience with firearms.
That automatic 9mm pistol would be illegal to own in Great Britain on a general, “sporting” permit, as a result of legislation introduced after a former Scout leader murdered sixteen children and an adult at Dunblane in 1996. At the time, I thought that the change in the law was a ludicrous over-reaction by a new New Labour government too keen to please the gutter tabloids. Well, that’s exactly what it was, but over time, I’ve come to think that there is no reason in the world why civilians should have automatic handguns.
Guns are part of American culture. Many see the right to bear arms, enshrined in the Second Amendment to the Constitution, as a vital, unalienable right. The text of the Second Amendment is bitterly debated, down to the meaning of the comma, by pro- and anti-gun proponents; but even from my anti-gun position, I think it says exactly what the pro-gun lobby says it means: citizens should have the right to own weapons in case the government becomes dictatorial and oppressive and needs to be resisted.
The thing is, armed resistance to a dictatorial government was plausible in the eighteenth century. After all, the Americans had just successfully done it to claim independence for their new country. But it wouldn’t work now — events like Ruby Ridge, Rainbow Farm and Waco prove that the state always wins, whatever the cost. So the Second Amendment has no purpose.
You’re twenty-seven times more likely to die by shooting in the USA than the UK, but some people consider that death toll a price worth paying for “freedom”. I don’t.