Brit finds living in the US scarey.
Licence to kill - life under the gun in the US
By Jarek Garlinski
We live in the heart of American gun country. A local farmhouse I have visited near here has a gun rack that would not disgrace a decent infantry battalion's guard room.
In Houston British expatriates still speak of the drunken Scotsman coming back late one night over ten years ago in one of the smarter parts of town. When he knocked on some stranger's door at 3am, the homeowner shot and killed him believing his life to be in danger. The homeowner was within his legal rights and thus was not prosecuted.
Gun ownership is possibly the issue that most perplexes foreigners about the United States. Even many of us who live here find it hard to fathom the almost fanatical obsession shown by some gun owners and their contempt for gun control.
The gun lobby is well organized. The National Rifle Association (NRA), with no more than four million members in a nation of around 275 million, and theoretically a sporting club for gun enthusiasts, is immensely political and wields extensive influence.
A visit to the NRA web site is instructive, if one wants to understand the so-called "cultural wars" between the liberals and the conservatives in this country. The web site contains in essence three principal messages:
• The Second Amendment to the US Constitution unequivocally permits American citizens to bear arms;
• Attempts to limit gun ownership are a socialist, if not communist, assault on American freedoms;
• Citizens are safer in a country without gun control, since they can defend themselves against armed criminals.
Thus it is clear that the NRA aligns itself with the social conservatives who view with alarm what they believe to be a liberal attempt to tear America away from its traditions.
They believe in a literal reading of the American Constitution, they feel that the judiciary has become too liberal and they tend to regard the outside world, especially the United Nations Organisation, with a high degree of hostility.
Be that as it may, the NRA wants to dispel the notion that the typical gun owner is a paranoid working-class white man of the kind depicted by Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. However, I have to say that all the hard-line gun owners I have personally encountered in my 19 years here did in fact match the stereotype and I found them to be quite impervious to any kind of rational argument.
For instance I have been treated to a lecture on how crime has risen in England as a result of the Government's "gun confiscation" programmes by a gentleman who has never been there, and who expressed incredulity that I had no idea what he was talking about.
There are angry web sites on the Internet with headlines like "Gun Control - Hypocrisy or Stupidity?" and which talk of a "war" against gun control advocates. The argument then shifts to the rather more sophisticated political point that a well-armed citizenry is a final bulwark against military dictatorship or invasion. This is illustrated by the thought that if more Europeans had had firearms in the 1930s, the Nazis would have been stopped in their tracks.
Unfortunately, the argument underestimates Nazi ruthlessness, and it is hard to imagine an armed citizenry in, for instance, Holland, Poland or the Ukraine, repulsing the Wehrmacht, backed up as it was by the SS and the Luftwaffe. Snipers don't defeat a modern army and didn't prevent Nelson winning at Trafalgar.
Not too many politicians are prepared to stand up to the NRA though and only the other day the Congress approved by a vote of 283-144 a law limiting gun manufacturers' legal liability.
Portrayed as a measure to limit frivolous lawsuits against big business, this bill does on the face of it appear to give the gun manufacturers more legal protection than many other groups.
Indeed it was the NRA's chief lobbyist, Christopher Cox, who let the cat out of the bag saying "We are a safer country today because Congress passed this critical legislation and acted to save American icons like Remington, Ruger, Winchester and Smith & Wesson from politically motivated lawsuits."
He added: "Our men and women in uniform abroad and at home now will not have to rely on France, China or Germany to supply their firearms." In other words, it's all really about business and the American gun manufacturing industry.
Last year when the ten-year ban on the sale of assault rifles was quietly allowed to expire, you could hear the gun manufacturers licking their lips.
It is unlikely though that there will be any major changes here soon, since although many Americans do not themselves own weapons and do not subscribe to the NRA's beliefs, enough people are in some way convinced that owning guns is the "American way".
Nevertheless, it would be wrong, I believe, to dismiss out of hand the gun lobby's belief in self-defence.
To be sure, the NRA's loud support for firearms in a country whose murder rate, which, although dropping, is extremely high (16,503 murders in 2003, of which 67 per cent were committed with guns) seems somewhat out of place.
Indeed the argument that citizens are safer in a country where there are more guns rather flies in the face of these numbers. Yet the idea of meeting force with force, as in a new Florida law, does have some theoretical merit.
I for one am disturbed to read reports of elderly homeowners in England being prosecuted for defending their property and themselves against intruders or teenage vandals.
There must be a middle ground between craven political correctness and a gun in every cupboard