I’m really quite perplexed by the U. S. and A.
In many ways it feels like home. Over the past 18 years or so I have visited the country dozens of times. I’ve worked there, and can well imagine living there permanently. Some of my closest and dearest friends are US citizens, from various parts of the political and religious scene, or none. A few years back I spent a sabbatical at UCLA, and whenever I visit LA it feels cosily familiar, almost like coming home, and much homelier than – say – France. I have just returned from a very enjoyable few days at a conference in Salt Lake City. I submit that in no other country will one find a warmer or more sincere welcome. But for a love of Marmite and Gardeners’ Question Time, I could easily imagine becoming a US citizen. Gosh darn it, I LOVE America.
And yet, sometimes, the U. S. and A. seems like something dreamed up by Lewis Carroll, channeling Goya. The recent shooting in Tucson of Ms Gabrielle Giffords, an elected politician doing her job, and a number of people stood watching, is a case in point.
What surprises at least one commentator in Britain is how the issue became so speedily and so bitterly politicised.
The Left blames the gung-ho, gun-totin’ Right, which tends to cast political battles in terms of the OK Corral – a strategy which is either romantic, paranoid or bathetic, depending on your point of view (I think it’s all three, but hey, that’s just me). It may or may not be significant that Ms Sarah Palin, a right-wing politician who in notoriety and eye-furniture reminds one of Deirdre Barlow, had had campaign literature in which a number of her opponents – including the politician so violently assaulted -were allegedly depicted as targets, in gunsights (I say ‘allegedly’ as I haven’t seen the billets-doux with mes own yeux).
The Right, for its part, says that the incident was very much an isolated case – that the assailant was mentally disturbed – and has sought to distance itself from the whole affair.
From my limited and distant perspective, however, the problem is clear: the easy availability in the U. S. and A. of gnus guns.
Now, there is an emporium here in Cromer where you can buy potentially lethal weapons such as airguns and crossbows.
In America, they do things bigger.
I learn from Dr. A. E. of Manchester that you can go into sports shops and find guns on display, as if they were just so many tennis racquets or golf clubs. And my friend and colleague Dr A. W. of Oklahoma informs me that you can pick up a gun in the supermarket, who knows, between the kitty litter and the sun-dried tomatoes. Maybe you can get them on special offer: this week only! Buy two Glocks and get a free Magnum – make our day!
Call me naive, but the problem is in plain sight. Guns, guns and more guns. Not just the occasional twelve-bore for potting the odd caribou caught nibbling the croquet hoops, but serious military hardware – Uzis, assault rifles, guns designed to kill not bunnies, or even caribou – but people.
To me, the case is clear. Get rid of the gnus guns. Yet when I point this out to American friends, even the quite normal ones, they sigh, roll their eyes skywards and give me a long lecture about the US Constitution and how guns are, for good or ill, an indissoluble (yea, even inalienable) part of American life (I call this ‘gunsplaining’). My friend Mr J. C. of Tennessee said that were one to try to part Americans from their guns, there’d be a revolution. I’m afraid that my response was flippant: Americans who insisted on keeping their guns should be sent to Afghanistan, where they’d get on famously with the heavily armed religious zealots of that country – or to Alaska, where I hear they’d get a rousing welcome.
Such flippancy has a serious side, though, for zealotry has no greater enemy than laughter. To which end I recall that wince-inducing exhibit of the cinematic art, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan in which Borat goes into a gun shop and asks the proprietor about ‘best gun to defend from a Jew’ – in response to which the proprietor recommends Borat a ’9mm or a 45′. Now, it hardly matters whether this was a setup or was scripted: for if any oddball can go into a shop and buy a gun, it’s not surprising that people will get shot.
If humor doesn’t work, try this. The youngest victim of the Tucson shooting was a nine-year-old girl, Christina Taylor Green, who was born on – get this – 11 September 2001. Now, how much more emotive a signal does a nation need to stop gunsplaining and realise that it is eating its own children? Lewis Carroll might have baulked. But Goya would have understood.