America’s so-called allies hate us. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Foreign nationals look at America’s enormous economic, military and cultural power with equal parts disdain and envy. Make that envy-fueled disdain. Think Scar from Lion King. As someone who lived in the UK for 18 years through the entirety of the Bush years, I endured the bitter bile of Britain’s disarmed intelligentsia. When it came to guns the prevailing – indeed only – opinion: Americans are trigger-happy morons who need to be sent to their room without ammunition. Huffington Post front page editor Joanna Zelman knows of what I speak. Her response to the gross and willful mischaracterization is wildly different from mine . . .
I have been asked about Miley Cyrus a handful of times during my travels abroad. I am often asked if I know someone named “John” who also lives in New York City.
But the only question I have been asked on every coast of every country I’ve visited is: “Why do Americans love guns so much?”
One of my Tasmanian friends wants to travel to the U.S. but told me she is “scared I’ll be shot.” A New Zealander informed me last night that, were she to summarize the U.S. in one word, it would be: “violent.” My Saudi Arabian friend gently suggested, “Every country has its problems. Yours is guns.”
As the U.S. repeatedly fails to prevent gun violence, I find myself often slipping into a disillusioned resignation that perhaps this is just how the world is now. But what is happening in America is not normal.
Disillusioned resignation? When asked the same question (or a variation thereof) my response was simple enough: because guns keep us free. I could have said “because guns” for all the good it did, but I was a young firebrand. In any case, the subject of firearms rarely came up during my travels through Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and a dozen other countries.
But this isn’t about me. It’s about Ms. Zelman’s European experiences relative to guns. Or is it? I call BS on Zelman’s claim that a Tasmanian said he/she wouldn’t travel to America for fear of ballistic ventilation. If nothing else, it’s too damn convenient to her story line.
Tasmania knows what it’s like to have a community brought to its knees as media swarm for quotes, scoops and then disappear as the more fixed pain sets in. But when Australia witnessed dozens of its citizens murdered one weekend afternoon, it did something rather foreign to America: it enacted change. Australians turned in nearly 700,000 guns and laws were tightened. There were 11 mass shootings in Australia the decade before 1996. There have been no mass shootings ever since.
Seems Ms. Zelman couldn’t be bothered to Google “Australian gun crime.” If she had she would’ve quickly found the story New plan unveiled to tackle out-of-control gun violence at ballinadvocate.com.au. And dozens of similar stories revealing that gun control = civilian disarmament = criminal empowerment in Australia, as it does everywhere else in the world. And yes, it gets worse.
Our nation may see itself as a gun-toting “Dirty Harry” hero, but some regard us more as an immature brute unwilling to pry his fingers off deadly toys, drunk on a wildly wealthy gun lobby’s stale elixir mislabeled as American pride.
I do not believe that everyone looks at our country’s gun obsession with bewilderment and ridicule. But the small percentage of the world’s population that I’ve met sure do.
When I try to explain to my baffled new friends that, well, some Americans feel safer with guns, I get blank stares. Maybe because a study last year found that guns do not make a country safer, and “There was a significant correlation between guns per head per country and the rate of firearm-related deaths.” A separate report last year found that many of the states with weak gun laws also saw the greatest levels of gun violence.
I’m not going to debunk Ms. Zelman’s studies and reports, which suffer from the startling lack of scientific rigor that bedevils all the antis’ so-called “research.” Suffice it to say, Ms. Zelman is displaying the self-same “America last” self-hatred I found amongst fellow ex-patriots in the UK. People who bought into the prevailing intellectual conceit that Americans are uncouth, uncultured and, well, stupid. Hence the Clint Eastwood diss.
In fact, the enduring popularity of Eastwood’s Old Testament-style cop character reflects Americans’ profound belief in justice and their entirely realistic view of the presence of evil in our world. (Not to mention a symbol of true grit and moral integrity.) The Euro-snobs and their American sycophants see Inspector Callahan as his [fictional] superiors did: a loose cannon. A threat to the system. Uncivilized. Like America itself. Supposedly.
Australia’s former Prime Minister John Howard explained in a New York Times op-ed last year that in his country, “The fundamental problem was the ready availability of high-powered weapons, which enabled people to convert their murderous impulses into mass killing. Certainly, shortcomings in treating mental illness and the harmful influence of violent video games and movies may have played a role. But nothing trumps easy access to a gun.”
Gun Owners of America’s Larry Pratt responded to Australia’s initiative: “We’re not interested in being like Australia. We’re Americans.”
Perhaps that’s the trouble: A hijacking of the word “American.” My passport reads “United States of America,” I’ve voted in every election since turning 18 (and before that I voted in the first three seasons of American Idol.) I grew up on North Carolina hushpuppies, New York bagels, California avocados and Florida orange juice. But I choose life over guns, and it’s time that became “American.”
The Howard quote shows that Zelman’s down with the idea – common amongst people who seek to deny Americans their natural, civil and Constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms – that average people are too mentally unstable to own firearms. As we pointed out before, that belief stems from a despicable combination of condescending elitism and psychological projection.
The Pratt quote reveals Zelman doesn’t share the gun guy’s belief in American Exceptionalism: the idea that our country’s Constitution sets it apart from countries that don’t share our dedication to individual liberty and limited government. A concept enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Specifically but not exclusively, the Second Amendment.
Does that idea represent a “hijacking” of the word “American”? Hell no. It’s the damn definition! (Coffee’s kicked in.) Well, that’s my opinion; which I don’t hide behind a false dichotomy. In fact, I choose guns to protect innocent life. Oops! That makes me Dirty Harry. I wonder what that makes Ms. Zelman. Whatever it is it isn’t someone I’d want representing my country abroad. Or anywhere else, really. Still, First Amendment and all that.