The Scottish Saltire

The Scottish Saltire

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

America's Wakeup Call

As my friends well know I lived in Tucson, Arizona for 15 years before moving to Scotland. I lived in Gabrielle Giffords congressional district and and my vote was one of the many that elected her to her first term as a United States Congresswoman in 2006. And so, the tragedy of last weekend hits very close to home for me.

I have been following the events online for the last couple of days and even posted a video on Facebook of Keith Olbermann's comments concerning the vitriolic political rhetoric that many are blaming for Saturday's shooting of Representative Giffords and 19 other people, six of whom were killed. While I agree with everything Olbermann said in his "Special Comment" segment I don't think he went far enough. Like most on the left he laid the blame squarely at the feet of people like Sarah Palin and others on the right who have used violent imagery to further their political causes. He only gave cursory attention to the same actions of those on the left...including President Obama who, in a 2008 speech said, "If they bring a knife to the fight, we'll bring a gun". And what does it say about me, as an American voter, that upon hearing that speech from the politician whom I admire more than any other, I didn't even bat an eye?

No one seriously believes that Sarah Palin actually intended for her followers to shoot sitting congressional members in order take back those democratic held districts when she used cross hairs to highlight them on a map on her website or that she meant it literally when she said in a campaign slogan, "Don't retreat. Reload!" Just like nobody actually believed that President Obama was advocating Democrats to "bring a gun" to the fight. But the fact remains that political rhetoric on both sides has escalated and become more and more violent and that we as American voters have become so used to it that it doesn't shock us when we hear it. Only when something horrific like the Tucson shooting happens do we sit up and take notice. Even then, everyone jumps on their own bandwagon and points the finger of guilt at the other side. Democrats saying that it's all the fault of Republicans because they encourage and incite this kind of action with their constant political references to guns and violence and Republicans saying that there is no proof that the shooter had any political leanings to the right and accusing Dems of using this to further their own political agenda of making all Republicans the personification of evil.

The fact is that there is enough blame to go around. If you read both liberal and conservative editorial and opinion articles, as well as blogs and other articles you'll find a plethora of examples citing inflammatory and violent rhetoric by both parties. Enough is enough! When will it end? Instead of stomping, screaming and pointing fingers like little kids, all of us, politicians and citizens alike, should simply make a promise to ourselves and our nation that we will no longer participate in hateful rhetoric.

I don't believe Sarah Palin is evil (incompetent to hold office and more than a bit of a whack-job...yes, but not evil). I believe she is as shocked and repulsed as the rest of us by the actions of a clearly mentally unstable young man. I also believe that it is unfair to single her out in this situation when there are so many others who are just as guilty as she is (in both parties) for pandering to this ugly dimension of the American psyche.

Why does this kind of political rhetoric work so well in America? There are those in other countries whose only exposure to American life is what they see on television or in the movies churned out by Hollywood. I think their answer to my question would be "Because America is a violent culture" but that's too simplistic. My life, nor the lives of anyone I know, is not even remotely mirrored by what Hollywood produces. If you judge America by what you see on television and in the movie theater then as far as I'm concerned you don't even belong in this conversation. I have lived in Scotland for a year and a half now and have spent that time studying the history of this country, including its culture, its wars and its politics, and not for one second would I ever presume to tell a Scot what is wrong with their country or what they should change. Every society has crime and bad people and negative aspects to its culture. America is no more guilty of these things than Britain or France or Germany or Russia or Italy! But it's crime and violence that sells movie tickets...not just in America but in other countries too... so that's what Hollywood puts out.

I lived, for most of my 53 years, in the country of my birth. Our culture and our people are as flawed and as perfect as that of any country. There are good and bad people. There are criminals and law abiding citizens. There are those who will steal and those who will give. There are those who would take a life and those who would give their own life in defense of another. The ordinary American is no different than someone from any other country. The people I know are kind to their neighbors, will go out of their way to help a friend, care about the welfare of others and would stop to help a stranger in need. We want security in our lives and a safe future for our children. So why does the vitriol of recent politics work so well on a nation of basically decent human beings? I don't even have an answer to my own question. It would take someone much better trained in the field of human psychology than me to answer it with any authority. I just know that something has to change in our political system!

I also believe that last weekends event highlights the need for stricter gun control laws in the U.S. This is an issue that polarizes us as a nation. There are people who will immediately cite the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." At the time that the Constitution was written we were a nation that had just fought for its freedom...much of that fighting having been done not just by the regular army but by militias; an army of ordinary citizens rather than professional soldiers. It is my belief that the founding fathers also meant that people should have a means of protecting not just their new nation but also their families and property. However, times have changed. We don't live in the times of the Revolutionary War or the Wild West anymore. I have never owned a gun nor have I ever felt unsafe in my own home without one tucked away in the top drawer of my bedroom dresser.

That being said, the right to "keep and bear arms" IS in the Constitution and will likely remain so (making changes to the Constitution is not impossible but it is a difficult and complicated procedure). Nor would I necessarily like to see the Second Amendment changed. But I do believe with every fiber of my being that gun ownership should be much more strictly regulated! There are many law abiding citizens in the U.S. who are avid hunters. Hunting is definitely not my cup of tea but that's not the point. So I can see the need for rifles. A rifle can also be used in defense of one's home or family if the need should arise. What I can't see is the need for handguns. Handguns have only one purpose and that is to kill people. The same goes for automatic and semi-automatic weapons. Their purpose is solely to kill people. Sure, there may be a percentage of crimes that are committed with shotguns but their numbers are way fewer than those committed with hand guns. I see no good reason for hand guns, automatic or semi-automatic weapons to be legal.

Even if handguns are never completely outlawed the laws governing gun ownership should be very strict. NO ONE should be able to just waltz into a store and buy a gun! A 3 day waiting period is a joke. If someone has murder on their mind 3 days isn't going to deter them. Anyone wanting to buy a gun should be thoroughly scrutinized. The gun owners I know are all decent people and have nothing to hide. I'm sure they don't want crazies or criminals to get a hold of a gun any more than I do. Most of the massacres like that which took place in Tucson a few days ago have been shown to have been committed by mentally unstable people. If the U.S. had stricter gun laws then these people would, in all probability, have been prevented from obtaining a weapon in the first place. I also think that there should be laws governing how guns are stored in the home. Arizona has laws that say you must have a 6 ft. fence with a child-proof latch on the gate to prevent a child from getting to your pool. What about laws protecting them from their parents guns?

I think Saturday's tragedy highlights two very important issues that need change in our country. Even if the shooter was not in the least motivated by the current political rhetoric his actions have brought it to the forefront of the collective American conscience. It is a subject of public awareness now and I'll bet you dimes to dollars that, in the future, our politicians will be more careful about the messages they put least I hope so. Gun control is another matter. We are a country divided on that one and I see no solution in the near future. I just hope that one of my loved ones, or yours, is not the next victim of a gun crime.

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