Only in America

The French neighbor across the courtyard here makes her living as a tour guide – every few weeks she meets another gaggle of elderly French folks, piles them in a small bus, and then shows them Hollywood and Los Angeles. They love it – the most popular chewing gum in France is named Hollywood – but they really want a taste of America. There are the side trips to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. They love that too. They’re curious. What is this place all about? This could be it. There’s nothing more American than Hollywood and Las Vegas – it’s the Elvis impersonators there – but of course that’s nonsense. Akron and Altoona are America too. Most of America, like most of France beyond Paris, is a bit boring in a comforting everyday way – quiet people lead their quiet lives. Nothing much happens.

Of course you could get shot. Every foreign tourist must assume, given what they see on the news, that every American is packing heat. Make no sudden moves. Don’t make anyone angry. Avoid schools. Avoid malls. Avoid the freeways. The United States is the only advanced country in the world that allows pretty much anyone to walk around fully armed, and those weapons are often concealed, and they’ll use them. Be careful, or stay home, or come with your own big gun – but then you can’t do that, can you? You’re not a citizen here. Oh well. Enjoy your visit.

That’s not fair, but we make absurd assumptions about the French too – those cheese-eating surrender monkeys with questionable hygiene and even more questionable morals. It’s just that the gun stories just keep coming. This week opened with this:

An 11-year-old Tennessee boy has been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of an 8-year-old neighbor girl. The Jefferson County sheriff said the boy, whose name has not been released, used his father’s 12-gauge single-shot shotgun to kill his next-door neighbor, McKayla Dyer.

The girl had been outside playing about 7:30 p.m. Saturday when the older boy asked to see her puppy, but she told him no, said Latasha Dyer, the girl’s mother. She said the boy, who had bullied her daughter since moving to the mobile home park in White Pine, went home to get the shotgun and then shot her daughter in the chest.

These things happen. He was angry. There was a gun in the house, and maybe you could say the father was irresponsible for not keeping it locked up, but lots of boys in rural Tennessee have their own guns, for hunting or fun. Perhaps the kid had a problem with impulse control. What eleven-year-old boy doesn’t? But there’s another way to look at this. If this eight-year-old girl had an AR-15 the bully here would be dead, not her. That’s the argument for arming everyone, especially the kids, all the kids, so they can protect themselves. Well, maybe not the kids, but that’s the general argument we’ve been making for a long time. Guns protect us. Everyone knows this, until the next mass shooting.

Even then, the most unlikely folks resist the idea that the guns are the problem:

The pro-gun sheriff in charge of investigating a mass shooting at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College said Friday that he doesn’t subscribe to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting “truther” movement, despite having posted a video, raising questions about the tragedy, to his Facebook page.

“I know what you’re referring to, but that’s not a conspiracy theory that I have,” Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin told CNN late Friday when asked about the video.

Hanlin posted a link in January 2013 to a YouTube video called “The Sandy Hook Shooting – Fully Exposed,” which summarized conspiracy theories surrounding the shooting and quickly went viral. Hanlin posted the link about a month after the massacre of elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut.

“This makes me wonder who we can trust anymore…” Hanlin wrote. “Watch, listen, and keep an open mind.”

The Facebook post was removed from public view Friday afternoon after news outlets reported on it.

Two days after posting the video, Hanlin sent a letter to Vice President Joe Biden stating that he did not believe stricter gun control measures would prevent potential mass shootings.

What Hanlin had posted to Facebook was this sort of thing:

Some conspiracy theories have alleged that the shooting was a hoax and a false flag operation staged by the United States government. Others claim the attack is being used by politicians to push through new gun control legislation, or to otherwise persecute gun owners and survivalists.

Lawyer Orly Taitz was quoted as asking “Was Adam Lanza drugged and hypnotized by his handlers to make him into a killing machine as an excuse as the regime is itching to take all means of self-defense from the populace before the economic collapse?”

Talk show host Clyde Lewis wrote: “Don’t you find it at all interesting that Adam Lanza, the alleged shooter at Sandy Hook, woke up one day and decided to shoot up a school and kill children at about the same time that Barack Obama told the U.N. that he would sign the small arms treaty?” …

In an article published by Iran’s Press TV, Veterans Today editor Gordon Duff quoted Michael Harris, a former Arizona Republican candidate for Governor of Arizona, who attributed the shooting to “Israeli death squads.” Duff speculated that the attacks were an act of “revenge” for the perceived cooling of Israel–United States relations under President Obama, especially as a response to Obama’s decision to nominate former senator Chuck Hagel, a perceived critic of Israel, for the position of United States Secretary of Defense. Duff further claimed that “key members of the military and law enforcement community contacted Veterans Today in full support of Harris’ analysis.”

Hanlin wonders if you can trust anyone, but he said he hasn’t chosen one of these theories. He still has an open mind about such things, and as for that letter to Biden, Hanlin argues that not only are federal gun laws useless, he need not obey them, and Ian Millhiser at Think Progress explains the issues there:

Hanlin’s letter blurs the line between a matter that is lawfully within state officials’ discretion and something much more akin to insurrection. Under the Supreme Court’s “anti-commandeering doctrine,” states may refuse to enforce federal laws that they do not wish to devote their resources to enforcing. For this reason, provided that state law gives him the discretion to do so, Hanlin is permitted to deny his department’s resources to federal officials seeking to enforce federal gun laws. What Hanlin may not do, however, is unilaterally assign himself the power to decide what is or is not constitutional and then refuse to “permit the enforcement” of federal laws by “federal officers within the borders of Douglas County Oregon.” …

If Hanlin believes that the federal government is acting unconstitutionally, he can file a lawsuit challenging the federal government’s action. But local sheriffs are not permitted to use the powers of their office to thwart federal officials trying to carry out their own duties.

The reason why local sheriffs do not have this power should be obvious. If local law enforcement did have the power to decide on their own what the Constitution says, and then to enforce their idiosyncratic notions about our founding document against federal officials, then this would be a recipe for armed conflicts between federal and local officials.

Well, he’s one of those Oath Keepers guys – when the Supreme Court declares something constitutional and it’s not, they’ll fight to stop it. They know better, all patriots do, and so on. How do they know better? They just do. That’s a recipe for chaos, and a Frenchman, visiting, might ask how we can run a country like this. There’s only one answer. Look, another Elvis impersonator!

There’s just no explaining this Oregon business:

According to multiple reports, the shooter’s mother boasted online about her arsenal and feared that gun ownership would soon be restricted.

“When the mood strikes,” Harper reportedly wrote on Facebook, “I sling an AR, Tek-9 or AK over my shoulder, or holster a Glock 21 (not 22), or one of my other handguns, like the Sig Sauer P226, and walk out the door.” Shotguns, she said, “are a little too cumbersome to open carry.”

According to officials, the Harper family moved from Torrance, California to Winchester, Oregon, in 2013. “I moved from So. Calif. to Oregon, from Southern Crime-a-mania to open carry,” Harper noted in that same Facebook post advocating for open carry laws.

Harper, a registered nurse who shared an apartment with her son, spoke “openly about her love of guns,” according to one of her patients.

“She said she had multiple guns and believed wholeheartedly in the Second Amendment and wanted to get all the guns she could before someone outlawed them,” Shelly Steele told the New York Daily News. Steele hired Harper to provide care for her sickly teenage son and said that Harper enjoyed talking to her husband, an avid hunter and former member of the military, about taking her son to shooting ranges.

Should we be worried? People could die, or did die in this instance, but Kevin D. Williamson tells us at the National Review that we shouldn’t do anything about mass shootings because, really, gun murders are incredibly rare, as we’d realize if we weren’t hooked on drama:

We shouldn’t play the shooters’ game. These acts are dramatic because they are unusual (not as unusual as we’d prefer), extraordinary because they are unrepresentative of the contemporary experience rather than representative of it…. We are not, in fact, a polity dissolving into chaos. Our streets aren’t filled with blood – they’re filled with mediocrity. Politicians sell you emergency when they want to take something away from you. Terrorists are not the only people who know that a scared population is a compliant population.

Our streets aren’t filled with blood? We have one mass shooting a day in America on average – some days are better than others, some worse – but never mind:

We insulated moderns are not very good at ranking risks… we love stories. We love them more than we love reality: The Republican party is not run by a secret cabal of warmongering billionaires; Barack Obama is a cookie-cutter Ivy League lefty, not a Kenya-born al-Qaeda plant; you’re going to die from emphysema or from being fat rather than from Ebola or a resurgent Islamic caliphate; the people who commit the murders are for the most part going to be ordinary criminals going about ordinary criminal business, and a fair number of the people they kill are the same thing. …

Even our dramatic crimes are mostly rooted in ordinary failures: those failed families, again, failed mental-health practices, etc. A scary-looking rifle is visually arresting, a fact that tells us something about the weapon, and maybe something about us. It doesn’t tell us anything useful about the actual challenges facing the United States in 2015.

The New York Times’ Charles Blow begs to differ:

We have grown numb to this scourge, and even when politicians politicize gun violence, Washington can’t seem to muster the political will to make even the most modest changes to our federal gun laws.

This has to change. We have to start the process of curtailing our gun culture, and I don’t say that as an anti-gun absolutist, but as a person who grew up around guns, and even owned a gun.

When I was growing up in the rural South, boys had rifles. There was nothing odd about it. Every boy in wood shop made a gun rack.

A rifle wasn’t a weapon as much as a tool. People hunted. They raised and slaughtered food animals. Rifles were used to keep the snakes out of the grass and the vermin out of the garden (though surely there must have been more humane ways to do this). They were poor folks’ fireworks on special occasions like New Year’s.

And they were a guard against intruders – though those intruders were more an idea than a reality in those parts – who might threaten life or property. Law enforcement officials were scarce, and 911 was nonexistent.

But that seems to me another time and place. There didn’t exist the fear and paranoia that grips so many now when it comes to gun ownership. And there wasn’t the fetish for military-style weapons and armor-piercing bullets.

That’s the issue here:

My oldest brother is a gun collector. He is a regular at the gun shows, buying and selling, but even he talks about a sense of unease at those shows as people engage in what can only be described as panic buying and ammunition hoarding.

These people are afraid. They are afraid of a time conservative media and the gun industry has convinced them is coming when sales of weapons, particularly some types of weapons, will be restricted or forbidden. They are afraid of growing populations of people they don’t trust. Some are even afraid that a time will come when they will have to defend themselves against the government itself.

Unfortunately this fear is winning, as many Americans think crime is up, even though it’s down. This fear is winning as massacres, and the gun violence discussions that follow, don’t lead to fewer gun sales, but more. This fear is winning, following continued violence by antigovernment militias and hate groups. Fear is winning as there are now close to as many guns in this country as people – with the gun industry producing millions more each year.

We have reached our supersaturation point as a culture. And with that many guns in circulation, too many will invariably make their way into the hands of people with ill intent.

The Washington Post’s E. J. Dionne seconds that:

The most debilitating dodge is to claim that nothing can be done, that nothing works. The gun lobby specializes in isolating a given incident and declaring sagely that this or that particular solution would not have prevented it.

News flash: No law will ever solve every problem or create heaven on Earth. But it is a straight-out lie to assert that stronger gun laws make no difference. Here is the conclusion of a study released in August by National Journal: “The states that impose the most restrictions on gun users also have the lowest rates of gun-related deaths, while states with fewer regulations typically have a much higher death rate from guns.” State laws could be even more effective if they were matched by federal laws that made it harder for guns to get into the wrong hands.

Politicians who go on about American greatness should be ashamed of saying that the United States is the one and only nation that can’t act effectively to solve a problem every other free and democratic country has contained.

There’s even an example:

Conservatives might usefully listen to former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who has noted that he led “a center-right coalition” whose parties represented “virtually every nonurban electoral district in the country.” In other words, his party is a lot like our Republicans.

After a psychologically disturbed man killed 35 people in Tasmania, Howard championed state bans on the ownership, possession and sale of all automatic and semiautomatic weapons by Australia’s states, along with a federal ban on their importation. He also sponsored a gun buyback scheme that got almost 700,000 guns – the statistical equivalent of 40 million in the United States – off the streets and destroyed. “Few Australians would deny that their country is safer today as a consequence of gun control,” Howard wrote in the New York Times shortly after the Newtown killings.

Forget the hypothetical Frenchman visiting America for the first time. Imagine an Australian instead. You’d know his question. What, are you people crazy?

Don’t answer that:

Conservatives all over the world are aghast at our nation’s permissive attitude toward guns. Is a dangerous and harebrained absolutism about weaponry really the issue on which American conservatives want to practice exceptionalism?

Well, maybe it is, but on the same day the eleven-year-old boy blew away the eight-year-old girl with his father’s shotgun, there was this:

The three leading candidates in the Democratic presidential contest each laid out proposals for new gun-control efforts on Monday, injecting fresh energy into the push for restrictions, which have faced heavy resistance from Republicans. …

Frontrunner Hillary Clinton proposed a series of measures that would tighten regulations on gun sales through a combination of legislation and, if needed, executive power. She said she favored overturning a law that bars gun-violence victims from suing manufacturers, and said as president she would act on her own authority to expand the definition of what sellers are required to conduct background checks.

“I’ve got no problem with people who are responsible gun owners. There are millions of them,” she said at a town hall in Hollis, N.H., broadcast live on NBC. But she added: “Let’s do everything we can to make sure the irresponsible and the criminal and the mentally ill don’t get guns.”

Then there was the other guy:

Gun control marks a rare issue in which Mrs. Clinton’s views are more liberal than those of Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is challenging her for the nomination from the left. Leaning into the issue may help her win over liberal Democrats.

Mr. Sanders, who has a mixed record on backing gun-control measures, laid out a set of proposals on Monday afternoon that have considerable support among Democrats, including Mrs. Clinton. They include requiring background checks for sales by unlicensed dealers at gun shows, banning assault-style semi-automatic weapons and providing better mental-health care.

“Like the rest of the nation, I am appalled by gun violence in our country and the mass shootings in our churches and colleges,” Mr. Sanders said in a statement. “While there is no simple fix, that does not mean we should do nothing.”

Mr. Sanders also bragged that he has a D-minus rating from the National Rifle Association.

When serving in the House, Mr. Sanders voted against the 1993 Brady Bill, which established mandatory background checks, and voted for the 2005 measure barring suits against gun makers. But he also supported legislation in 2013 that would have expanded background checks and banned high-capacity magazines and assault weapons.

And there was the guy no one remembers:

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has the most aggressive set of gun-control proposals. Among other ideas, he would require that every person who buys a gun get a license and be fingerprinted. And he would establish a national gun registry.

And there was something new and clever here:

Mrs. Clinton’s newest idea is to use executive authority to expand the definition of who is “in the business” of selling firearms to include any person trying to sell a significant number of guns, the Clinton campaign said.

Current law allows someone who owns guns as a hobby to sell them without conducting background checks, and defining who technically is in business is complicated.

“This would ensure that high-volume gun sellers are covered by the same common-sense rules that apply to guns stores – including requiring background checks on gun sales,” the Clinton campaign said.

Clever, but much of this was just basic stuff:

The campaign said the former secretary of state would also seek to expand the definition of a domestic abuser who is prohibited from buying a gun to include people in dating relationships and convicted stalkers.

Convicted stalkers wouldn’t be able to buy guns? So much for freedom in America:

Most Republicans remain strongly opposed to gun controls, saying tighter laws would restrict gun rights without any impact on preventing crimes, and many see the odds of congressional action as poor.

Josh Marshall explains why that is so:

According to Pew Research, the number of people who say it’s more important to protect ‘gun rights’ than control gun ownership finally became the majority opinion after Newtown. Roper meanwhile has parallel data, albeit using a slightly different question to get the broadest measure of the country’s attitude toward guns. … But the full picture only becomes clear when you look at the internals of these polls. … Going slightly beyond what the data tells us, it seems clear that being pro-gun has become a key element of Republican self-identification. That is to say, it’s not just that many Republicans’ views have changed since Obama took office, but that being pro-gun has become an elemental part of what it means to be a Republican.

And those Republicans will tell you that that’s what it means to be an American, and maybe it does. We’re used to the mass shootings. Maybe we’re actually okay with them – they let us know we’re free, really free – and maybe Republicans should be the tour guides. Let them explain America to those elderly befuddled French folks. America isn’t the Elvis impersonators. It’s the Elvis impersonator that snaps and guns down everyone on the Strip in Vegas. Welcome to our world.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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