I am a proponent of first imagining the best. Start from an ideal. Why not? We will soon enough arrive at something less than the ideal so why not even, if momentarily, embrace an idealized standard? Besides, it’s all compared to what. As Les McCann sang in 1969, “Make it real compared to what!”
When I first heard the advertisement that the National Rifle Association put out in response to President Obama’s call for gun reform, I was physically nauseated. Wayne Lapierre, CEO and Vice President of the NRA, argued that because President Obama’s children receive armed protection, the president is an “elitist hypocrite” to not support equivalent armed protection for all of America’s children.
The question I put to you, gentle reader, if you were imagining a culture in which to live, would it be 21st century America? I can hear the howls of protest now. Jepson is some kind of un-American nation hater. Why, America is the bestest of the best. For all time, always, forever. How can he suggest otherwise by asking that we imagine a better America?
Ask yourself this? By so many measurements (life expectancy, healthcare, happiness polls, income inequality, educational opportunities, etc.), the United States is in the bottom quartile of Western industrialized nations. If we are doing such a jam-up job, why do other nations’ people experience longer, happier lives? Why is that?
When imagining a culture, would it be one with 300 million weapons in circulation, many of those military assault rifles? Would it be a society that has the highest prison population on the planet? Is that statistic just a random byproduct of American democracy (freedom) — that so many of our citizens (minorities in particular) are in jail? What is the correlation between weapons, imprisonment and homicide deaths? How do poverty, discrimination and our long national history of racism fit into the equation?
The nation’s Founding Fathers did, indeed, establish a democracy for men such as themselves (white/propertied). It wasn’t until the 1820s that universal white male suffrage was deemed acceptable. Women didn’t participate until the 1920s, and black Americans “really” didn’t start voting until the late 1960s. Arguably, demonstrably, America wasn’t a “true” democracy until then. Could you have imagined a different historical trajectory for our nation? One without such a ridiculous idealization of weapons.
I do not understand why the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, for example, is prohibited from compiling (publishing) data on where guns are sold and which type of weapon (by brand) is used in a crime. If, as some suggest, a very small number of America’s retail guns stores are disproportionately responsible for the weapons used in crime, why is it inappropriate to know that and to do something about it (revoke sales license/indict)? If one class of weapon is used in the commission of crimes, should we not as a society know that and be able to react accordingly? The NRA is responsible for us not knowing who sells weapons to whom or what specific weapons are used in crime. Gun show sales should require similar oversight.
Understand that the America the NRA envisions quite logically means armed guards everywhere citizens congregate. While grocery shopping, buying gas, or doing Pilates at your YMCA. Schools, of course. Churches, too. It’s a bleak, frightening third-world vision for America.
We are so lost.
Can we not imagine a better way? Seriously. For a moment.