Chris Jepson: America is unquestionably exceptional

As others see us, America considers itself a paragon of virtue, without peer in the world of democratic nations.

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  • | 8:19 a.m. June 25, 2015
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
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I am of a mixed-mind when it comes to guns in America. I grew-up with weapons stored — neatly oiled and sheathed — in the closet, brought out, typically, for the fall pheasant-hunting season. I had (and still do) my brother’s exquisite Remington-22 rifle that for nearly a decade as a child and teenager accompanied me on my regular jaunts exploring the bucolic countryside of Northwest Iowa surrounding Sioux City.

Once or twice a year I headed to a friend’s gun range to target shoot with exotic handguns and rifles. There is no denying the sense of power that comes from the experience. I bagged my last pheasant in 1965 at age 16, after determining I did not derive any joy from killing something so beautiful. Under circumstances of need I wouldn’t hesitate to kill to eat. But we don’t live like that today.

My mixed-mind conundrum on this subject centers on the correlation, the undeniable link between guns and deaths in America.

As others see us, America considers itself a paragon of virtue, without peer in the world of democratic nations. Yes, we are the leader of the West, of developed nations but, really, we are truly, inherently an exceptional people. A cut above, so to speak.

Our leaders, both Democrat and Republican perpetuate this image, this myth because to suggest otherwise risks voter backlash. I appropriated Richard Dawkin’s words on delusion. It sums-up well America’s challenge, “A delusion is something that people believe in despite a total lack of evidence.”

America is not exceptional when it comes to many basic quality-of-life indices. Depending on the study America ranks 24th in reading, 36th in math, 28th in science, 26th in life expectancy, 34th in infant mortality. America, however, leads in incarcerations per capita and defense spending. Are these the numbers, the “barometers” of an exceptional people?

I awoke Monday morning with a Mel Brooks comical movie image playing in my head. It was from “Blazing Saddles,” and it’s the scene where the sheriff, played by Cleavon Little, puts a gun to his own head and takes himself hostage. He threatens to kill himself. I see it as a metaphor for what America is doing with guns. We’ve taken ourselves hostage (through rightwing/NRA propaganda), put a gun to our collective head and day in and day out we pull the trigger. Too many Americans die every day because of our exceptional inability to rationally deal with gun violence in America.

David Hemenway, the director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center observed in his 2006 book “Private Guns, Public Health” that, "Within the United States, a wide array of empirical evidence indicates that more guns in a community leads to more homicide."

According to a 2011 study by investigators at the Harvard School of Public Health and UCLA School of Public Health, "The United States had a homicide rate 6.9 times higher than those in the other high-income countries, driven by a firearm homicide rate that was 19.5 times higher than those in the other high-income countries. For 15 year olds to 24 year olds, the firearm homicide rate in the United States was 42.7 times higher than in the other countries."

By any measure these are exceptional numbers and statistics. To argue that there is no correlation between guns and murder/suicide rates in America is ludicrous. But when, of late, has logic been a consideration in the nation’s body politic?

America is exceptional, and it’s killing us. Some distinction.


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