Just a little over a week ago I returned from an amazing trip to Ireland, Scotland, and England. They are truly amazing countries if you haven’t had the chance to go; countryside as idyllic as any of the movies you might have seen, as well as a lot of friendly people willing to point a wayward American tourist in the right direction. Moreover, if you have to choose between those two factors (the sites and the people), I can say without equivocation that despite seeing some of the great places my historian heart has longed to see: William Wallace’s victorious battle site at Stirling Bridge against the English in 1297, Hadrian’s Wall (built by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago), it was the people I met and the friends I made which were the best part of the journey.
One of the things I enjoyed during the trip were the slight variances in dialect and terminology between Irish, Scot, English, and ‘Murican version of our common spoken language. While I handled the English and most Irish accents I heard well enough, the thick Scot Glaswegian accent forced me to say “huh, what?” more than once. It wasn’t learning a foreign language, but wasn’t too far off!
I also like the fact that everyone across the pond calls a “Vacation” being on “Holiday.”
It sounds so much more fun, doesn’t it? “Holiday” implies that your about to do something enjoyable, while “Vacation” is more akin to forced removal from work. At least to my ears. While were at it: “Leave” doesn’t sound really sound much better does it? Might as well be called “Get Out.”
One thing that was common no matter where I went was a strong interest in the American political landscape. Two issues in particular were commonly addressed: the election, and guns in America, and my discussions with people will be the blog’s topic this time around.
1. Discourses on the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election
It never took very long. I would pony up to my pub of choice for the evening, typically one like the Irish pubs I so love back home, maybe the odd German-themed bier hall, or perhaps a brand new blues bar thrown in for good measure, and wait. Eventually I’d get to talking to some bar patron, or they would hear an American accent (NOT CANADIAN!) and strike up a conversation with me. The conversations were often formulaic: where you from in the States? Saint Louis. Where’s that? Smack dab in the middle. What have you seen so far, etc. etc.
What got really amusing and interesting was at some point in the conversation there would be this strange tactical pause, as if they were gauging the appropriateness of the subject, or perhaps sizing up my viewpoints the best they could. Then out it would come:
“So what do you think of Donald Trump?”
Now, I’m not about to rehash my feeling on The Donald. The reader is more than welcome to read my earlier blog “Hi ‘Murica: Can we vote for John Kasich…Please???” if you want my views on all the candidates, but sufficient to say a fan I am not.
What I did find interesting upon later introspection is an almost unconscious desire to frame my answer in the most matter of fact, unbiased manner possible. In America, I simply would have responded with a sigh, or a “that fucking guy!” As an American in a foreign land however I strangely felt it necessary to explain my fellow countrymen’s viewpoints, regardless of how I felt about them. So determined, I would explain the appeal of Trump as follows:
- As demographics in the U.S have steadily changed from a majority white to a more racially diverse population, there has been a subsequent backlash by that same former majority about perceived loss of the American Dream.
- That well educated, financially stable liberal elements in the United States have by and large ignored those concerns, and worse, broad brushed all such people with said concerns as ignorant and racist.
- That Trump understands those concerns and addresses them, loudly and proudly, without a hint of concern for political correctness – and thus has become a very ironic advocate.
In that vein, Trump is merely the American version of how some in the West are attempting to deal with a world very much in flux. Bear in mind I was having these conversations in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit decision in the United Kingdom and the Bastille Day attack in Nice. Certainly the supporters of Trump are not better or worse than the reactionaries voting for Brexit, or the right wing elements on the continent that are likely to cause a shift in political power in France and Germany. In other words, take a hard look at yourself before picking on the big easy target that is the U.S.
2. Explaining the Right to Bear Arms to a people who have surrendered that right.
It’s truly a matter of context. On my tenth birthday I got my first gun: a .22 caliber bolt-action Daisy Carbine. It still sits in my gun safe in the basement. Accurate lil bastard, too. I was taught safe handling of firearms well before I joined the Army, and from there on learned how to safely operate far more deadly weapon systems, to include the much maligned Colt Pattern Carbine, aka M4, aka the AR-15. Unfortunately, to most Britons (and a growing number of Americans, sadly), the only knowledge they have of firearms stems from movies and from news reports of mass shootings.
Keeping that in mind, it’s easy to see how so many of the people I met in my travels see these tools as the cause of, not a symptom of, violent crime in the United States. Logically, banning guns will reduce gun violence and mass casualty event’s, yes?
Some, may be surprised to hear me say this, but when I hear this viewpoint, my response is “Theoretically, yes.”
If Congress passed a law to the level of the United Kingdom’s or Australia’s restrictions, and that law was enforced without issue, then yes it would likely reduce gun violence in the U.S.
As I would explain, here’s the problem. When the Commonwealth countries passed these laws in the emotional aftermath of some serious mass shooting events, law-abiding citizens lined up to do what they believed to be the right thing. That’s because in these countries weapon ownership is seen through the lens of being a privilege unlike the United States, where it is a Constitutional right. If you passed such laws, the U.S. government would be tasked with forcibly removing over 350 million weapon systems from a population of over 310 million across an entire continent. Very few people would willfully turn over their right to bear arms. The government would then be tasked with forcibly removing firearms from law abiding, tax paying, voters homes.
Who’s going to do that?
Beyond that practical issue, there is in my opinion, the higher moral issues. Despite critic assertions, the 2nd amendment doesn’t refer to hunting, and it certainly doesn’t apply merely to the militia. The right is fully recognized as an individual right. It is also just as relevant now as it was then as a guarantee of individual liberty. I’ll add that since the U.K and Australia have surrendered their right to bear arms, they have consequently seen other civil liberties erode. The U.K. is a virtual surveillance state, speech determined by the government to be hateful is banned and can possibly be considered a criminal offense. In Australia the police can enter a home “just cause” in search of a firearm. As a result, what are sacred rights to Americans, the 1st Amendment right to freedom of speech and the 4th amendment right from protection from unlawful search and seizure, are at the whim of their respective governments.
The hard fact is that freedom is messy, and it can sometimes be violent. However, as Benjamin Franklin famously said “Those who give up essential liberty to obtain a little safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” As a supporter of the Second Amendment this is a hard sell, because wouldn’t it be beautiful if there were no mass shootings, or that the violent crime rate would be reduced?
The truth in my opinion, and the opinion of many of my compatriots is you have to take the bad with the good. The wolves of the world will exploit your freedoms, that doesn’t mean you get rid of them. Getting rid of the guns doesn’t cure the sickness that causes the crime. The legacy of chattel slavery remains with us, a fact lost to Europeans. The subsequent cycles of poverty and break-up of families has a lot more to do with our current violent crime situation than the guns. You want to stop violent crime, then start with jobs, education, and rebuilding the family. Stop blaming the police that have to respond to these situations. Stop blaming the guns, because it doesn’t fix the situation. Carrying knives is illegal in the U.K; that hasn’t stopped violent criminal elements from stabbing innocents and each other like it’s the national pastime. A gun ban didn’t stop a minister of parliament from getting shot. It didn’t stop an insane jihadist fanatic from driving a truck into a peaceful crowd in France.
The world is headed into a very uncertain time, and it’s my belief that it will get worse before it gets better. It will, however, get better. Let’s not surrender our rights along the way out of fear.
3. Convincing vs. Explaining
In conclusion, the best part of my political discussions abroad was no one was trying to convince the other person their viewpoint was right. It was a conversation explaining one’s viewpoint. To me that was one of the big take aways from my time. We could use a little more of that in our political discussions here at home: you don’t have to agree with someone, just try to understand where they are coming from in their argument before jumping their shit. I think we could all get a lot more done that way.