Expat Chronicles: Looking West Toward Home, With Guns Staring Back

The last time we visited the United States was in July and August of 2019, when we spent about a week in Charlotte and then another week in the Pacific Northwest. It was a fun trip, at least when we didn’t pay attention to the news. That’s the great thing about vacations. You tend not to pay attention to the news.

But when we finally did dive back into the news, as the trip was winding down and we were preparing to fly from Seattle back to London, these were the headlines staring back at us:

  • Nine people were killed at a mass shooting on August 4 at a nightclub in Dayton, Ohio
  • Twenty-two people were killed at a mass shooting on August 3 at a Walmart shopping complex in El Paso, Texas
  • Three people were killed at a mass shooting on July 28 at a garlic festival in Gilroy, California

Three mass shootings, 34 dead, many dozens more injured, all in the space of a week or so. I remember thinking at the time that as fun as it was to be back in the States for a while, I was happy to be leaving.

We haven’t been back since, but only because the coronavirus squelched our plans for a return visit last spring. With pandemic restrictions maybe (maybe) due to ease thanks to widespread vaccination programs, we’ve been making plans for a return trip to the States this summer.

And while we’ve been making these vacation plans, these are the headlines staring back at us from America:

  • Eight people were killed during mass shootings on March 16 at spas in Atlanta
  • Ten people were killed during a mass shooting on March 22 at a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado

According to The New York Times, these recent shootings were the first on a large, public scale in about a year. The pandemic seemed to put a temporary halt to random acts of mass violence by madmen – always men – but the U.S. can only go so long without somebody loading their weapons and firing into a crowd. It’s just the way things are there.

And it’s utter insanity.

Societies that call themselves rational and civilized do not allow this kind of thing to happen over and over again, year in and year out. They don’t share thoughts and prayers for a few days before forgetting the whole thing a couple weeks later.

But that’s what happens in the United States, every time. Every single fucking time. It doesn’t matter if it’s a couple dozen schoolkids slaughtered at an elementary school in Connecticut, or nine worshipers slaughtered in a Bible study class in South Carolina, or 22 shoppers slaughtered at a Walmart in Texas. Eventually, the shock wears off, usually sooner rather than later, because it’s no longer shocking anymore.

Insanity.

When these things happen, the talk inevitably turns to gun control. But I have no interest in that right now, because there is no gun control in the United States. There are a few token, toothless regulations that vary from state to state and community to community. But they do nothing to restrict access to firearms or prevent gun deaths. Gun murders are committed every day, by every race and class of people, against every race and class of people, in all corners of the country.

Some countries do have gun control laws, including the UK. In fact, most of the world has gun control laws. If you want to see how much lower their incidences of gun violence are vs. the United States, read this 2019 article from NPR, or a hundred other articles just like it.

What those countries don’t have – but the U.S. does – is a constitutional amendment that guarantees Americans the right to buy and keep arms. And that amendment has been turned into one of the biggest con games in U.S. history.

For any non-Americans who might be reading this, a quick primer: The Second Amendment to the Constitution, written in the late 1700s, was intended to ensure that American citizens had the right to arm themselves against the kind of tyrannical government that occurred under British rule before the United States declared itself a free and sovereign country.

Whenever there’s a mass shooting in the U.S., many Americans talk about the need to implement stricter gun laws. And people who oppose stricter gun laws always point to the Second Amendment. Their argument is that guns are a God-given birthright. If ordinary Americans don’t have guns to protect themselves, the reasoning goes, then there’s nothing stopping the government from imposing martial law and sticking its tyrannical boot on the necks of every freedom-loving man, woman and child.

Well, that was probably true in the 1700s, and maybe the 1800s. But it hasn’t been true in a long, long time.

The reason is simple: It assumes that an amateur militia armed with revolvers, automatics, assault rifles and other firearms can properly defend themselves against the modern firepower of the U.S. military, with its bomb-wielding drones, boost-glide hypersonic weapons, tomahawk and THAAD missiles, tanks, fighter jets, Ospreys, EXACTO bullets and assorted other high-tech weaponry.

This isn’t a battle fought against cavalry pointing muskets, or infantry pointing rifles. It’s a battle against a sophisticated, 21st century, trillion-dollar military powerhouse that can vaporize you and yours in a matter of seconds without breaking a sweat. And you can bet that there’s no way the U.S. government will let you go down to your local armaments store and load up on missiles, bombs and tanks to defend yourself.

So stop pretending that your right to buy a Glock has anything at all to do with fighting government tyranny.

But that’s not the main lie that bothers me. The main lie is built around the assumption that America’s gun lovers even care about tyranny in the first place. Because many don’t – and this has been proven time and again, throughout history.

Tyrannical government has a long history in the United States. It manifested itself in the enslavement of Africans and the conquest of native lands from native people. It thrived in the Jim Crow South, when Black people had to sleep in separate hotels, eat at separate restaurants, drink from separate water fountains, live in separate neighborhoods, and attend separate schools, and were shot or lynched without due process the second they stepped out of line.

Tyranny was on display during World War II, when U.S.-born Japanese-American citizens were rounded up and sent to internment camps because Japan and the U.S. were at war (oddly, no German- or Italian-Americans were sent to internment camps during World War II).

Tyranny can be seen in the government profiling of Muslim Americans for the sins of foreign extremists who perpetrated the 9/11 terrorist attack, even though Christian Americans were not profiled for the sins of domestic extremists who perpetrated the Oklahoma City terrorist attack.

Tyranny can be seen in separating Latino children from their parents and locking them up in detention centers just because their parents tried to enter the country without the proper documentation.

Where were all the proud, liberty-loving gun owners during these acts of tyranny? Why didn’t citizen militias descend on cotton plantations to free the slaves? Why didn’t they fight for the liberty of Native Americans who were shuffled off to reservations? Why didn’t they block the Japanese internment camps, or take up arms against the oppressors of the Jim Crow South, or come to the defense of Muslim Americans and Latino children? Why aren’t they pushing back against the ongoing violence of white police officers against Black citizens?

I’ll tell you why: Because they don’t really oppose tyranny – as long as the tyranny happens to be wielded against someone else, which usually means immigrants or people of color.

When the California-based Black Panther Party stockpiled guns in the 1960s to fight government oppression, gun rights activists – including the NRA – supported a California gun control law to ban the open carry of loaded firearms in public. White liberty lovers back then had no problem restricting the liberties of Black gun owners, and they’d probably have no problem restricting the liberties of Muslim, Black or Antifa gun owners today.

But when their own gun rights are threatened? Well, that’s a different story. That’s tyranny.

One thing we never worry about in London is gun violence. There’s violence, for sure. But it usually involves fists, knives or blunt objects. It’s almost impossible to commit violence on a grand scale, with high-powered killing machines, because the country is not beholden to a constitutional amendment that guarantees the right to buy and hoard those killing machines.

In America, gun enthusiasts get a free pass, and it’s called the Second Amendment. They get to pretend that the Second Amendment is sacrosanct, a gift from God, the only thing separating liberty from tyranny.

It’s all such bullshit. The Second Amendment doesn’t protect anything meaningful anymore. It’s just another con, just another hustle perpetuated by gun enthusiasts who are perfectly happy to trade the lives of tens of thousands of Americans every year for the right to hoard firearms.

I no longer expect these people to listen to reason anymore. Just own up to the bullshit. That’s all I ask.

In return, I’ll stop pretending that gun control laws will ever be possible or effective, and simply admit that I want the Second Amendment to be repealed. Maybe then we can have a conversation that lets you keep your hunting rifles, like folks here in the UK, while I and everyone else can walk around without worrying about being ripped to shreds by bullets.

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