I had a conversation this week with a newly minted American friend. He is a man from Bangladesh whom I’ve known for ten years. He’s been here for a few years longer than that. He is a Muslim, although that is not particularly germane to this story. In the ten years we’ve been friends, I’ve told him on multiple occasions that I’m very glad to know him, because he provides a counter-example to what we see in the news every day. He struggled for a while about whether to take the step to becoming an American citizen. Much of his family and that of his wife are still back in Bangladesh and, unsurprisingly, he retains strong feelings for his country. But he was honest with himself and made the decision to become an American, with all that entails. For him, that means accepting this country as his home, and the primary place for his affections.
He’s told me that he doesn’t think it’s right for people to immigrate to a place and immediately begin trying to turn it into the place from which they came. He’s clear about not abandoning his cultural heritage, but he became an American to be American. His kids will be raised as Americans. He thought about this long and hard before taking the step of citizenship.
With this background in mind, our conversation might make a bit more sense. You see, my friend struggles with what it means to be an American. The people here are different, the culture is different, and government is not quite as corrupt. (OK, given recent disclosures about the activities of this administration’s IRS, DHS, DOJ, and HHS, maybe that last is debatable.) My friend, we’ll call him Sam, is always trying to understand things here and is willing to have reasonable discussions. For some reason, he values my opinions, even when he doesn’t necessarily agree with them. In his view, I am an American, raised in America, and therefore my opinion should be given some weight. He hasn’t been an American very long (only a few months), and he wants to fit in.
I’m always willing to oblige someone with the benefit of my opinion – sometimes even when it’s not particularly sought!
Thus it was that we began our discussion of American culture and the sorry state it is in. The topic of our conversation was gun control.
Sam thinks that something has to be done about controlling access to guns. He, like everyone else, is horrified by the tragedy in Newtown. He has swallowed, hook, line and sinker, the liberal proposition that “we have to pass a law.” He tried the argument that “even if one life is saved, it’s worth doing this.” To which I observed that we could save a lot of lives if we outlawed driving. Just as many, if not more people die in car accidents every year than are killed by insane cretins like the one in Newtown. (And ten times as many are injured.) Of course, driving is not a right, it is a privilege that is controlled by the states, whereas the right to keep and bear arms is not only a natural right (self-defense and property), but one that is explicitly delineated as not to be abridged, by the very Constitution to which he swore allegiance. He acknowledged that, and in fact stated that he intended to purchase a gun in the near future. Still, he felt that it was reasonable to implement some governmental controls over the process.
This is rather ironic, because Sam has told me repeatedly about the corruption of the Bangladesh government. The rule of law does not apply in Bangladesh and the people are powerless to do anything about it. However, at the same time, he expressed the view that if there were more guns in his native country, there would be more violence. But he admitted that the bad elements in Bangladesh somehow manage to obtain guns despite prohibitions against their ownership. He is unable to reconcile the inconsistency, but insists that the government should control access.
Irina, a Russian lady I know in Novosibirsk has a similar faith in the efficacy of government, despite witnessing the corruption of the Soviet and subsequent Russian governments. She believes that the people in Russia cannot be trusted with firearms. She contends that if they were available, people would immediately start shooting one another over even the slightest thing. The country is rampant with alcoholism and unhappy people.
It’s more difficult to argue with her, for many reasons. Obviously she knows her people and culture better than I ever will. (Although it’s dangerous to draw conclusions based on one individual’s view.) But she may be right. A people who have been systematically deprived of freedom and responsibility become incapable of handling sudden influxes of either. The less you expect of someone, the less you will get.
Imagine a country where the government controlled what people could read, their travel – even internally – required approval and documentation. In the former Soviet Union there was little or no private enterprise, but supposed guaranteed employment. Hard work – and enjoying the fruits of one’s labor – was systematically discouraged. If you worked hard, you were considered by your neighbors and coworkers to be a fool. You weren’t going to benefit from it. Not only that, you were likely to make your coworkers look bad. It might even result in increased quotas or expectations, for no additional benefit.
In short, the Soviets created a system where people tried to figure out ways to do as little as possible. After 70+ years of living under such a regime, one can see the results of systematic repression of human dignity.
This pattern is visible here in the United States. Huge numbers of people have abdicated their responsibility to save and prepare for their retirement. Instead they rely upon Social Security.
But not everyone in this country is irresponsible. Some people still “cling to their Bibles and guns.”
In the United States, there is an interesting dichotomy. Legal gun owners are, by and large, responsible people. They are precisely the kind of people you want to own guns. They provide the final check and balance against government tyranny.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
It is difficult to determine the benefits of a prudent policy. How many plane crashes don’t happen because of the methodologies employed in aircraft maintenance? How many people don’t get sick because of immunizations, clean water, a safe food supply? How much government excess has been thwarted because of the deterrent inherent in an armed populace? It’s always easier to point at the outliers than to prove a negative.