The latest in the endless commentary about gun violence in the US: items about how America fails the civilization test; how gun violence is worse in Red States (despite what the Republicans say about big Blue cities); and how the Second Amendment is an historical antique and should go.
The Atlantic, Derek Thompson, 21 Apr 2023: America Fails the Civilization Test, subtitled “The average American my age is roughly six times more likely to die in the coming year than his counterpart in Switzerland.”
The true test of a civilization may be the answer to a basic question: Can it keep its children alive?
For most of recorded history, the answer everywhere was plainly no. Roughly half of all people—tens of billions of us—died before finishing puberty until about the 1700s, when breakthroughs in medicine and hygiene led to tremendous advances in longevity. In Central Europe, for example, the mortality rate for children fell from roughly 50 percent in 1750 to 0.3 percent in 2020. You will not find more unambiguous evidence of human progress.
(My comment: Needless to say, this progress has come about through science and technology, and not religion or nationalism.)
How’s the U.S. doing on the civilization test? When graded on a curve against its peer nations, it is failing. The U.S. mortality rate is much higher, at almost every age, than that of most of Europe, Japan, and Australia. That is, compared with the citizens of these nations, American infants are less likely to turn 5, American teenagers are less likely to turn 30, and American 30-somethings are less likely to survive to retirement.
But Americans are *free*!! in ways people in other nations are not, I would expect the gun advocates to say. Free to do what? Kill other people? These people seem to have no social conscience.
The writer ends,
America is caught in a lurch between oversight and overkill, sometimes promoting individual freedom, with luridly fatal consequences, and sometimes blocking policies and products, with subtly fatal consequences. That’s not straightforward, and it’s damn hard to solve. But mortality rates are the final test of civilization. Who said that test should be easy?
An interactive map of gun deaths in the US.
Politico, Colin Woodard, 23 Apr 2023: Gun Violence Is Actually Worse in Red States. It’s Not Even Close., subtitled “America’s regions are poles apart when it comes to gun deaths and the cultural and ideological forces that drive them.”
Once again, Republicans believe things, and say things, that simply are not true.
Listen to the southern right talk about violence in America and you’d think New York City was as dangerous as Bakhmut on Ukraine’s eastern front.
In October, Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis proclaimed crime in New York City was “out of control” and blamed it on George Soros. Another Sunshine State politico, former president Donald Trump, offered his native city up as a Democrat-run dystopia, one of those places “where the middle class used to flock to live the American dream are now war zones, literal war zones.” In May 2022, hours after 19 children were murdered at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott swatted back suggestions that the state could save lives by implementing tougher gun laws by proclaiming “Chicago and L.A. and New York disprove that thesis.”
In reality, the region the Big Apple comprises most of is far and away the safest part of the U.S. mainland when it comes to gun violence, while the regions Florida and Texas belong to have per capita firearm death rates (homicides and suicides) three to four times higher than New York’s. On a regional basis it’s the southern swath of the country — in cities and rural areas alike — where the rate of deadly gun violence is most acute, regions where Republicans have dominated state governments for decades.
As an aside, the writer here has written a book about how North America is effectively divided into several distinct cultural areas. Link on the image above, and added in this quote from the article.
I unpacked this story in detail in my 2011 book American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, and you can read a summary here. But, in brief, the contemporary U.S. is divided between nine large regions — with populations ranging from 13 to 63 million — and four small enclaves of regional cultures whose centers of gravity lie outside the U.S. For space and clarity, I’m going to set aside the enclaves — parts of the regions I call New France, Spanish Caribbean, First Nation, and Greater Polynesia — but they were included in the research project I’m about to share with you.
Scroll down in this Politico piece and there are summaries of several of these ‘American Nations.’ The idea goes back decades; I once had a book called The Nine Nations of North America, from 1981.
My impression is that in certain parts of the country — Texas, and the South (and I’ve been to Texas, and the South) — having and knowing how to use guns is part of the culture, like going to church. To those of who don’t live in those parts of the country, such an obsession strikes us as perverse, and unhealthy, a prime example of the paranoia and fear that characterizes so many conservatives. The incidents of the past couple weeks suggest a parallel to the idea in politics that those who most want to be in charge and precisely those who should not be allowed to be in charge. Gun owners, heal thyselves; you’re killing the rest of us, and you seem not to care.
And of course, this has long been obvious to those of us who have not grown up in gun-saturated culture.
Salon, Kirk Swearingen, 23 Apr 2023: The Second Amendment is a ludicrous historical antique: Time for it to go, subtitled “Sooner or later, change will come: Younger Americans won’t tolerate this constitutional delusion much longer”
Those of us who are not gun fetishists are supposed to “keep our powder dry” on the subject, but it must be said: The Second Amendment is as antique as a muzzle-loaded long gun, and should be treated as a historical artifact.
We’re not supposed to even whisper such things because the NRA and right-wing extremists have sensible Americans — including many gun owners — so bullied and cowed that we feel we are only allowed to hope for sensible gun-safety legislation around the edges of their highly profitable assault on American lives.
We’ve said it before, but it is always worth repeating for the millions of younger people coming to voting age each year who may not have considered it before: It doesn’t take a grammarian or a constitutional scholar to tell you that the opening clause of the Second Amendment is obviously conditional:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Meaning, so long as a militia of citizens is necessary (and a well-regulated one, at that), then what follows is true. But only if that first part pertains.
It no longer pertains and hasn’t since the modern National Guard was formally established in 1916. We’ve got the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Air Force and even that Space Force thing, as well as the National Guard, with members who swear an oath to both their state and their federal governments. (I note that dual allegiance for all the anti-federalists still lurking out there, seething about some “tyranny” of the federal government, while at the state and local levels you busy yourself with taking away voting rights, reproductive rights, public schools and public libraries.)
The six branches of the armed forces, including the National Guard. No other militia need apply. It’s covered.
And the piece concludes,
The Second Amendment is an antique curiosity — laughably outmoded for our times. It’s time for it to go.
We must say it precisely because we have been so bullied for so long into believing that we must not or cannot say it. One day, if we can keep our democracy intact against the frantic efforts of the self-proclaimed American “patriots,” younger Americans will band together to do what they did with laws against marijuana and will do in short order with restrictions on reproductive rights: They’ll put the Second Amendment right where it belongs, in the dustbin of history, already piled way too high with spent shells and needless deaths.