Why America is Not Great (Part 1)

As we walked back to the car after I collected my daughter from school, she began telling me about her day. “We had a lockdown drill today, dad.” “How was that?” I asked. “It sucks,” was her reply. After I had a little chuckle to myself over her use of the Americanism, “it sucks” I couldn’t help agreeing with her. It does suck that nine-year-old children are required to do such a drill.
She described how they had to move the furniture and where they had to sit. Always the optimist, she said that her class is lucky because of the type of door into their classroom means that it can be easily locked from the inside so that the shooter can’t get in. The shooter can not get in! She could have been doing Math or History or PE, but instead, she was learning what do do if there was an active shooter on the campus. This is not the school’s fault. They are required to have these lockdown drills. Just that it is right and proper for schools to have fire drills. They also have to prepare for the possibility that the school will need to be locked down.

Unfortunately, it is a far too frequent occurrence in the US.
Guns and gun violence are a major, major problem in the United States. This problem is nothing new. It was one of our concerns before we decided to move here. Michael Moore released “Bowling for Columbine” in 2002 as a clarion call to change the gun laws. It felt like enough was enough then. Unfortunately, mass shootings and school shootings, in particular, are still an all too common feature of American life.

However, we were still willing to move and to take our chances over here in the states. After all, the US is a vast territory, and we were moving to a nice area, so we felt that we would be safe. Plus, it’s not as if there is no gun violence in Ireland- but most of these shootings are gang and drug-related and are confined to particular areas of the bigger cities. Nevertheless, innocent people do get caught up in this violence. So we figured it could happen anywhere, and we were not going to allow fear to stop us once we had decided to move.

Around ten months after we arrived, I was playing a round of golf with an Irishman who had moved his family here around the same time as we did. We both received a breaking news update that there had been a shooting at an Elementary school in California. Our hearts almost stopped, and the blood drained from our faces. Our children were in different schools, but that doubled the likelihood that something terrible had happened to one of our families. It took a few minutes before details came through that the shooting was in Southern California. Three people were killed in San Bernardino near Los Angeles. My heart goes out to those unfortunate families, but even though it was a five-hour drive away from us, it still felt like it was too close for comfort.

Earlier this summer, there was a mass shooting much closer to us. We were due to attend the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Gilroy is a town around a 30-minute drive from where we live. We had planned to be there as one of my wife’s colleagues volunteers for the festival every year, and we wanted to show our support. Plus, it sounded like it would be a lot of fun. A Garlic festival! Sometimes you could smell the garlic from our house. However, once again, the American disease struck. A gunman killed three people before turning the gun on himself. We were not there because we had got delayed at our daughters’ activities. Our immediate concern was for my wife’s friend, and the other people caught up in this tragedy. However, it chilled us to the bone. This mass shooting felt way too close. Massacres followed in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, in the same week. It shook us, and for several weeks we seriously considered moving back to the safety of Ireland.

When I came back from the school run this morning, there was more breaking news of another school shooting- this time in LA and again at least three people murdered. Once again, the same old arguments will be tossed around- “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people” will be the response of the NRA, Fox News, and most Republicans. Democrats will call for “background checks” or in some cases, for a ban on assault rifles, but the Senate will block any legislation that the House passes on gun control. It seems crazy to us Europeans- and, to a lot of Americans here on the left-wing of the US. However, for many US citizens, the Second Amendment of the constitution is their guarantee of their freedom. The right to keep and bear arms, they believe, keeps them safe from the government. For many people, it is this right that defines them as Americans. These gun owners are willing to fight to protect that right.

I met one of these guys. Way back in 2011, we were in Venice, Italy. It was a sweltering day, and we stopped in a lovely bar for food and beers. We got chatting to a bunch of Australians, who were on a cruise, and we were having a great laugh. The beers were flowing, and the craic was good. We were still in a jovial mood when our cruise buddies left, and a very nice American family asked if they could join us. The fun continued, and we found out that they were from upstate New York. Although not much older than me, he was retired from the army and had served time in Iraq. She was a lawyer and worked for an insurance company. We were having a perfectly nice time until I made the mistake of asking whether they thought Obama would get re-elected in 2012. Instantly the mood darkened. They were both adamant that they wanted to see the back of him. He became quite animated, “Hey man- he wants to take away our guns,” he said at the top of his voice, “but we are ready for him. I am part of a group, a militia. And we are training and drilling. You just wait man. The Revolution is coming. The Revolution is coming.”

Thankfully the revolution he was talking about never materialized, although Trump has emboldened the far right to make their presence felt. Trump’s rallies can be similar in tone to the Nuremberg rallies depicted in the film the “Triumph of the Will.” The problem with trying to enforce gun control is that the people who oppose these measures are the ones with the guns, and they really want to keep them. The sad news is that today’s mass school shooting won’t be the last.


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