Poverty abounds in the nation which wraps itself in the label of the richest on the planet. Income inequality seems to be spiraling out of control as the rich become richer at the expense of those with the least. States squabble with each other over diversity issues and interpretations of the law, and religious arguments infest a myriad of public issues, whether relevant or otherwise. Spending on the military/defence has grown to such levels that the country spends more on 'protecting' itself against unseen enemies than do the next fourteen highest spending nations combined. Finally - and perhaps most telling of all (and of course most topically of all), more people have been killed by firearms in the USA (accident, suicide, homicide) since 1970 than have died in every single war that the country has engaged in, combined.
The sheer lunacy of that final statement is - all by itself - surely cause for the great, the good, but most of all the powerful, to pause and get to grips with the violence issues within America. There seems, however, to be no genuine political will (no matter how public the hand-wringing may be) to face up to the lobbyists who represent a loud, deranged and potentially violent minority who perceive any regulation of deadly weapons to be a direct assault upon their personal freedoms.
Last year, a twelve year old boy was shot to death by police officers because he had in his possession a toy gun which (as toys often do) bore more than an accidental resemblance to the real thing. He was playing in the street with it, and an adult called the authorities -presumably out of a fear that the gun was real (despite telling the dispatcher that it probably wasn't, and that the 'perp' was a child). Tamir Rice didn't point the gun at the police officers, but he was shot dead anyway. And therein lies the effect of the problem.
People are scared of one another - very scared: scared enough to kill.
What kind of society is comfortable with that level of insecurity?
Only this week, a passer-by in Michigan was questioned by police for firing a number of shots at a vehicle which had left the scene of a shoplifting incident. The shooter had no connection to the store involved, and neither was she a peace officer - but she was lawfully carrying a gun and apparently felt justified letting a few slugs go in the general direction of what she presumed must be bad people. It happens in the movies, so it must be OK, right?
Here's a small test: If you were told about a place where people routinely carried loaded and concealed firearms, where it was in many places quite acceptable to carry openly visible firearms for self-protection, and where it was lawful to buy weapons of war for personal use (assault rifles, automatic weapons, sniper rifles, etc.), would you be comfortable visiting that place? Let's go further: if you heard that this same place had more people killed by firearms in the last forty five years than in its entire 240 year history of warfare, would you want to visit? One more try: if you read that a woman who fired several shots at a vehicle leaving the scene of a theft was being 'spoken to', and that it was still 'under discussion' whether she had actually committed any offences, would that be a location you would like to take your family for a holiday?
I suspect that if these issues don't raise your hackles or dissuade you from visiting such a place, you may need to seek out a crazy scientist with a flux capacitor who can whisk you away to the 1870s, and the good ol' Wild West, where you will feel mighty comfortable, pardner. Personally, I'm more of a Marty McFly...
The USA, for all its brash nationalism, self-promotion and proclamations of greatness, is becoming a freak show on a global scale. Killing is the norm there (almost 250 mass shootings so far this year) - for example, the fact that in 2013 a toddler died from gunshot wounds on an almost daily basis is apparently unimportant. The possession of guns is more important - more of an urgent personal freedom issue - than almost everything else, and demonstrably more important than the deaths of children. As an Australian comedian pointed out recently with stark, blunt accuracy: "You just like guns!"
The experiment is a failure, and society is beginning to break down.
I used to play 'war' when I was a kid, in the seventies. I used to pretend to shoot my playmates, and they would pretend to 'die'. Sometimes we used sticks as pretend guns, and sometimes we used to use toy guns (for maybe a few weeks after Christmas, and before the toys were broken). My brother had a pellet gun which looked like a real gun, much the same as Tamir Rice owned. We were never approached by the police, and never did an adult report our activities for fear that we were on murderous rampages. We lived in a society where children would not be gunned down by the police in any circumstances. Such societies still exist all over the world - they are eminently possible. Not, however, in the self-styled 'land of the free'.
realistically, there's nothing to be done about America's addiction to guns - or even more pressingly: money at any cost. In much the same way as a drug addict often has to hit rock bottom before he or she can start to climb upwards, America refuses to deal with the problems that the rest of the world can clearly see. The country will probably have to reach a crisis point before the actual problems can be faced down - in other words, when there is no reasonable alternative, and the politicians are no longer too scared to do the right thing and commit to ensuring the rule of law. It's not going to be pretty. I want to be far away from the border when it happens...