Sunday, April 22, 2007

Are We A Country?

The topic below was originally posted in my blog, the Intrepid Liberal Journal.

For all the polarization that exists in America along political, racial, religious and class lines, we’re all part of a larger community. As a New Yorker I felt that in the early days following 9/11. I had that feeling after the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City. Sadly, our sense of community has eroded in recent years as the gap between rich and poor has widened while cynical politicians exploited wedge issues in “base elections.”

The shooting spree of Seung-Hui Cho illustrates a breakdown in the American community. Seung-Hui Cho is not an aberration. Plenty of mentally ill people in this country go untreated. Some are incarcerated for petty crimes and commit suicide. Others, such as Seung-Hui Cho, are able to purchase guns and reconcile their cumulative rage against the world through mass murder. In this instance, Virginia Tech University was powerless to intervene and respond to warning signs without the threat of litigation.

There is also the horrifying fact that the judicial system declared Seung-Hui Cho a danger to himself. Yet he was still able to purchase firearms. The ongoing debate between those who are pro-gun rights and people like me who strongly advocate gun control is an example of our community breakdown. The debate has become a zero sum game instead of a national dialogue to come together and propose solutions.

Extremists in the pro-gun camp would have you believe it better to arm more Americans. Their rationale is an armed citizenry can better protect itself from the Seung-Hui Chos of the world. With all due respect to these citizens, an armed America in schools and shopping malls is utterly moronic. Their pathological fetish to transform America into the wild-west captured in television programs such as Bonanza or Gun Smoke won’t curb violence and senseless killing.

Gun control however is only part of the answer. American society itself is regulated by a jugular instinct. Greed and consumption is valued over sacrifice and a sense of responsibility towards the greater good. On that score we’re all to blame in some measure.

Ultimately, we’re not likely to see gun control anytime soon in this country. Neither party has the strength or will to take on the gun lobby. Hopefully, all sides of the divide in urban and rural American can reach a consensus on three core points:

1) Too many guns wind up in the wrong hands;

2) Only law abiding and mentally competent people should possess firearms;

3) Greater investment combined with a sensible balance between privacy rights and society's needs are required for our mental health system to work.

If Americans can’t come together on those three points we don’t deserve to be called a country.