I love the United States. I love the food, I love the country and I love the American confidence. There are plenty of things that we could learn from them. But they have one big problem. Their democracy is broken. The US likes to hold itself up as the paragon of democracy – the model for the rest of the world to follow. They’re not. Far from it. And the primary problem: The Constitution.
Constitutions seem like a good idea. They provide certainty, they entrench vital protections and they shield us from the tyranny of the majority. But sadly, in the United States, the reality falls short of the ideal.
There are two parts to the problem: The first is intentional, the second, not so much…
The first is both a strength and weakness of the Constitution: it’s a really hard document to alter. An amendment requires a two-thirds vote in both Congress and the Senate, followed by a three quarters majority from the states ratifying the treaty.
Let’s put that in context. Just recently, the US Senate failed to even proceed to a vote on a gun control measure that was supported by approximately 85% of Americans. And what was this contentious proposal? That people undergo a background check before they’re allowed to buy a gun. This completely sensible measure only got 54 votes of the 100 in the Senate – one dares not think what the Tea-Party studded Congress would have done.
If you can’t pass the most obviously sensible law, you’re never going to be able pass anything more contentious. Generally, this is a benefit, but it also leaves you with an anachronism like the second amendment.
Which leads us to the second problem. This is perhaps the more disturbing of the two: A lot of Americans treat the Constitution as though it’s holy writ. It’s impossible to have a sensible conversation about something as fundamental as gun control with these intensely dogmatic folk.
In any conversation about guns, the first thing you’ll hear from someone on either side of the debate is “I respect the second amendment”. The second amendment cannot be questioned. It states “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”. Putting aside what appears to be a bizarre interpretation of the wording of the amendment it’s effectively impossible to have a discussion of whether the second amendment has a place in 2013.
The second amendment was adopted in 1791. For me, it’s a right created for a different world, one without effective law enforcement. But you can’t have that public conversation in the US. Not agreeing with the amendment signposts you as a radical, simply for advocating a position that would be (rightly) mainstream in most other places. Politically speaking, it’s like questioning the validity of a holy book in a theocracy, the only difference being that you’re ending your political life, as opposed to your actual one.
And why aren’t you allowed to have a conversation about gun control? Why is questioning the second amendment akin to blasphemy?
From where I sit, it’s because the people who argue against gun control know that when you actually get to the crux of why guns are so important to them, you’ll be appalled. I can see two primary reasons held by two fundamentally different groups. The first: Greed. Gun manufacturers make a lot of money selling guns. That’s why they fund the NRA to provide a “reasonable opposition” to gun control. And the second: there’s a sizeable chunk of the pro-gun lobby who think they need the guns to rise up against a tyrannical government. These loons live in a constant state of paranoia. Every national tragedy (Sandy Hook Elementary, Boston Marathon) is a “False Flag” operation, designed to take more freedoms from the populace, with the end goal of imprisoning all the patriots in FEMA concentration camps. Once you go down this rabbit hole, there’s no coming back. On the bright side, at least they can find love while they cower in their survival bunkers, howling at the moon…
So why do I care (you ask, or don’t)? Because sadly, the world looks to the US for guidance. The further US politics veers to the crazy, the easier the rest of the world might be convinced that wingnut is the new normal. But perhaps more importantly the US has intercontinental missiles… With nuclear warheads.