Why Americans will never surrender their guns – even if it means peace with the police
Long before the death of George Floyd, Americans have had an ambivalent attitude towards their police, who are practically viewed today as a necessary evil. What has spawned such an opinion towards the ‘defenders of the peace’?
Ask any American – Black, White or otherwise – what kind of emotions they experience when they see a police cruiser in their rearview mirror and the answer will likely fall somewhere between a feeling of absolute dread and sheer terror. Like the sensation of being on a rickety roller coaster, the driver will experience white knuckles and butterflies in the stomach as he or she attempts to operate the vehicle with slippery wet hands, all the while praying that the automobile is not suffering from a burnt-out tail light or expired registration.
And in the event that the flashing lights on the prowling cruiser flicker to life amid the wail of a siren, the fun and games have just begun. In fact, tourists to the US should be carefully instructed on proper police etiquette should they ever find themselves pulled over in the land of the free. Rule number one, two and three is that you never, and I do mean never, place your hands anywhere else than on the steering wheel. The officer, far more inclined to believe that you are reaching for a hand cannon than making some sort of foolhardy attempt to conceal a bag of donuts or empty beer can, will not hesitate to respond with all of the hellfire at his disposal.
In other words, much of the antagonism that currently exists between the American taxpayer and these dutiful public servants comes down to the question of guns – 393 million of them to be exact, enough for every man, woman and child to possess a firearm with more than 60 million guns left over. Thus, every time that the police respond to an emergency, their primary consideration is whether or not a firearm will be part of the equation. After all, police are humans too and have no death wish. This sort of inherent paranoia that derives from a gun culture on steroids is unique to the United States and, incidentally, almost unheard of in Russia.
The other day I had an experience that provided the inspiration for this article, and which reminded me of something a friend told me many years ago: ‘Russians are from Venus, Americans from Mars.’
I had just left my apartment building, located in the south of Moscow, when I saw two patrol cars cruising past just feet away. I could see that the officers inside of the vehicles were dressed to impress – helmets, flak jackets and machine gun nozzles protruding conspicuously upwards from their crotches like some kind of Freudian slip.
The vehicles made a right turn around our building and, since they were moving at a snail’s pace, I decided to follow them on foot. Probably not the smartest thing to do, but I felt as though a potential news story had just fallen into my lap, and with a crumpled press card in my wallet naturally I was bulletproof.
The cruisers traveled the length of our building and made another right turn before coming to a stop, flashers on, sirens off. Here I could see that the patrols were not regular police, but members of the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardiya), which, I’ve been told, do not solve crimes but rather provide security, i.e. crack skulls. What happened next I could not have predicted in a million years.
Four officers emerged from the vehicles armed for combat like an American SWAT team and entered the grounds of the local kindergarten. My heart sank as every sort of horrible thought came to mind. Not knowing what to expect, I stood behind a parked car and peered over the roof as the reality of the unfolding situation failed to match my grim expectations.
The officers strolled into the territory of the facility as children continued playing on the swings and digging in the sandboxes. A young mother, pushing a baby carriage, walked right past the armed men as though they weren’t even there. I dislike the word, but ‘surreal’ was the only way, at least from an American perspective, to describe the scene. I continued to watch as the officers, now accompanied by a female who I took to be the supervisor, walked the entire perimeter of the gated territory. After several minutes it became clear that the emergency, which I learned later had involved a drunken trespasser, had come to an anticlimactic conclusion.
The situation nagged at me for days until I realized why. Despite a relatively dangerous situation, there had been no over-the-top reaction on the part of the police. There was no crashing of the gate, no screaming over bullhorns and no snipers perched on rooftops. No Rambo-style theatrics on the part of the officers and no traumatized children. Everything was carried out in a shockingly smooth and professional manner. As an American born and bred on a steady diet of ultra-violence both on the streets and in the cinema the mild-mannered scenario struck me as remarkable and even impossible.
And this brings to mind the quandary that the American people presently find themselves in. Although we can admit that our gun culture is largely to blame for excessive reactions on the part of the stressed-out police (not racism, as the media screams from every headline), millions of law-abiding Americans have absolutely no intention of surrendering their firearms. And here, I believe, is the reason why: As evidenced by the ongoing Covid crisis, which has brought out the absolute worst tendencies in many of our leaders, there seems to be a latent authoritarian streak inside of Western society that is just looking for a nice excuse to raise its ugly head.
A person need only look at the tragedy that is befalling freedom and liberty in once-happy places like Australia and New Zealand, where closet authoritarians are revealing their real colors (which are not remotely rainbow-colored, by the way), to understand that Western society, despite its loud and proud proclamations about ‘democracy,’ carries the hypocritical seed for the most repressive sort of tyranny.
In fact, lest we forget, it was precisely that unfortunate tendency to tyrannical impulses that inspired the Founding Fathers to incorporate the “right to bear arms” into the US Constitution in the first place. The perennial threat of totalitarianism came first, followed by the establishment of gun rights, not the other way around.
It is perhaps the great tragedy of American society, home to the greatest gun collection on the planet, that peace between the police and the people will never become a reality simply because our political leaders are not to be trusted. The authoritarians now wantonly oppressing their people from Canada to Australia and everywhere in between should be thanked, if for nothing else, for demonstrating, once again, the importance of the Second Amendment in the face of tyranny.
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