The Battle in Front of One’s Nose

I do hate how guttersnipes mistake self-righteous cynicism for irony – but I suppose everything looks palatable from the sewers. In today’s Observer, Henry Porter argues that gun-flared violence in the United States is so rampant that it must forfeit its national sovereignty to the international community – if, of course, it is justified in Syria. He informs us:

After the celebrated Liebeck v McDonald’s case in 1994, involving a woman who suffered third-degree burns to her thighs, Starbucks complies with the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s recommendation that drinks should be served at a maximum temperature of 82C.

Although it was brave of Howard Schultz, the company’s chief executive, to go even this far in a country where people are better armed and only slightly less nervy than rebel fighters in Syria, we should note that dealing with the risks of scalding and secondary smoke came well before addressing the problem of people who go armed to buy a latte. There can be no weirder order of priorities on this planet.

That’s America, we say, as news of the latest massacre breaks – last week it was the slaughter of 12 people by Aaron Alexis at Washington DC’s navy yard – and move on. But what if we no longer thought of this as just a problem for America and, instead, viewed it as an international humanitarian crisis – a quasi civil war, if you like, that calls for outside intervention? As citizens of the world, perhaps we should demand an end to the unimaginable suffering of victims and their families – the maiming and killing of children – just as America does in every new civil conflict around the globe.

A few trivial points of interest:

  • On the figures: the current annual death toll from firearms is indeed 32,000, but just under 20,000 are suicides with a further number whose cause is either undetermined or unintentional. That makes for 11,000 firearm-caused homicides or about a fiftieth of the rate in Syria.
  • The murders share no ideology in the US; in Syria, they are designed to prop up a crime family.
  • The US has the resources to end its violence. Its federal government spends around $69 billion on domestic security to prevent and punish these crimes; the Syrian regime commits them on a scale as great as its resources will allow.
  • Consequently that crime family gasses children; the US, for all its previous faults, is condemned by the likes of Porter for slowly seeking to extend justice to Assad’s regime.

But Porter’s comparison is a bit of sick narcissism, uninterested in the most blatant of facts. Deaths only matter if in attacking them he can cater to the tale of British cultural sophistication and its sense of moral superiority, betraying as he does so its most celebrated pretense: an understanding of irony. Orwell knows it just a tad better: “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

Gun control laws are severely needed in the US. Since the Second Amendment does not – and cannot – specify the type of weapons that civilians can own, and that short of missiles there would be no way that they could seriously fight back to a potential US government or a force capable of overthrowing it, there’s logic to controls that would reduce the homicide rate without threatening the principle to self-defence. And it could work – following the tepid rules introduced in 1996, it declined by a third.

If there is cause for “intervention”, a term which Porter dryly mocks, this is it: force of argument, reason and persuasion. Unlike Syria, the US has a democratic process, however flawed – which means that, ultimately, these are decisions for the American people and its political representatives. If Porter does not see the moral and intellectual importance of such a distinction, his career is a waste.

One does not need to agree with intervention in Syria to see that the days of Cowboys and Indians are rather long gone.


6 Comments on “The Battle in Front of One’s Nose”

  1. CrankyBuddha says:

    I am curious how the gun violence trends in the UK compares to those same trends in the US. It would be doubly interesting to plot those trend-lines against overall gun ownership and concealed carry permits…

    • That’s certainly lacking in the debate, yeah. It’s much too driven by party politics. While I’m largely against mass gun ownership, though, it’s quite interesting to note that the UK had a pretty low level of gun violence before it enforced stricter legislation. It makes me question to extent to which regulation in the US might ignore some much more different cultural problems…

      • CrankyBuddha says:

        I am often confused in reading your posts and responses, I think it may have something to do with being separated by a common language…
        Anyway, here is a link to an interesting article that compares gun ownership and gun violence in different countries…to spoil the punchline gun regulations have little to do with rates of gun crime. Doubly interesting as it is published by one of the most liberal schools and one that receives significant funding from anti-gun groups.
        Also of note, but the sources elude me this evening is that if you exclude the parts of the US that have the strictest levels of gun control (Chicago, DC, NY and California) the per capita US gun crime stats drop to or near those of the countries often touted by anti-gun groups…

  2. Crime family…. again…. as if there was only one side doing wrong?

    • Oh, be fair! Here I was only pointing out the rather obvious differences between the two “governments” in the US/Syria. I guess I should probably have added that there are no strong terrorist groups in the US, though, you’re quite right (which in my mind makes the case for intervention, if on a different scope to what Obama was attempting, much bigger – but that’s unrelated to this).

      • CrankyBuddha says:

        Most of the violence and, more specifically, gun violence in the US is directly attributable to street gangs affiliated with various Mexican and South American drug cartels (also referred to as narco-terrorists). Some of these cartels are affiliated with middle-eastern terrorist groups through money laundering and weapons operations. These are the same cartels that the ATF and other government agencies have helped to arm through programs like Fast & Furious…

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