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Guns in America: From Oops to Wow

by Rudolf Okonkwo

Veronica Jordan, was a good friend of mine. When she moved to his new apartment, sometime in 1997, she invited me to come and have a look. As I was taking a tour of the apartment starting from the living room, I was seeing the things that were close to her heart. There were pictures of her family; African paintings; faces of strong black males; and candles, etc. Nothing surprised me until I got into her bedroom. It was just a typical American bedroom but when I looked into her closet, what I saw took my breath away. If I had seen an AK 47, I would not have been frightened as I was.

Here in America, when you shot and kill one person, you answer to your local police. No big deal. Your local newspaper may give you an inch of a column or a paragraph. When you kill up to three people, your local T.V. station will spotlight you on the evening news. That's it for you. But for you to earn that coveted spot on the national news program, you have to kill more than four. And preferably in a public place. If you go and kill everyone in your in-laws' house, that doesn't count.

In America, there is something they called the First and Second Amendments. They are more than two amendments to the constitutions of the United States. They are the two man things that differentiate the United States from any other country in the world. The first was supposed to grant Americans freedom of expression. But over the years, it has been interpreted to mean the right to say any crazy thing you wish and the right to buy any politician you can afford. The second was supposed to grant Americans the right to bear arMs. Now it has been expanded to include the rights to line up a series of machine guns under your pillow and if the NRA have their way, you can equally keep a nuclear war head, just in case...

It has been an endless battle. And the blame goes far. If you want to start, you have to start with the British. The same British people. They scared the Americans so much that their forefathers figured out that the only way to escape the same fate of England was to have an armed citizenry. At first, it worked, because nobody came up to assumed the position of a monarchy in America. But like our elders says, when you start running away from a bad person, you run into a bad spirit.

Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison spent countless of days debating the right to bear arms in what is today known as the Federalist Papers. The idealist Jefferson won the debate that a well armed militia was needed to safeguard the nation. Little did he know the nightmare that would follow. Today, the National Rifle Association, under the guardianship of actor Charlton Heston quotes Jefferson the way a christian evangelist quotes Jesus. And they have not yet born an American politician who will condemn Jefferson. All that politicians could say for now is that Jefferson didn't mean what the NRA is saying.

It is the guns that makes America fascinating, provocative, entertaining and superb. Remove the gun, America will just become another Canada. It is not everyday that kids fall into pits. But a gun man holding an office under siege makes good live television. It is such a seductive and captivating piece of entertainment that Americans have become obsessed with since the days of OJ's freeway chase. How else does the local police, the FBI, the Agency for Tobacco and Firearms show off their stuff? The soap opera generation, the Jerry Springer generation, the heavy metal kids all adore the sophistication, the drama, and the riveting thrills.

Americans are at home with guns. For 270 million people in America, there are 230 million guns. It is estimated that early in the new century, there would be one man one gun in America. Which is not bad if gun truly do not kill people as the NRA says. But gun kills people. At present, 13.7 Americans per every 100,000 die each year from gun shot wound. That is more people than all the people America lost in Vietnam. But of course, such statistics do not bother the average American. After all, tobacco kills more people in America and all they can do about it is to ban cigarette smoking in public places.

Outsiders may waste their time trying to ask themselves why do Americans need guns. The answer is elusive even to the Americans. They only know they need the gun. It is more like a macho thing. If you want to frighten the American, tell him you are taking away his gun. It is just as if you are poised to chop off his penis. Some Americans believe they need the gun just in case the United Nations with their jewish friends finally come to take over the United States. Others believe they need the guns just in case aliens already in their mist finally remove their disguise.

But the group NRA uses to make their case are the hunters and lonely widows. The NRA is saying that apart from self defence, Americans need guns to hunt. The record shows that about 14.5 million Americans hunt each year. And they start as young as 12 to enter the forest and shoot the deer. The question the NRA has not been able to answer is why do hunters need an Uzi to kill an elk? Or why should a lonely widow need a sub-machine gun to defend her family against an intruder? The NRA opposes any form of gun control just for the same reason that abortion right activists opposes any form of abortion control. The reason being that once a form of control is allowed, it would ultimately lead to a ban.

America is about nothing but freedom. The Declaration of Independence called for the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. But the Second Amendment, which calls for the right to bear arms, contradicts that. These contradictions are parts and parcel of the American enigma. Thomas Jefferson, who declared that all men were created equal had slaves. He even had one as a mistress. A country that boldly declared on their currency that in 'God we Trust' won't even let anyone say a prayer near a school.

This is the basic obstacle in the whole debate: Americans do not like to be told what to do or what not to do. The same way, they do not want to be told what they can own or what they cannot own. Warnings like 'say no to drugs', 'stop smoking', 'don't drink and drive', etc have never been effective. Campaigners prefer to point out just the consequences of any action, leaving the choice open for Americans. For instance, Americans are told that cigarette smoking is dangerous. Those who choose to smoke do so at their own risk. But of course, the only warning Americans heed is the Chinese warning, "DRY CLEAN ONLY". Overcoming this obstacle is a big task for gun control advocates.

Another problem for gun control advocates is the situation in Switzerland where there is a gun in every home and yet there is virtually no shooting as it is in America. Switzerland is therefore making a counter argument that in Britain and Australia where there are strong gun control laws, gun violence is nothing compared to what is obtained in America. The gun lovers who blame the problem on violent Movies and Television shows, also face a blockade from the First Amendment that grants freedom of expression. Which includes the right to make any kind of Movie one chooses.

It was Samuel Colt, a gun maker in the 19th century who helped to perpetuate the image of America as a gun loving country. Hollywood bought his message, and the rest, as they say, is now history. It was Colt who sold to Americans the idea that, "an armed society is a peaceful society". That a house is incomplete without a gun. To a typical American gun owner, it is the gun that makes him equal to any other man in America. In fact, to many, it is the gun that makes them Americans.

It is obvious that Americans have not had enough of guns. The romance with guns is still steamy. The killings may be expensive, but it has not yet got to the point when the people of America would rise up to say that enough is enough. Not long ago, the killings used to be in the urban areas. But as it shifts to the suburbs, like Littleton, Colorado, public opinion is beginning to shift. Cities are beginning to sue gun makers to recover the cost of treating gun shot wounds. Congress is even pretending to be interested in a sensible gun control law. But never believe the hype.

When the Trenchcoat Mafias struck at Colombine High School in Littleton, Colorado, killing 12 students plus themselves, liberals blamed guns while conservatives blamed the society. Liberals said you could not shoot people without a gun, while conservatives blamed it on violent video games, Marilyn Manson's heavy metal music. Tom Daly, the Republican Whip of the House declared that, "guns have little or nothing to do with juvenile violence". He blamed day care, birth control and the teaching of evolution. Then he proposed as solution, the placing of the ten commandments in all classrooms in America.

Americans are nuts. All of them. You will never know it until you get very close to them. The poet says those who are not lost in the confusion of their understanding, are lost in the understanding of their confusion. In this society, no one is crazy. A whole industry is dedicated towards finding out why anyone did whatever crazy thing they did. Recently, Hillary Clinton gave credence to that ascertion when in an interview with TALK magazine, she blamed her husband's women problem on the emotional pain he suffered as a kid when he watched his mother quarrel with his grandmother. All crazy action ever taken by an American is explainable.

Burton, a day trader in Atlanta, killed his wife and kids. Then he went to the trading firm he used and killed as much as he could before he killed himself. The next minute experts were on TV propounding why he did what he did. Many were making excuses for him. Excuses like the $400,000 he had lost in the last six months and the stress involved in day trading.

Sometimes, it is stunning. Sometimes it is dazzling. But no one disagrees that Americans have the knack for eccentrism. Amongst the wonderful solutions so far proposed were the ones dished out by comedian Chris Rock who opposed a ban on guns for no other reason but that the alternative would be to start lifting weight. In his HBO special, CHRIS ROCK: BIGGER & BLACKER, he proposed a huge tax on bullets such that one bullet would cost up to $5000. At that price, he reasoned, there would no longer be innocent stand-bys being shot. People he said would think twice before they shoot and in some cases many would have to get a second job first in order to save enough money to buy a bullet.

It should be recalled that these people in America were descendants of those dissatisfied Europeans who stormed the new world killing Indians on their way, importing slaves as if they were going out of stock. The goal of the early settlers was to build a new world by any means necessary. A world where everyone is equal, a land of the brave. Over the years, new immigrants had been pouring into America, but the essential goal of building a brave new world had remain the same. And nothing can be as brave as having a loaded gun by the bed side in a room accessible to kids, just in case.

Vincent Forster, a common poster says, would have been alive today if he had owned a gun. Forster was a White House counsel who committed suicide in 1993. Gun lovers refused to believe the report. Such arguments are daily being expanded. Recently, a commentator argued on a national T.V. program that if Jews of western Europe had guns, Hitler and his Nazi gang would not have seen them as easy targets. It would not surprise me if someone argues that the way to stop military coups in Third World countries like Nigeria is to arm the citizenry. Arming Nigerians looks attractive especially with recent surge in armed robbery and assassinations in and around Lagos. But if armed bandits have more fire-power than the police, why wouldn't they have more fire power than the citizenry?

America would have been a perfect country if not for the Second Amendment. Those words that: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep arms shall not be infringed." That was all that was needed to nail America. It gave America its own internal self-destructive tool. It is inevitable in all human creation. There must be a line of fault, a soft spot of a sort. The Second Amendment is America's. Just as women is Clinton's.

From stories Veronica had told me before I took a tour of her apartment, I had known that her father was one dutiful, responsible and unpretentious gun owner. I also knew that she had been going on shooting practice with her Dad since she was a teenager. But what I did not know was that in her closet there would a huge paper made human target on which she last practiced. The bullet holes were clustered round the heart and up in the fore head area. It was her most precious possession which she displaced with pride.

That was how I knew that this gun thing was so deep inside the American psyche. When it comes to guns, Americans have moved from oops! to wow! --- Okonkwo is Boston-based correspondent of The BBJonline.com

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