Your Letters & Pictures
It is representative of problems that go deep in our American history and culture. From Bill
I agree with what you say about the lack of response to the Virginia Tech shootings. It is very tragic. But it is representative of problems that go deep in our American history and culture. There are many examples of how our history as a former colony of England our pioneer past afects us today. Two of these are the availability of guns, and mental illness committment laws.
The image of patriot/farmers picking up arms and fighting the British is strong in our minds. It is perpetuated in the pictures of grade school history books and movies like Mel Gibson's "The Patriot". School children still recite the poem:
Listen to me and you shall hear
Of the mid-night ride of Paul Revere.
You can see it in parts of the west in western states like Kansas, Utah Colorado, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. In these places there are still ranches that would take you a day to drive around. There are Americans who keep a loaded rifle by the door and ten year old boys who are trained and allowed to step out the kitchen door to shoot coyotes in the chicken pen. Even to the Americans who have moved to the city and no longer live this life, many have memories of such a life in their childhood. There are still places in the US where law enforcement officials, (The local county Sheriff) would take an hour to get to someone's house. A gun is viewed as an important part of this rural history.
The National Rifle Association is one of the strongest lobby organizations in the country. They use scare tacticts to tell citizens that gun control, any sensible beginning of gun control, will open the door for the government to take all guns. the problems with black inner-city crime is used to scare farm people. The fear that black people from the city will one day riot and assault the whites in the suburbs and on the farms. We will need guns to protect ourselves. This is a stronger fear among many white Americans than many people realize.
We are a large and diverse country. Our nation's capitol is 3,000 miles from some of it's citizens. Our system of 50 states with individual governments is necessary to spread that governance across a vast continent. It comes with problems. There is very poor consistency as to the laws in different states. 35 states say that a youth becomes an adult at 17. The rest say it is 18. Some states make it hard to buy guns but several states surrounding it may allow easier access. The AAA auto club has several pages in front of their travel guides that alert travelers as to the different laws in each state. Many allow radar detectors and in many they are illegal. Different speed limits on the same highway occur as you drive through each state. In some you cannot have an open container of alcohol in the car. In others, you can drive across the state on the interstate highway with every passenger drinking as much beer as they want.
These "State's Rights" are fiercely defended in our country as a way to customize law to the differing culture in each state. I was watching Paris Hilton and Nicole Richey's "Simple Life" on TV the other night. As ridiculous as it is, I realized that it facinates many becuse it demonstrates our cultural diversity. The culture of rich Los Angeles Socialite Debutante/Party Girls and daughters of Celebrities seems like another world from the lives of rural Arkansas farm people.
A hold over from the time that the British Government could put American Colonists in jail for Sedition, or even discussing Independance, we, as a people, fear unfair imprisonment. Our legal system seems amazing to other cultures. The strict "Search and Seizure" laws, the "Miranda Rights" to notify suspects that they are suspects and can have an attorney are seen by many to be limits to law and order. They make the jobs of police much harder.
Likewise, our mental health committment laws are limited. In the 20's and 30's there was a period when anybody in a family who didn't like that their daughter dated out of her race or social class, could arrange for the trusted family physician to commit them to an insane asylum. There are many stories from that period of people who were considered to be "undesireables" who were involuntarily committed and died in asylums. There were no "sentences" or time limits on insanity committments and some people were lost in asylums for life. (See the story of the actress Frances Farmer, or the movie "Frances" with Jessica Lange).
Then there is the horrible history of our colonies for lepers, and the illegal internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. There was a re-examination of those injustices that caused a huge swing of the justice pendulum in the opposite direction. Now there are laws that say that anywhere from 3 to 5 psychiatrists must agree that a person "presents a clear and imminent danger to them self or others". It then must be ordered by a judge. In this country, we are deathly afraid of being locked away and forgotten by our government. The laws have definate problems and many changes are needed. Because of abuses of the past, we have fears of the present. In the mental health field, we have changed to calling "mental patients" to calling them "Consumers" of mental health services. Mental health consumer groups are well organized. There are legislators who have survived mental illnesses of various kinds or have a mentally ill relative. These Mental Health Consumer groups lobby hard against easier committment laws. They all realize that, at some time in their life, that they could become dangerous, but they fear being locked away by a system and a society that may not care, and never getting out.
It is our size and our diversity that hampers us from taking action against our problems.
Just my thoughts.
Bill, a soccer dad in Missouri
Posted on 03 May 2007 by coachgianni