Russians and Americans like to emphasize similarities between their two nations: size, patriotism, the sense of a mission, a passion for casual dress and so forth. But in some ways, Russians and Americans live on two different planets. In spite of increased interaction, extensive travel and shared cultural space, quite often the two peoples gasp at each other’s behavior, failing to understand its causes and rationale. Muscovites and New Yorkers may share a fascination with Princess Diana, Madonna, Viagra and Walt Disney, but they’ll never see eye to eye on the most simple matters — like how much ice to put in a drink (a typical Russian response would be: “No ice at all”).
Americans cannot understand how a person cannot pay taxes to the government. Russians can hardly grasp the awesome role of a tax accountant. Americans do not see why Russians had to start a war in Chechnya. Russians wonder what makes Americans interfere in Kosovo.
One of the biggest issues in the United States — gun control — is precisely this type of thing. No Russian will ever understand how this can be an issue at all. Guns should never be sold to people. Period.
Practically no week goes by without a horrifying shooting taking place in the U.S. A recent New York Times issue describes two such events. In Florida, a 13-year-old boy shot his teacher on the last day of school after he had been sent home for throwing water balloons in class. In New York, two men killed five employees of a Wendy’s restaurant because they wanted to steal $2,000 from its office. It looks like the latter two were professional criminals. But the 13-year-old had been a nice boy — until he took a gun from his grandfather’s dresser drawer.
This was not the first school shooting in the U.S. and it is definitely not the last. In recent months, school shootings became an epidemic of sorts, and no neighborhood seems to be immune. One recent horrifying incident involved a 6-year-old boy, who shot and killed his classmate.
One cannot help but wonder how to explain U.S.’ flaccid response to the challenge presented by these shootings. Gun manufacturers may be obliged to put locks on guns. (Considering that kids these days can break into the Pentagon’s central computer, how can trigger locks be considered a solution?) Background checks may become mandatory. Gun owners may be forced to keep their weapons in secured places. But among all these possibilities, the only certainty is that numerous killings will continue to take place unless all guns are banned.
The U.S. government’s attitude toward gun control is mind-boggling. You cannot ride a bicycle in the U.S. without a helmet. But any lunatic with money to buy a gun can kill you. You cannot smoke in a Wendy’s restaurant — but can get a bullet put through your perfectly healthy lungs there. Each food product is dutifully supplied with a detailed list of contents. Of course, it is important that you and your children eat healthy food, but what about your right to a safe work environment and their right to a safe school?
The argument against greater gun control is incomprehensible: the right of Americans to carry weapons. This is bizarre. Carry weapons to do what? Has Arkansas turned into Jurassic Park, where people have to fight for their lives against huge, ferocious lizards? Have extraterrestrials invaded Manhattan? Are there reasons to expect that Cuban President Fidel Castro, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will land on the Potomac River, accompanied by several SS divisions?
Ironically enough, perhaps decades of violence have taught Russians a lesson. In spite of what the National Rifle Association may be saying, guns do provoke people into killing. In a sense, guns shoot by themselves. The Great Terror in Russia, unleashed by Josef Stalin, was terrible. But the civil war that preceding it was much worse: Stalin’s secret police used weapons only when ordered, but during the civil war, weapons were commanded by envy, craziness, jealousy, suspicion and fear. These common emotions, when connected to a trigger, are more dangerous than any megalomaniac dictator.
In the Dark Ages, a weapon was a must for virtually everyone. But in Rome by the 16th century, police were arresting people for carrying swords illegally. The further we move into the age of reason (which we do in spite of all the wars and revolutions), the more unnecessary personal weapons become.
Guns provoke, tempt, cheat and lie. They very rarely protect. A home owner zealously protecting his property with a gun is less likely to shoot a real burglar than a mere passersby who has had the misfortune of knocking on his door.
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