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America – Love It or Leave It

America – Love It or Leave It


My dear friend, the late Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jr., spent his last years in Strafford, VT, near my former home.  He was a lifelong, passionate voice for peace and justice, notably as a civil rights pioneer and a leader of anti-nuclear efforts.

I recall his prescient wisdom:  Inevitably, either no country will have nuclear weapons or all countries will have nuclear weapons.  We’re not there yet, but the journey down the  road to mutual destruction is not blocked.   It has just been slowed by periodic spasms of sanity.

In the wake of the unthinkable slaughter in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday, I fear that the United States of America is doomed.  We have traveled too far down a road to self-destruction to turn back.  Inevitably, virtually no one will have a lethal weapon or nearly everyone will have a lethal weapon.  We are approaching the latter.  America has more guns than citizens and every mass murder increases the total.

There will be no meaningful gun control.  Columbine wasn’t enough.  Sandy Hook wasn’t enough.  Parkland wasn’t enough.  And the political and social climate has gotten worse, not better.  The Uvalde murderer apparently bought two assault-type weapons and 375 rounds of ammunition only days after turning 18.   It should be noted that he was just trying to help his Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who tweeted this after a report that Texans purchased a million guns in 2015:

“I’m EMBARRASSED: Texas #2 in nation for new gun purchases, behind CALIFORNIA. Let’s pick up the pace Texans. @NRA” 

Fast enough pace for you yet?

One assault rifle, from a company called Daniel Defense, was found by the murderer’s body along with several hundred unspent rounds.  Check their website. https://danieldefense.com/   They’re proud of what they make and sell.  Their ads show children with weapons.

This community’s social media sites are exploding with grief, fear and anger.  Every dialogue is soiled by neighbors who propose arming teachers and/or stationing police at every school entrance.  One suggested deploying the National Guard.  You know the argument . . . “a good guy with a gun.”

As I write, it’s a beautiful day in Colorado.  This afternoon my wife and I will go to our grandchildren’s elementary school end-of-the-year ice cream social at an adjacent park.  How many “good guys with guns”would it take to make that joyful event completely safe?

The psychological toll of raising children in an armed fortress is incalculable.  Is that what you 2nd Amendment zealots want?

The arguments against gun control are not all wrong: “It won’t work because criminals can always get guns.” “It’s our 2nd Amendment right.” “It’s a mental health problem, not a gun problem.” All of those things are true to some extent – and insane.  But failure to try is a concession to the inevitability of more and more mass murder.  And a signal to every potential murderer that we value gun rights more than children’s lives.

The last argument – it is a mental health problem – bears further examination.

This is indeed a mental health problem, but not the psychosis, depression or irrational hatred found in the individuals who commit these atrocities. It is a widespread epidemic of mental illness in a large segment of America. The disease has many manifestations.

It is American Exceptionalism. Individually and collectively, we Americans aren’t going to take any guff from anyone.  We’ve gradually turned ourselves from beacon of light to international laughingstock. A few years ago  Australia considered placing the United States on a travel watch list.  We are the violent Third World country we were warned about.

It is the “rugged individualism” mentality that is deeply ingrained in our culture. Toughness is valuable social currency. Compassion is weakness. Empathy is political correctness.

It is “stand your ground” machismo.

It is the NRA, stoking irrational fear of non-existent intruders so that more loaded weapons can be in America’s nightstands.

It is the combination of grandiosity and paranoia that leads to men – sometimes women – openly carrying handguns in public places and brandishing assault weapons in big box stores.  Grandiosity and paranoia are mental disorders, not political movements.

It is bars full of (mostly) men cheering at television screens where warriors beat each other bloody in a cage. The human response to physical violence should be nausea, not laughter and excitement. This perversion is a mental disorder too.

It is the “settle it on the playground” mentality.  It is the sales and promotion of increasingly violent video games, that de-sensitize children and present lethal violence as a solution, not a problem.  It is things like Trump’s thugs roughing up people at a political rally.  “Maybe he deserved it,” said our former chickenhawk president.

With these archetypes permeating our society, is it any wonder that someone feeling aggrieved about virtually anything is inspired to take matters into his own violent hands?

The former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once wrote about obscenity and pornography; “I know it when I see it.”  This weekend the NRA is holding its annual convention in Texas, 300 miles from the site of children blown to unrecognizable bits by an assault weapon.  Trump, Abbott (by video) and Ted Cruz were among the speakers.  There is no pornography as vile.

Everyone who produces and sells weapons is complicit.  Every Republican legislator who makes it easier to buy guns is complicit.  Everyone who votes for a Republican who blocks measures to outlaw assault weapons is complicit.  Every person who makes aggressive public statements about gun rights is complicit.  Every bully who struts around with a handgun strapped to his hip or an assault weapon over his shoulder is complicit.  I’m sure this paragraph will draw hostile responses.   I don’t care.

After my military service in the 60’s, the angry response to anti-war protests was, “America – Love it or Leave it!”

I don’t love this country.  I don’t even recognize it   My wife and I would leave but we love our children and grandchildren too much to leave them.


Steve Nelson
Steve Nelson is a retired educator, author, and newspaper columnist. He and his wife Wendy moved to Erie from Manhattan in 2017 to be near family. He was a serious violinist and athlete until a catastrophic mountain bike accident in 2020. He now specializes in gratitude and kindness.

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