I have now been in Princeton for well over a month (teaching a grad course on Leonardo until late May) and it's about time I resumed my ineffectually intermittent blog.
The title "letter from America" is a tribute to Alastair Cook (if you know about that it dates you) rather than a pretence that I could even come close to his excellence.
This first one picks up on gun control.
The situation is even more scary here than it is at a distance. The prime response to killings is to argue that even more people should have guns and to introduce armed guards into schools etc. The head of the National Rifle Association, LaPierre, sloganised that the only only way to combat a "bad guy with a gun" is by a "good guy with a gun". Here as elsewhere in American politics slogans act as a substitute for thinking. Who is a guaranteed "good guy? Is it a military veteran? Is it a policeman? Is it a hobby shooter with a large arsenal of weapons. Is it a young man with a loving mother? Is it me? Is it you? If only it were so easy, so facile. I believe, as I said before, that any private person owning a weapon whose only prime function is to inflict serious injury or death on living creatures is not in this respect a "good guy".
Then there is the holy cow of the constitution. A senator said that the second amendment is a "holy thing". This is what it actually says: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed". This is historically specific to the security of the early republic that was threatened by reconquest. Even it we only read the second part of the sentence, we cannot assume the the founding fathers (for whom I have huge admiration) foresaw its application to todays circumstances - both in terms of society as it has developed and the technology of weapons. Even if we claim that they were divinely motivated, they were human and subject to limits. Jefferson would be horrified by the NRA.
Even the pragmatic argument falls. The proliferation of weapons, including the routine arming of police, certainly had not been successful in reducing death from shooting, which run at a horrifyingly large rate compared to Britain. Ugh!