In a recent Google Hangout session, televised on PBS, Vice President Joe Biden was interviewed by reporter Hari Sreenivasan and 5 pre-chosen Americans.  In part of that interview the VIce President made a comment concerning “gun culture”.  He adeptly navigated the gun control waters, trying to ensure that he did not enflame the anger of the NRA and its legions of paranoid, heavily armed members.  The comment was was the following:

There is a legitimate, respected and I think as old as the country, culture of gun ownership in America.  My dad was a hunter.  My dad had a gun case full of some fairly valuable weapons.  It’s a legitimate and respected tradition

I agree with all of the statements that the Vice President states.  Every last one.  What I disagree with Vice President on are his conclusions about these facts.  Namely that “gun culture” in America is not part of the “gun problem”.  That somehow the merit of a particular facet of our society should  be judged on how long it has been around and how tightly woven it has become in our lives.  To that point here are few examples of why that line of thinking is unfounded:

  • For the the first 100+ years of of our nations history many parts of society had a deep tradition of slavery.  In fact, it constituted an entire industry and was the backbone of the Southern economic infrastructure.  But it was wrong.  We came to that conclusion, only just before Cuba did.  Coming in almost dead last in that realization.  It cost 500,000 lives to uproot that tradition.
  • In the not so distant past, smoking public was completely unrestricted in American society.  Smoking was an activity that was glamorized by Hollywood and propagandized by the Tobacco industry.  It was as American as apple pie.  But once the scientific data began to mount and the practices of industry were exposed that “tradition” also succumbed to clearer thinking.  Today, you are hard pressed to find a public establishment that is permitted to allow smoking in their establishment. 
  • Finally, I come to a popular topic of the conservative minded.  The Right would argue that the ills and misfortunes of the inner cities and minority communities are not the fault of the government but instead can be attributed to a culture of dependency and violence.  It might come as a surprise but I actually agree, at least in part.  Generally speaking, if your society embraces and glorifies gangs, teen promiscuity, drug use and a lack or personal responsibility you cannot legitimately blame all of your misfortune on the rest of society.  The problem of the inner city will never be fully resolved until a light is shone back on the community.

We cannot dismiss a particular aspect of a problem just because it’s part of a long and widely held tradition.  We, as Americans, need to stop defending everything that we are and everything we do as sacrosanct.  As though, if we came up with it, there could be no wrong to come from it.  We need to have the humility and, dare I say, courage to look within ourselves and examine our motivations.  I am not advocating a repeal of the 2nd Amendment.  I am advocating that a real honest debate and examination of American gun culture begin in earnest.

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