US exceptionalism triggering self-harm

For all its ubiquity and dynamism, the United States of America can seem a strikingly strange country to the rest of the world, India included. Its Supreme Court is reportedly contemplating allowing individual states to make the termination of a pregnancy a criminal offence, while its legislators and citizenry refuse to get rattled – or at least rattled enough – to make the procurement of firearms by the ordinary citizen far harder than it is. Along with Joe Biden, the rest of the world was once again jolted by the death of 21 persons – 19 children aged between 7 and 10, and two adults – in a school in Texas at the semiautomatic-toting hands of a 18-year-old on Tuesday. This episode comes less than a fortnight since the last mass-shooting in Buffalo, New York, killing 10 at a grocery store, making it the 199th mass shooting in the US in 2022, so far.

Tellingly, a 2021 Gallup poll shows that only a little more than half (52%) of Americans want sales of firearms to be stricter, a proportion that’s down from 68% in 2018. The issue of gun control is clearly partisan – Republicans are less likely to call for stricter laws than Democrats by a margin of 67 percentage points – pointing to the limits of political relativism. The argument for easy access to assault weapons and other firearms that has been trotted out as ‘tradition’ by the National Rifle Association and beyond is the right to protect oneself and loved ones. Clearly, this purpose continues to backfire.

For a country that has built a threat perception based on real and potential external attacks, the US is staggeringly blase about attacks to its own citizenry from within. In Texas this week, the world was yet again reminded of American exceptionalism as self-harm.

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