Guns, mental health, addiction and our attitudes toward people of color are examples of failures of public policy in the United States today.
A uniquely American master narrative tells us who we are as a people. For some we are modern-day cowboys, rugged individuals, fiercely independent and self-reliant who must have guns to protect our liberty. Regarding people of color, this narrative sometimes also includes the view that we are a nation of immigrants — white Christians from Central Europe — who came here for a better life and made it happen. There is also the belief that the Second Amendment was added to the Constitution to protect personal liberty.
This mythical account of our origins ignores the indigenous people who were annihilated by the diseases immigrants brought here from Europe, Africa and Asia. Our nation was built by people of all colors, some brought here as slaves, and others as freemen. From the beginning, people have immigrated here from all parts of the globe and they came here with every shade of skin color.
Before the Supreme Court became radicalized and polarized into liberals and conservatives, left and right, the court’s opinion was that the Second Amendment was about protecting the nation when foreigners invaded. It literally reads, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State …”
No other phrase in the Constitution has been so widely debated or obscured from literal meaning than the debate over the intensions in these words. Regulating guns today has become difficult and a dangerous third rail in our politics. These varying views on the meaning of plain words divides us politically and prevents us from keeping guns away from people who should not have them.
The one resounding truth in this master narrative is that we Americans are a nation of immigrants whose progenitors came here for a better life. Our diversity is our strength, not just our desire for personal liberty.
The narrative that Americans are cowboys at heart gives license to the view that mental illness is a character flaw and addictions a crime. We falsely believe that guns are the essential pillar of liberty. Today, in the middle of a pandemic that is revealing the deep weaknesses in our healthcare system and the ineptitude of our current leaders, these failures of government policy to address real needs has tragic and unanticipated consequences.
A person suffering from paranoia sees an armed and angry protestor demanding liberty at a government office on the news in response to a governor’s mandate to stay in place. To this suffering soul it can be a call to arms and evoke the fear that people of color would revolt against whites. Tragedies like the one that played out on Main Street last week might have been prevented by a healthcare system that adequately addresses mental illness, views addiction as a disease and legal system that does not allow everyone to have a gun.
Who among us has not experienced tragedy related to gun violence? I have. Or perhaps you have seen a friend denied adequate health care because it was too expensive. Let’s hope this pandemic will ignite in us a new sense of community and a collective, broadly shared, effort to solve these problems that are ubiquitous even here in Half Moon Bay.
Jim Larimer lives in Miramar.