This year is the first time I've spent Independence Day outside the US.[ref]As you read this, it's the early evening in Eastern Europe.[/ref] It's been a somewhat enlightening experience, to say the least.
Over the past year I've given serious thought into our political system. I usually try to stay out of political arguments because I'm worried about how they'll reflect on me, but I find it increasingly difficult to stay silent. I've voiced my opinions on a few issues, to both accepting and hateful response. Hearing the stories of others in different political situations, though, makes me feel like my silence is less out of respect than cowardice.
What is Patriotism
With recent (and not-so recent) school shootings in America, both the pro-gun and anti-gun lobbies have been incredibly active. Gun owners are falling back to the age old defense of their right to bear arms rooted in the fact that America itself was born out of violent, armed revolution against the otherwise legal British government.
Their detractors argue that this is an outdated argument. That today's gun owners would stand no chance against a modern American military in the first place. Some even argue that it's anti-American to value "your right to own a gun over my child's right to live."
The arguments are highly polarized, very political, and crafted almost just to instill rancor across the whole of the political spectrum.
The "anti-American" arguments, however, are the ones that have me the most frustrated. Calls for American politicians to shed their cowardice and "own up" to the American public by "doing their jobs" and passing massive gun restrictions are incredibly loud these days. I'm a gun owner myself, but the volume of these arguments had me questioning even my own support.
Until I met a few people in Eastern Europe who fought in a revolution of their own. Sitting in a man's apartment, hearing about how his arrest years ago during the (eventually successful) armed revolution against their communist government was, in a word, inspiring. This wasn't a revolution in the 1700s by farmers armed with muskets. It was a revolution in the late 1980s that successfully overthrew an otherwise legal but oppressive government. It was a revolution through which the majority of citizens were unarmed, but several still helped fight off the overpowered military.
When I visit American cultural sites, I'm awed by the show of patriotism our forefathers made through their rebellion against the British and the establishment of a new government. Visiting cultural sites in former Soviet countries instills the same sense of awe - but in events that occurred during my lifetime.
My freshman year in college, I actually wrote an essay explaining that it was un-patriotic to protest the government.
My arguments were incredibly naive and rooted in several things I'd learned over the years that were inherently untrue. At the time, I honestly believed all politicians, being elected officials and "representatives" of the people, told the truth. I believed that the law truly treated all people equally and saw neither race nor gender nor socio-economic status. I had a rosy view of the world, and agreed whole-heartedly with the crowd now claiming thoughts of armed rebellion are antiques left over from the 18th century.
Since then, I've both studied and witnessed injustice first-hand. I've watched politicians be impeached and recalled for their lies and corruption the world over. I've seen supposedly democratic governments toppled. I've seen agents of the law misrepresent themselves and treat others differently based on everything from the color of their skin to the length of their hair to the accent with which they speak. I've seen the effects of poverty and corrupt legal systems first-hand and eaten with the men and women who physically fought for their freedom from an oppressive regime.
I've come to learn that there is nothing more American than challenging the rule of government and holding those who purport to represent you to form. This is not to say that we should overthrow our government, but that we should passionately work to improve it and refuse to give up the rights granted us to do so. Revolution is not an antiquated idea, but by surrendering our rights to own and bear the tools of such a change we make it one.
The constitutions of most of our States assert that all power is inherent in the people; that... it is their right and duty to be at all times armed. - Thomas Jefferson
Today, America celebrates its independence from England. Independence gained through the most patriotic and American of acts - resistance of an oppressive government through protests, civil disobedience, and eventual armed rebellion. It's the perfect moment to sit and reflect on what it truly means to be an American and where you stand on certain issues.
Is there a solution for the current gun issue in America? I pray there is. Is that solution removing guns from the hands of Americans? No.