Being under the gun is just getting crazier

Is reaction to the Aurora shooting what you expected? Blog with Cheryl by commenting below.

EXPECTATIONS are powerful things. Take guns.

Every time there’s a mass shooting in the US, there’s predictable commentary in the international media on the US Constitution’s Second Amendment (the right to bear arms); the ease of obtaining guns legally; and the power of the National Rifle Association.

That was all there after the latest, the 12dead and 58wounded at the Batman movie shooting in Aurora. But this time there seemed to be something missing. The usual level of outrage, the ‘‘do something, America!’’, just wasn’t there.

Instead, the global commentators’ expectations were unanimously low. It seems the near-fatal shooting of politician Gabrielle Giffords in January last year (sixdead, 18wounded) was a watershed for many observers outside the US. It was mentioned in almost every article in major outlets, with a sub-text that if the politicians wouldn’t protect their own, you couldn’t expect them to do so for anybody else.

Americans themselves evidently don’t have any real expectation of action; applications to carry a concealed weapon have risen by 41percent in Colorado since the shooting. As one blogger noted, apparently even ordinary Americans now expect that at some time they will shoot or be shot at.

It doesn’t take much effort to find statistics justifying that view. A quick internet search comes back with ‘‘gun-related death rates in the United States are eight times higher than they are in countries that are economically and politically similar to it’’. Bad expectations.

But, as Australians demonstrate, expectations can run completely counter to statistics. Consider the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development, which surveys its member nations’ outlook each year by comparing key indicators. Just threemonths ago Australia was officially rated the world’s happiest nation. On employment, health, housing, the economy and, even on such nitty-gritty details as how much work men do in cooking, cleaning and caring, we were at or near the top.

Yet our outlook on life was gloomier than that of gun-beleaguered Americans, debt-beset Irish and even the heavily unemployed Euro-crisis sufferers in Spain. Sad expectations.

Despite recurrent headlines, though, we’re much happier with our political institutions than Americans. Look at voting, for example.

Although there are regular jokes about ‘‘the cemetery vote’’, Australians don’t expect serious voter fraud. Nor should we; allegations rarely stand up to investigation, and the only case that’s been taken further than that turned out to be unfounded.

Americans, despite their radically different opt-in voting system, don’t actually have much either. Pennsylvania’s had no cases in eight years. Yet it’s one of 19 states that are introducing strict voter identification laws; states that together account for almost 80percent of the national vote.

Without a centralised electoral office like Australia’s to check enrolments, voters are being asked to present government-issued photo ID or prove their right to vote by showing their birth certificates. Fair enough, surely, if it cuts down the chaos?

Not when your basic expectation is that the other party’s trying to fix the race. Across the country, 11percent of American citizens – 21million – don’t have a government-issued photo ID.

Those least likely to have that ID, or the time or money to gain it before the November election, are regarded as likely to be overwhelmingly Democrat voters. There are ominous references to the ‘‘Jim Crow’’ laws that once made it almost impossible for black Americans to prove they were eligible to vote.

A Pennsylvania politician has already remarked approvingly that the new laws will secure that state for Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney.

Not surprisingly, the laws are under challenge in the courts, and the whole mess is likely to create expectations that even well-meant attempts to organise the US federal voting system will be tainted with party politics. State expectations.

So, when an expectation becomes set in stone, is there any chance of turning it around? The US city of Philadelphia faced up to that one a while back when its reputation seemed to stagger between ‘‘violent’’ and ‘‘boring’’.

Enter a slew of city events. The Running of the Santas. And the official Love Park Pillow Fight. Plus the Air Guitar Festival, the Irish Bus Pub Crawl, the Zombie Crawl, the Naked Bike Ride (costumes allowed), the No Pants Subway Ride (undies permitted), the Kinetic Sculpture Derby (strange things on bikes) and the ceremonial carrying of the Official Keg Mallet from pub to pub throughout Beer Week.

Great expectations.

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