With a Waterstones voucher I received for Christmas I eagerly rushed out to buy a novel I’ve long been looking forward to reading, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The book is not only an American Classic, but an international modern classic – it won the Pulitzer Prize and it is one of the best-selling books in history (according to Wikipedia). Naturally, I stayed up til the early hours reading it every night and finished the book in about 3 days.
Like any piece of great literature, it could be expected that To Kill A Mockingbird would have timeless themes and deeply touching morals – on these criteria it certainly did not fail. What I hadn’t expected though was exactly how contemporary the book still is. 2012 is in fact the 50th anniversary of the book’s film adaptation, and it was honoured by the American Film Institute by a special introduction with Barrack Obama. If that doesn’t show the impact this book has had on America, I don’t know what does.
It is not the central theme of racism and prejudice that I want to talk about, although this very clearly is still a problem in society as it always has been. It is something even more specific to our time, something brought to the foreground in the last month.
Here is the particular quotation which drew my attention;
“Having a gun around’s an invitation to somebody to shoot you” – Atticus Finch
Of course in the wake of the Newtown shootings in the USA, this holds even more power than usual. Harper Lee manages in this quotation to encapsulate all the problems with the NRA response to the shooting.
In case you weren’t aware, the National Rifle Association, pretty much the most powerful lobbying group in the United States, argued that to prevent shooting sprees in schools we should put more people with guns into schools. Flawless logic right? They said something along the lines of “the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”.
I suppose it didn’t occur to the NRA that equipping thousands more police officers with rifles would seriously increase their own revenue. It is convenient for them though, if you think about it. I had the eerie experience just after the shootings of almost exactly predicting this response from them in a previous blog post – I said sarcastically that guns were necessary to guard against other guns.
But like Atticus Finch says, having guns only promotes using guns. The logical step to avoid people shooting guns is to take away the guns, not to give more out. Unfortunately for most of the sane world though, a significant majority of Americans still doggedly believe in their outdated ‘right to bear arms’, and the industry for firearms is so massive and powerful that tightening gun control is about as hard and unpopular for Obama as making petrol illegal or re-introducing prohibition.
It is incredibly disappointing that the meaningless massacre of 26 people in one of the most left-wing and prosperous states in America does not give a left-wing government enough of a foothold to even realistically attempt to restrict gun ownership. There is very little positive to be taken away from the horrible event this December, but at least the issue has been brought out into the public consciousness for discussion, even if it causes no direct change to the law.
Perhaps, as Lee writes in another quotation;
“We’re making a step – it’s just a baby-step, but it’s a step” – Maudie Atkinson