Letter to an American friend
I love the United States, God knows. And God knows how exasperated I am by those professional dispensers of opinion whose anti-Americanism is always synonymous with stupidity, hate, or both—pundits whose message is a magnet for the worst, the most ignorant elements (on the extreme right, on the extreme left, and among fascist-leaning populists and detesters of democracy and the rule of law) to be found in the societies of old Europe.
Because, of course, it is the friends of the United States—and the Americans themselves—who, after the killings in Newtown, followed relentlessly by those in Webster, and accompanied by the avalanche of lamentable statements with which the gun lobby reacted to the images of the 20 dead children of Sandy Hook Elementary, are doing the deepest soul-searching today.
It is plainer than ever that America is divided into two camps.
On one side are the human robots of the National Rifle Association who were so dismayingly unmoved by the spectacle of those 20 little bodies.
Who—seemingly deaf to normal human emotions, or perhaps just grotesquely cynical—had the gall, shortly after the event, to declare that the problem was not too many but too few guns in schools and that it was time to arm teachers and administrators.
Who, invoking the Second Amendment of the Constitution, twist the founding idea of American democracy—resistance to tyranny—into a sales pitch for the merchants of death.
Lapping up the stupidities (and the facile manipulations) of these apologists are those “regular guys” who posted on Twitter, Instagram, and the other social networks of the moment photos of themselves under the Christmas tree opening a gleaming new Bushmaster of the same model that killed the children of Newton.
On the other hand, there is that other America that has felt for a long time that the 4 million foot soldiers of the pro-gun lobby are irresponsible people who are holding hostage the 300 million citizens of the greatest democracy in the world, an America that, faced with this horrifying new tragedy coming on the heels of 12 others of the same stamp that have occurred since the 1999 Columbine massacre, has decided that it is time for a reckoning.
Thirty-odd people killed by firearms in the United States—each and every day.
As many, every three months, as in the massacre of September 11.
As many, every six months, as all the GIs killed in combat in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
Yes, there is that other America that understands that too much is too much, and that, having reached the point where the California authorities are reduced, like those in Benghazi, to handing out gift cards to recover firearms, where parents feel obliged to outfit their children with bulletproof backpacks before sending them back to school—in short, where America has become one big firing range on which psychopaths have a license to kill, the right to be armed having been confused with the right to open fire, then there is something rotten in the kingdom of Abraham Lincoln.
Thank heavens, then, for the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, who has fought for 13 years now against this twisting of the spirit of American law.
Thanks, too, to those elected officials who have pushed, often alone and against the grain of their party, as in the case of Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), for more-stringent gun regulations, or, like Hatch’s democratic colleagues from California and New York, Dianne Feinstein and Charles Schumer, for a ban on the sale of assault weapons.
Thanks to the democratic senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin, who had been on the other side but who had the courage to say that the killings in Newtown changed him and required a rethinking of a set of laws that encourages crime.
Thanks to the press, which has been overwhelmingly on the side of better regulation.
And thanks especially to the nearly 200,000 men and women who signed the appeal for gun-control legislation on the “We the People” page of the White House website, the largest response ever recorded for such a petition since We the People was created in September 2011.
It is by these actions and others like it that the United States will triumph over the fanatical gun lobby and its criminal insanity.
It is through a mass uprising of conscience that the country may now be able, as it has always done at critical moments in its history, to reconnect with its values and come to its senses.
May President Obama hear and heed this great cry rising from the depths of the nation’s soul and make his second term an occasion for the intellectual, moral, and political reform demanded by America’s citizens, a reform that the president implicitly promised, with tears in his eyes, on the day of the Newtown massacre. That, on the threshold of a new year, is the fervent wish of a friend, not only of the United States, but of the ideals of liberty that it has always embodied better than any other country.
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Bernard-Henri Lévy is one of France’s most famed philosophers, a journalist, and a bestselling writer. He is considered a founder of the New Philosophy movement and is leading thinker on religious issues, genocide, and international affairs. His most recent book, Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism, discusses political and cultural affairs as an ongoing battle against the inhumane.