America the armed

Today anti-Semitism is virulent but rare, while guns are everywhere


Harold Meyerson
August 11, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Now there will be squad cars outside the community centers, armed guards at the summer camps, a cop at every synagogue. It could be worse. In my grandparents' day, when the cops -- they were called Cossacks then -- surrounded your place, it was to deploy the mob that burned your place down.

But that was the Old Country -- half a planet and one whole century removed from Tuesday's Granada Hills shooting. The world of my grandparents, or even of my parents' youth, the pre-World War II America where anti-Semitism was pervasive and routine, is no longer to be found today, not in a state where both U.S. senators are Jewish, or a city where six of the 15 council members are also Jewish. Rather, we have niche anti-Semitism -- part of a flourishing underground of unflourishing, underground men, whose hatreds encompass nonwhites as well as Jews, who feed on pseudoscience and conspiracy theories, and who never seem to have any problem getting themselves a gun. Or an arsenal.

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Thus the difference between the Old Country and the New: There, anti-Semitism was ubiquitous and guns scarce. Here, anti-Semitism is scarce -- though virulent where it exists -- and guns ubiquitous.

So the routine centers of daily life -- schools, camps, temples -- must now become "hard targets." It's America, Jake, where life in a bunker is just the price we pay to enjoy the freedoms of the Second Amendment.

We still don't know very much about the suspect, Buford Furrow, except that he had in his van all the regalia of a paramilitary fruitcake -- the ammo, the grenades, the fatigues, the survivalist tracts -- and that the North Valley Jewish Community Center was a little off his beaten track in rural Washington state. What I do know is that after the Benjamin Smith shootings in Chicago, and now in Los Angeles -- whatever the shooter's motives turn out to have been -- a certain ease and freedom have gone out of Jewish life, as, since Columbine and the other shootings, they have gone out of the lives of schoolchildren. What I know is, whether or not America is undergoing a crisis of values, which nobody has the faintest idea how to remedy in any case, it most surely has fallen prey to a crisis of gun violence, which we actually do know how, over time, to defuse -- if only our legislators would stand up to the NRA.

But our legislators -- more particularly, the Republican majority in Congress -- hear the popping of Uzis and conclude the culprit is the absence of faith: Use a gun and we'll post the Ten Commandments on your wall. Yet, the rates of religious observance and belief in the United States greatly exceed those of any nation of Western Europe, while our rate of gun violence greatly exceeds theirs, too. GOP logic notwithstanding, the incidence of gun violence is higher here because the incidence of gun ownership is higher here. The pattern holds true within our borders, too: Our most God-fearing region, the South, is also our most gun-toting, and historically our most violent.

None of this is to deny that a hollow materialism and a corrosive individualism and the atomism of suburban life and the waning of a stable work life are creating a disconnected nation with some dangerously disconnected citizens. But what distinguishes the New Land from the Old Country -- at Columbine, Atlanta and Granada Hills -- is less that we're America the Anomic than that we're America the Armed. Loose screws rattle around every nation; only here do they command a platoon's worth of firepower to unleash on 5-year-olds.


Harold Meyerson

Harold Meyerson is Executive Editor of the L.A. Weekly, where this article also appears.

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