I have noticed and increased tendency recently for people to compare the United States to the United Kingdom. To an extent I fully understand that such parallels are attractive. The United Kingdom is a European country and as such is a wealthy, industrialised nation similar to the US.
They speak a version of English there too, and it makes comparison easier than with somewhere like Germany, Austria, France, etc. It also helps that most Americans actually know where the UK is while many might struggle to place Austria or Belgium on the map.
Then there is the shared history. We owned your asses for a while ... but even that is inaccurate, because when that which became America was owned by the UK, it was actually the UK, and most of the settlers were English, by birth and by loyalty.
The War of Independence was not simply a matter of brave patriotic Americans striking a blow for freedom, even if they did. No, it was a civil war, a British Civil war. The United States of America was but a gleam in the eye of a few.
So I understand that it is tempting to use the UK as an example either to bolster your own arguments, or chip away at your opponents, but it is a dangerous game to play, because neither side is correct.
While I do accept that it is both helpful, and instructive, to occasionally look outwith your own insularity, you must also temper the views formed with an "American" perspective. On of my biggest criticisms of the US is that the people are insular. That they believe that American Exceptionalism is a national condition, and who are those "furriners" anyway?
Well the short answer is that those foreigners are people who solved most of the problems you have solved, and in most cases they managed it rather sooner. That is not to say they did it better, but they did have a head start and there is much to be learned from their experiences. Simply suggesting that it is not the American way is something that happens a lot, and I find it interesting.
They say that travel broadens the mind. This I have found to be true, but not for obvious reasons. Yes, you get to see strange and different lands. You can interact with different languages and cultures and personally benefit from a rich experience. It is, however, more than that. The first thing I realised when I started to travel was that everywhere I went had faced similar problems to my country, and they had all solved them in different ways. The one thing this taught me was that there is usually more than one solution to a problem, and that the way I was most familiar with was as good as most, but not necessarily better. It's just different.
America has to find its own, unique, American solutions, but they are better informed if Americans take the trouble to look around a bit. So whether we are talking about a system of government, or the ways we should educate our children, or even how we should control firearms then looking at the solutions of others might help, but it proves very little.
Imagine a scenario for a moment ...
John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives, brings a majority backed Bill to the floor of the House for a vote. It is a contentious Bill that has to do with the principle that America should pay its debts. He loses that vote.
The next day, Nancy Pelosi forces through a Discharge Petition that states "This House has no confidence in the Leadership of the House". She wins that vote with the help of the Tea Party Representatives.
Four weeks later there is a General Election and all the House seats are up for grabs.
That, in essence, is how the UK government works with the second chamber (the House of Lords) merely an advisory body, and no President. What is more, it has worked broadly like that for ... wait for it ... One thousand years, give or take.
This means that the entire government can be swept from power in an instant. All of them, including the Senate. Imagine what might happen if that were possible here. In the UK it means that however outrageous the thoughts and wishes of some politicians, if they do not stay broadly in line with public opinion, then they are toast.
Add to that the fact that political, religious and charity ads are banned from TV, and Campaign Finance is very tightly controlled and limited. Oh yes, while we are on advertising, most pharmaceutical products are banned as well.
So when you start making comments about your freedoms, and the lack thereof in the Uk, what with their closed circuit TV and constant government interference, then you also have to remember that the Brits are decently happy with that arrangement. Indeed they might consider it merely sensible. They do not like "austerity", and that would be something the US might take heed of.
When it comes to gun-control. The Brits like those laws. They vote for them, they approve of them and they do not feel either the need to own a gun, nor do they feel frightened because they can't blow away an entire grade-school class in under three minutes. They are rather pleased that no one can.
Whenever there is a gun incident in the UK, politicians from BOTH sides scream for more control, not less. Any politician suggesting that we should even arm our police is usually laughed right out of office.
The result of all of that is that even our criminals do not carry guns. Most of them anyway with exceptions for the American guns carried by some drug gangs. When the guy breaks into your house to take your TV, it is the TV he wants, and no one should die over a TV. There is just so little worth watching these days. He will not shoot the householder, and the homeowner will not shoot him. There may be some confrontation, but actual violence is rare. Yes it happens, I said it's rare.
We like it like that. We appreciate the fact that a country of 48 million (plus Scotland) has fewer gun murders than Tulsa, Oklahoma, a city of 400 000.
The UK has a different history to the US, and here the analogies break down. We never had an armed population, and we see no need to start now. You did, and you have rights which seem a bit strange to us, because you kill yourselves, or each other at the rate of ten 9/11s a year, and no one does anything. When 9/11 happened you went to two wars, passed the Patriot Act and produced the Department of Homeland Security. Quite why nobody seems to care much about 30 000 dead per year is a bit of a mystery.
What I am saying here is that it might be reasonable to make some comparisons, but be careful, and do not ever think that the Brits suffer a lack of freedoms because we do not do things the American way. It doesn't work like that.
Remember that when you talk so disdainfully of the UK government "confiscating" guns from an oppressed people, that actually they did no such thing. To begin with, all firearms in the UK have always been highly regulated ... you could learn from that. What happened was that a handgun ban was introduced. You have to bear in mind that handguns were already extremely rare. They were difficult to get permits for, and few bothered because we didn't see the need.
There was no massive gun grab, there were no jackboots kicking down doors. Just a new law, and a request for any guns out there to be turned in. Most people simply thought that was a very reasonable thing to do, and something that would protect everyone. We don't suggest that you do the same, but we would request that you please stop sending your guns to our criminals. They are cluttering up the place.
As ever, this is not a one-sided debate. Like everything in life it is true that we can learn from each other. There are things in the US that those tight-arsed Brits would do well to study, and I think they do because we travel more. I would move the School Bus system to the UK in a heartbeat, and while we are on schools ... the way they are integrated with their local communities is something that I, as a Brit, am rather envious of. In return we will send you some of our curriculum and teaching methods.
We do not want a President, and while it is a bit of an anachronism, we don't really mind the Church of England Bishops having a seat in our second chamber ... as long as they sit there quietly; which they generally do.
We are a secular society with an Established church, whereas the US is a religious society who banned the churches from government. Ironic really.
So carry on. Look all over the world for clues to answer your questions, but remember that they are only clues. You will not find your answers in the UK, or Australia, or anywhere but here in the United States. Don't make the mistake of imposing your American attitudes to freedom, etc, on the people of other lands, because they will simply smile to themselves and carry on regardless.