When we were applying for visas to visit the US a few years ago, I was left scratching my head over whether I was guilty of the sin of ‘moral turpitude’. I was pretty sure I wasn’t, but looked it up just to be sure.
It turns out that this is a legal concept covering ‘conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals’ and relieved that I had passed the test, I ticked the no box. But I wonder how many people simply lie?
I was thinking about this yesterday while listening to President Obama’s emotional announcement of his intention to tighten gun laws in the US. There is a touching naivety among US legislators that people will invariably tell the truth when faced with an official government form.
Are you mad? No, tick. Are you planning acts of terrorism? No, tick. Do you intend to commit a mass shooting? No, tick. Are you planning to commit suicide? No, tick. Okay, here is your gun sir – have a nice day.
Not that I think Obama is wrong to try to do something to stem the tide of gun-related deaths in the US. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have already been 157 deaths and 347 injuries in the first few days of 2016. But this trend is unlikely to change simply through tighter regulation, so ingrained is the whole business of gun ownership in the American psyche.
That is something that is pretty incomprehensible to the rest of the world, if you exclude places like Afghanistan and Colombia, but I like to think that if we had a problem on such a scale, we would try to work out what was going on and what could be done about it.
Which brings me back to moral turpitude. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would quite like to study the relationship between gun ownership and gun violence, but Congress has extended the ban on using federal funding to study whether or not there is a correlation in case the answer might not be to the liking of the NRA and the congressmen they sponsor.
The spurious argument goes that guns are not a disease and therefore no business of the CDC, which is a bit like saying that it’s the smoker who does the damage, not the cigarette, therefore we shouldn’t study the effects of smoking.
Now if that isn’t ‘conduct that is considered contrary to community standards of justice, honesty or good morals’ then I don’t know what is.