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Guns and America: An outsider's perspective

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There have been four mass shootings in the seven months that I have been living in the USA.

This country has a complicated relationship with guns. Whilst my views on gun ownership haven’t changed, my understanding of the system in which guns exist in America has. 

I came here with the opinion that guns should be banned, I couldn’t understand why there weren’t laws implemented the moment there was the first mass shooting. Now, I would still prefer a complete ban on guns - but I understand why it isn't necessarily possible for the US. 

Last week, 17 people were killed in the Parkland mass shooting in Florida. The students involved shared their expeirences on social media and the entire world watched and listened in horror. 

People rose up to demand stricter gun control or a complete ban. Others defended their own gun ownership, blaming it on the mentally ill. Whilst everyone feels horror and disgust everytime there's a mass shooting here, the ownership of guns creates divisions. 

Over the course of the last seven months I’ve had several conversations with my friends about gun ownership. It begins with shock on both sides, they’re incredulous that I have never seen in a gun in my life, and sometimes even more so that I don’t understand the appeal in owning one. In return I am shocked that they don’t see the problem with gun ownership, and even aspire to potentially own a gun in the future.

Their reason for gun ownership is always the same: they need a gun for defence. They need a weapon to protect themselves, to protect their family, and to protect their property.

I can’t help but think how this sort of thinking doesn’t belong in 2018. Is America that dangerous that everyone needs a gun to feel safe? Americans don’t need guns for protection against the government anymore, but they do think they need them to protect themselves from each other.  

This doesn’t mean they don’t want stricter gun control. My friends have all expressed a desire to have military weapons taken off the streets. AR-15’s were designed for mass killing, and not for protection. 

Guns are ingrained in the culture of the USA. My friend’s family all own guns so they have been a part of her life for 21 years. Another friend said she’d own one for the fear factor, she wouldn’t consider using it but would have it to use as a threat if she was ever attacked. I’m not sure how they’d feel if laws were made that restricted their access to guns if they wanted one.

I’ve been taught guns are dangerous, but my American friends have been taught they are needed for defence and safety. It’s literally written into their constitution. It’s ideological so it’s natural that everyone would have the same perspective. This effects both sides of the argument regarding gun control. 

Gun culture is the biggest culture shock I’ve experienced whilst living in the US. When guns come into conversation it’s sometimes uncomfortable and tense, with completely different views depending on who I’m talking to. It’s easy to laugh about how a zucchini is called a courgette in the UK, but it’s harder to use comedy when your friends tell you their entire family owns guns and that they will too someday. It’s makes me nauseous to hear them say this, I can't quite understand why they would need a gun, but I'm also concerned for their future safety.

On Sunday 18th February, a gun control rally was held in downtown Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania. Organised by Action Together North Eastern PA, it was held to remember the victims of the Parkland shooting, but also rally for stricter gun controls and to encourage more people to vote in elections.

People came with signs. Several people held placards with the names of the recent victims of the Parkland shooting, others had signs that read “Thoughts and Prayers don’t stop the killing”, “Kids have the right to feel safe”, and “When will it end? Let’s make a better America.”

Roger Lerner, a Rabbi from Temple B’nai B’rith of Kingston, PA, encouraged children to be the change America needs.

“I don’t think we adults can do it. I don’t think our politicians can do it at this point. I don’t think they have the moral courage to stand up and talk about the violence of the guns that are in our midst and do something about it. I’m pleading to the children, I think you have to.” 

A key message that many of the speakers emphasised was the fact that people need to go to the polls to see a change; there was even a table where people could register to vote.  

Chloe Poorman, a student from Wyoming Valley West High School, delivered a speech at the rally about how gun control would make her and her friends safer at school.

“We’re losing innocent victims because of some law a couple of old dudes made in the 1700s. If this is what makes America great I can no longer be proud of my country", Poorman told the crowd. 

“Gun violence is out of control and my classmates and I shouldn’t be nervous to go out and get an education.

“My generation is the generation that has been scarred by gun violence the most, and we will be voting a lot sooner than politicians are ready for.” 

Not even 18, Poorman was the strongest speaker there, proving the point that Lerner was trying to make - America’s children are needed to make a change.  

Orlanda Carta addresses crowd at Wilkes Barre rally.

Orlanda Carter, a mother of a son who was killed by gun violence, asked for electoral action. 

Carter told the crowd: “It’s time to call out those we elect to represent us, and it’s time for them to stop siding with NRA. Our children are dying.

“We know we have the right to bear arms - but what citizen needs an assault rifle?" 

Martha Hart, who was married to a Vietnam War veteran, shared her story of assault from her own husband. She told the crowd of how she was threatened and raped by her husband with his own guns, until she called the mental health services when law enforcement forced her to remain with her husband after a failed attempt to run away with her two young children. 

“Call your representatives today, and every day until they listen, because I want to live in a country where people love their kids more than their guns,” Hart told the crowd.

State Representative for Luzerne County in Pennsylvania, Eddie Day Pashinski, also spoke at the event and encouraged people to vote.

“It is our responsibility to try to protect our children and to make sure everybody is safe in this magnificent country that allows us the freedom to gather, freedom to speak, freedom to vote”, Pashinski said.

“When the people come out and vote that is the most effective and guaranteed way that every legislature stays honest, stays honest to you. Without your involvement, without your courage, without you, I fear for our democracy and I fear for the future of our children. 

Lorraine Smith told me she was there because she has two daughters and two grandchildren: “We have to stop this violence - there is so much hatred; it has to end." 

The biggest demand I’ve seen is for assault rifles to be banned - but two days after the rally Florida legislators voted down a motion that would have banned assault rifles whilst students involved in the Parkland shooting watched. 

The event in Wilkes Barre was small and inspiring, but a rally in the middle of Pennsylvania with no real connections isn’t going to have a nationwide impact. The message to vote is clearly something that needs to be promoted nationally. 42% of voters didn’t vote in the 2016 presidential election and the local election turnout is even less. 

Gun ownership is a tough subject for America. Things won’t change overnight and I’m starting to believe guns will always have a place in this society. I’ll never approve gun ownership, but I think I’ll just have to accept the fact that one day some of my closest friends here will own at least a handgun. However, assault rifles have no reason to be on the streets of America. They were created for the military - they are the weapons of death not protection.

I hope Parkland is a changing point. I hope more people will go out and vote to change the system. I hope anyone who owns a gun in America uses it responsibly. I hope for a safer future for this country that has been my home for seven months.




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