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Gun-happy America

By Martina Law

Sometimes I wonder whether I live in one of the most civilized nations in the world, the United States, or in the old Wild West, waiting for John Wayne to turn the corner and shoot everything into order. It seems that many Americans are still enamored by the idea of the cowboy, alone on the frontier, relying on his trusty six-shooter for personal safety. This romantic notion, equating gun ownership with ‘freedom’ and rugged individualism, is firmly entrenched in American society. 

The ramifications of living in a ‘gun culture’ are, perhaps, more apparent to an outsider than to those who feel an emotional attachment to their right to keep and bear arms. Contrary to a popular slogan, guns DO kill people, and they do so at an alarming rate in this country where guns are glorified. Approximately 30,000 Americans each year are victims of gun violence: homicide, suicide, and unintentional injury. Numbers like that make Europe seem like a retirement resort. 

Incidents of gun violence by students are particularly troubling. Columbine, Lake Worth, Santee, and many more in recent years have brought bloodshed to American schools. If I had to pinpoint every school shooting on the US map, it would look like a dartboard. 

And yet America’s love affair with guns is not fading. The opposite is happening; gun ownership is on a rise. 

 As a European I wonder, what makes Americans want to arm themselves to the teeth? “Because it’s our constitutional right,” some respond. The US Constitution was written in the 18th Century. There was no standing army. Under the threat of British invasion, a militia had to be prepared to meet at the town square and be readily armed. But this is the 21st Century. Not only does the United States have one of the most powerful army of the world, the British are also one of their closest allies. The possibility of an invasion seems remote. 

And what about the argument that guns are needed for protection? “A criminal isn’t likely to attack someone with a gun.” While this might be true, this way of thinking is a sad indictment on American society. Sad that Americans neither trust their institutions such as the police and justice department nor each other. I would never want any European country be animated by this fear.  

That said, it seems that times in Europe are slowly changing.  A recent survey conducted by researchers at the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies to be released at a United Nation Conference shows that Europeans are more armed than commonly believed. An estimated 67 millions Europeans in the 15 old EU member state countries privately own a firearm, roughly 17 guns per 100 people. In Germany and France, figures are even higher: 30 guns per 100 people.  

But I am keeping my hopes up that Europeans will never get as gun crazy as Americans.


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