3 Months of Guns and America

In the last few days in the US I got totally paranoid. Basically I’d watched and read too much news and convinced myself that with its regularity, it was inevitable that I’d get caught in some sort of shoot out or crossfire at some point. I didn’t, obviously. And of course, it was extremely unlikely, but as you’re statistically 30 times more likely to get shot in the US than the UK, and the news stations are full of stories, I couldn’t help it being at the back of my mind.  

I really enjoyed my three months in the USA but, mainly for the reasons below, I was definitely ready to come home. 

Gun laws in America

– sign outside a gas station in Louisiana 

On the way home from the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans, an NFL football player, Will Smith, was shot because he bumped the car in front (a fender bender, as I learnt it was called here). The guy in front got out and fired at Smith after a brief argument. It went on to be more complicated than that (long, long story), but essentially a guy, a dad of three, was fatally shot in the back, and his wife in the legs.

When the police searched both cars, they found three guns between the two of them.

Having a blast at the #fqf2016

A photo posted by Will Smith (@iwillsmith) on

I was glued to the story. I guess because I was at the festival, because the media kept showing his last Instagram post which looked so innocent and because he was so lovely in the Steve Gleason film that had ripped my heart strings a few weeks before, at SXSW. The shooting happened just up the road from the first hotel I’d stayed at in New Orleans, and right outside a café I’d worked on the blog in for three days.

Two nights later I didn’t want to walk down a certain street as it looked sketchy and I was on edge, and my Canadian friend, Cailin, who gets American news said that kind of stuff is in the news all the time, ‘don’t worry’. We went into a shop to buy a drink and the news channel they had on showed scenes of a shooting in Baton Rouge, where we were going next.

It was too much.

I know Facebook has some sort of algorithm that knows where you’ve been, but it felt like every time I’d leave a place my ‘trending topics’ would bring up a shooting there.

There are 30,000 deaths in the USA, annually, from guns – NYTimes //
or 33,636 according to The Guardian

“The US saw more than 12,000 firearm-related homicides in 2008, while Japan had only 11.” – Business Insider 

VickyFlipFlop

Austin

I left Austin, after working at the University of Texas the day before, at a desk outside on the grounds. A few days later I read about a female student, Haruka Weiser, who was murdered in the grounds by a ‘homeless teenager’ on campus. She died from strangulation, and he had a gun.

“It’s legal to sell a rifle to a 16-year-old in Maine, Alaska, Minnesota or New York. In Montana, the legal age is 14.” – Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence

Chicago

The Friday I was in Chicago, it was the start of Memorial Weekend. I went on to Minneapolis early on the Saturday morning but a total of 69 people were shot that weekend, 69!

“Thirty people will be shot dead in America today” – The Guardian

Minneapolis

When I got to Minneapolis someone mentioned that no one ever got shot here and it was a peaceful place. Then on the Sunday I was there 4 people were shot. A quick Google search tells me that people definitely do get shot in Minneapolis.

“The US has more guns per person than any other country in the world.” – The Guardian

New Orleans

And then there was that guy in New Orleans who asked me and my friends for some money. We refused and he responded angrily by raising his voice, bringing his hands up and shouting “This is why I have to get a gun and rob people!”

There was more, but you get my point. 

You can see the limited stats for how many people die every day in the USA from shooting here, although they do state that they limit the results to the general public (!).

“Today, at almost 140,000, there are about 10 times more federally licensed sellers in the US than there are McDonald’s.”

Guns as self defence

I met a lady at the fitness spa I was at, lovely woman, who happened to mention she had a gun in her car. She said she hoped she never had to bring it out but she has it for self defence and knows exactly how to use it. I mentioned this to another lady I’d made friends with and she told me her and her husband’s ‘new thing’ was shooting at the gun range.

It just felt weird to think of these ladies, who were like my mum’s friends, as having a gun and being prepared to use it. And feeling like they needed it.

“The US is the only country that relaxes gun laws after a massacre. In the 18 months before Sandy Hook, there were 17 gun deaths in US schools. In 18 months following Sandy Hook, 41 deaths were reported.” (after they were relaxed) – The Guardian

Accidental deaths

Another creepy photo from the gas station

– Another creepy photo from the gas station 

It’s not just the pointless deaths thanks to having a deadly weapon at hand in the heat of a moment. Every day people die in the US from accidental shootings, usually because the person in charge of the gun hasn’t secured it properly. Did you ever hear about that 2-year-old kid in Walmart who reached into his mum’s bag in the trolley and shot her in the head?

In 2015 at least 265 kids under 18 accidentally shot themselves or someone else with a gun (Washington Post). Reading through the examples of siblings killing each one another, friends, step siblings and children accidentally shooting their parents is pretty harrowing.

“American children are sixteen times more likely to be killed in unintentional shootings than their peers in other high-income countries.” – Everytownresearch.org

Kids and guns

There have been seven school shootings so far this year in the USA. More than one a month, that’s just normal. A regular expectation when you go off to school in the morning that you might get shot at.

And what does old Trump have to say about that, seeing as he seems to be the centre of everything right now?

“I will get rid of gun-free zones on schools, and — you have to — and on military bases,” Trump said. “My first day, it gets signed, okay? My first day. There’s no more gun-free zones.” – ontheissues.org

Apparently so the kids can shoot back when it happens.

[Talking about a recent school shooting] … “it would have been a lot better had people had guns because they could fire back.” –Donald Trump, ontheissues.org

The law

Laws across the state are crazy. Here are just three examples…

– There are 20 states in the USA where an 8 year old can both legally buy a shotgun and possess it.

– In Vermont a 16-year-old can’t legally go to an R-rated movie alone or join the military, but he can buy a handgun and carry it with him.

– Loaded guns in bars are now allowed in Tennessee, Arizona, Georgia, Virginia and Ohio.

Guns and America

As much as I’ve tried to ignore the news here, I’ve become kind of addicted to it at the same time, it’s just so unbelievable. I’ve tried to reason that most of the people who get caught up in gunfire are involved in something, although there have definitely been a few people in the crossfire in the news while I’ve been here. And as much as that reasoning helps me, it doesn’t really help them at all.

READ: So, America, this is how you do gun control

Update

And then since writing this last week America’s worst mass shooting of all time was carried out by a guy who apparently ‘didn’t like seeing two guys kissing’, so fatally shot over 50 people in a gay club in Orlando. He was known to the authorities and even investigated in the past, but was still allowed to buy a gun perfectly legally. 

And the popstar Grimmie was fatally shot at an autograph signing by a guy who then shot himself.

Obama calls for better gun control, and Trump repeats his call for a ban on Muslims.

WTAF?

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tagged in personal

16 Comments

  1. by Elle Croft on June 13, 2016  10:15 am Reply

    It is kind of beyond belief, isn't it? I just get so sad when I read the news and I know that this culture is so unlikely to change because gun ownership is deeply ingrained in people as their right. I could debate all day about this particular issue, because I am so passionate about it - and it's so much more apparent when you're actually in states like Texas and Louisiana. It's heartbreaking that so many people die every day because of guns and I truly hope something changes...but with people like Trump insisting guns are the answer, not the problem, I'm not hopeful...
    Thanks for the thoughtful (and thought-provoking) piece! x

    • by Vicky on June 26, 2016  8:18 am Reply

      Yeah, it's weird when you're over there, and you're just bombarded every day with the messages that guns are bad (thanks to the endless deaths on the news) but then when it comes to making any sort of change they seem to go backwards, not forwards.

      Maybe I was there too long, but by the end I was just so paranoid walking through the parking lot to Walmart even had me on edge. I would and will definitely go back, but think I was a bit of a nervous wreck by the time I left. I just hope they see sense and don't let Trump get any more power than he already has.

  2. by Bob on June 13, 2016  11:17 am Reply

    WOW, that is really scary! Do they realize they have problem? Kinda make you think carefully about where you go.

    • by Vicky on June 26, 2016  8:06 am Reply

      Yeah, definitely. Before I went I just thought, ahh, America, be alright and didn't really research any place for its safety. Maybe that was for the best as I went with an open mind and flexibility, but I can say that now that I'm ok. I think next time I'll be thinking a lot more about where to go and what to do based on how safe I think it is.

  3. by Jen on June 13, 2016  11:37 am Reply

    This is all so mental! So so sad! When with the USA do something about their gun laws? It's ridiculous and makes me so mad/sad.

    Great post Vix! Glad you made it home in one piece!

  4. by Gillian on June 13, 2016  11:40 am Reply

    It is so powerful to see your own country through another's eyes. We have had a Dutch friend staying with us here in Rome and she asks genuine questions (not trying to make an argument or cast judgement) about our gun laws and political system and like your observations, when I explain things out loud I am embarrassed and angry and heartbroken all together.

    Last summer when I was home in Tennessee there had just been a shooting in a movie theater and I decided to wait and see the film I wanted to watch in Maryland where the gun laws are stricter. This was an actual discussion and decision that my family made. That is nuts.

    • by Vicky on June 26, 2016  8:20 am Reply

      Yeah it's weird when you hear about impressions of your country from an outsider isn't it? I think America is just so different, and especially within every state, it's hard for any outsider to believe and make sense of. I was definitely one of those people who had a million questions relating to the gun laws, and after researching it all I have a million more.

      That's so scary that you don't even feel you can go to the movies without danger.

  5. by Private Blue on June 13, 2016  2:24 pm Reply

    Imagine living in the USA and having children grow up in this "Gun Society"

    While I think your blog post is informative, I feel it is a little unfair.
    Remember these things happen all over the world and unfortunately it is happening here in "the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave" more often. We have less bombing plots and more gun issues.
    Gun laws do need to be reformed to include mental illness evaluation.
    But that won't solve the problem because one thing our Government can't change is EVIL!
    People with evil interests will obtain firearms and explosives on the black market.
    We won't know the place and we won't know the time.
    Should we stay at home in fear?
    We need more love, more understanding and better mental health care and facilities to keep these people off the street!!!
    Last thought, Whatever your god, you need to pray!

    • by LaMesha on June 15, 2016  9:45 am Reply

      No, this amount of gun violence does not happen all over the world.

    • by Vicky on June 26, 2016  8:04 am Reply

      Thanks for your comment and for another point of view. I know this post isn't like a 'definititive' guide to guns in the US or anything, just a comment on what I experienced during my time there, and in comparison to England.

      I definitely agree with the fact that some people with mental illness aren't given the right help, seems like that's something that needs a reform, although the whole American attitude to that in my experience could take up a whole other post.

      I hope your god answers your prayers.

  6. by Claudia on June 13, 2016  4:24 pm Reply

    No words to comment. You totally got it.

  7. by Teena Fuller on June 13, 2016  11:52 pm Reply

    Yes, We know we have a problem but some of the people in power think the problem can be solved with more guns.
    There are several groups looking for solutions but one thing is for sure, we do not people who think like Trump any where in or near government or legislation.
    http://americansforresponsiblesolutions.org/
    http://csgv.org/

  8. by Rob on July 22, 2016  2:09 am Reply

    Hi Vicky

    I agree that we have a problem in the US but I believe the media tends to overblow it. I live in a town of 140,000 and I asked a Canadian friend how many people he thought were killed by handguns last year. He guessed 200 to 300. In fact nobody has ever been killed by a gun in my town Ever. The death and violence is unfortunately drawn upon socio economic lines and is centered asked drugs and very dangerous gangs. Yes we have mass shootings. Orlando was horrible but it was an act of terroism. And look what just happened in Nice. Don't get me wrong, I hate guns and I hate the NRA. Let's see what developed country was labeled the most dangerous in the world - Scotland. But I had a great vacation there last year and would visit again. And if you listen to conservative radio you would think London has been overrun by radical Islam and turned into londonstein. But I still go there and have a great time. You have a right to question our gun laws, I do as well. But remember New Hampshire has the highest gun ownership of any state and their murder rate is less than the European countries. I

    • by Vicky on July 22, 2016  6:08 am Reply

      Hi Rob, thanks for your comment. I totally agree with what you're saying. The media has such a strong and terrifying influence over us and in it's attempt to cover everything, sometimes without getting the facts, it can't be believed. This is my experience of three months in the US though, backed up by facts that I've sourced and quoted. I would definitely go to the US again. I do like it there, but I couldn't help but feel this undercurrent of danger. Maybe its a time, a place and a paranoia meeting, I don't know.

      That's interesting you say Scotland is the most dangerous country in the world. I'd love to see that list. I guess it can depend based on what stats exactly they're looking at.

      I'm on my way back to London now, and yes, from watching the news it does seem terrifying but I know that that's possibly a street or two and the rest is fine. It's so difficult, near impossible, to get a true picture of the world right now. It seems nowhere is safe.

      Thanks for reading.

  9. by rob on July 22, 2016  7:55 pm Reply

    Hi Vicky

    Here are a couple of links on Scotland. The UN report was measuring assaults and violent acts, not just murders. I was not trying to justify the murder rate in the US, it is clearly out of line with the rest of the word.


    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/4257966.stm
    https://www.sundaypost.com/news/shocking-un-report-reveals-scotland-is-the-assault-capital-of-the-world/

    I can't dispute your facts as well, I wish I could. But what is missing is the same as you alluded to in London, crime is localized to specific areas of a city. Take Chicago, I would be wiling to bet *ALL* of those shootings were concentrated in the southern areas. If you were to journey north to say Lake Forest, you probably stand a better change of getting hit by a meteor vs being shot. The bottom line is we have huge issues of gang driven murder. Staying our of those areas and you are fine. When you look at the stats more carefully the level of violence and murders have actually decreased, in some cases dramatically vs the 1980s. My children have never seen a gun fired or know of anybody killed by one.

    Give the USA another chance. Swing by my home town (Cary, NC) My wife and I will welcome you with open arms. I swear we will walk the Walmart parking lot and you won't get shot :-) In the meanwhile continue to travel. I greatly admire what you have undertaken.

    • by Vicky on July 25, 2016  7:42 am Reply

      Thanks for posting that Rob. The world is definitely a scary place right now. Have you read the book Freakonomics? I'm finally getting round to reading it now and have just read the chapter on gun violence in Chicago – fascinating read. It also looks at the fall in crime too. It adds a lot more points of view to the argument too.

      I'd love to visit North Carolina, thank you for the kind offer. I'll let you know if ever I get there! I'll definitely go back to the US at some point. No questions there.

      Thanks for reading!

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