As an American expat living in Ireland, I’ve heard both sides of the debate on gun control.
I’ve heard my American friends and family members cite other countries’ gun laws to defend their own. I’ve heard them praise freedom, heritage, Constitutional rights, all those lofty ideals they believe entitle them to lethal weapons. I’ve heard them complain about some authoritarian entity coming to “take all their guns.”
Such arguments often leave me speechless. How do I explain to them that drive-by shootings don’t happen where I live? How do I explain that Irish schools have no need for active shooter drills? How do I explain that guns aren’t banned in most European countries, they’re just regulated?
My Irish friends often ask me why Americans “need” semi-automatic weapons for protection. I’ve been asked how many innocent children must die before America wakes up and does something.
I can’t answer these questions – but in light of the most recent school shootings, I’d like to offer a cross-cultural perspective on a uniquely American issue.
Guns don’t kill people, people kill people
Guns are used to kill nearly 3,000 children and teens in America each year. This immense loss of innocent life equates to a 9/11 attack every single year.
Between 2013 and 2018, guns used in American school shootings killed 109 children and teens. This figure doesn’t include college students killed on campus.
A teenager’s choice to lunge at the gunman during a school shooting in Colorado cost his life but gave others precious seconds. It was the latest act of self-sacrifice by students who are now on the front lines of fighting off gunmen in America’s schools. https://t.co/XGfkIo9BMz
— The New York Times (@nytimes) 8 May 2019
Read that again: zero school shootings have occurred in the UK and Ireland since 1996.
I wish I could explain to my American friends why school shootings, and mass shootings in general, don’t happen on this side of the pond. There’s always a possibility, as my gun-owning American friends like to point out – but they just don’t happen.
Pray for peace, prepare for war
Because so many Americans are armed, the attitude on guns is akin to groupthink: “Everyone else has a gun, so I need one too, just in case.”
How can we ever solve this problem as long as that mentality persists?
I’ll admit I adopted the same mindset when I lived in America during my last year of college. I felt I had no choice if I wanted to stay safe from other people. Due to my experience with mental illness, however, owning a gun, even for protection, was out of the question.
Still, as the old saying goes, don’t bring a knife – or in my case, a baseball bat – to a gunfight.
In America, you never know when or where the next gunfight will happen: at the grocery store, at the gas station, at the elementary school, in your own home. You must be adequately armed and prepared for war at all times.
The rest of the Western world doesn’t operate this way
More than 233,000 Irish citizens own a sports shotgun, hunting rifle or handgun. They cannot (legally) obtain a semi-automatic weapon. Regulations on private ownership of handguns are also incredibly strict.
For every 100 inhabitants in Ireland, there are just nine guns (a figure which includes unregistered firearms) and zero mass shootings.
Compare that to America, where there are 89 guns and 78 mass shootings per 100 inhabitants.
“Even though guns are regulated, criminals will still use them to hurt people. A law won’t stop them,” is a common retort from staunch supporters of the Second Amendment.
They’re not entirely wrong. In Ireland, guns were used to kill 201 people between 2005 and 2015. In the UK, guns were used to kill 454 people in that same period.
While they don’t come close to America’s gun violence rates, statistics like these form the crux of many arguments defending the Second Amendment.
Let’s not pretend we’ll ever live in a utopia where every gun owner all around the world uses their firearms responsibly. As long as guns exist, people will use them to shoot and kill other people.
This is a grisly truth, but it doesn’t justify America’s resistance to gun control.
A note on gun control from Thomas Jefferson
When the Second Amendment was written, standard firearms included muskets and flintlock pistols. A musket’s magazine could only fire three rounds per minute and had a magazine that held only one round.
Compare that to today’s AR-15, which fires 45 rounds per minute and has a magazine that holds 30 rounds.
America’s founding fathers would balk at the widespread resistance to stricter gun laws. Don’t believe me? Consider this condensed quotation from Thomas Jefferson:
“[…] laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, […] institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as a civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”
A law written for a time when guns could only hold one round should not apply in a time when guns can kill a room full of people in seconds.
I wish I could make my American friends and family members understand that people who support stricter gun regulations don’t want to “take all their guns.” We don’t want to infringe on their freedom or their rights.
We just want to keep our children safe – and our adults, too.
Our schools should not be not war zones, our teachers should not be armed soldiers, and our children should not become martyrs for our outdated “right” to own a lethal weapon.
To drive the point home, I’d like to end with a quotation from Lorenzo Prado, survivor of the 2018 Parkland High School shooting:
“To let these victims’ lives be taken without any change in return is an act of treason to our great country. What we must do now is enact change because that is what we do to things that fail: We change them.”