On Friday 14th December 2012, America experienced its second largest school massacre – which took 27 lives including that of 20 children between the ages of 5-10 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Just 5 years ago, in 2007, a student took 32 lives at Virginia Tech University.
America currently has the largest gun homicide rate in the world and that is largely due to the fact that guns are so widely available.
I recently spent six months in the small town of Milledgeville, Georgia studying at Georgia College and State University. For a small town with a population of less than 18,000, I was utterly shocked when hearing of the number of shootings that took place in Milledgeville just in the six months I was there. The difficult part was that the American students seemed to think this was normal.
“Oh there was just another shooting downtown last night,” is what they would say in general conversation and then swiftly move on. It was like it was completely ordinary for people to get shot.
Lots of students that had cars would have a gun in the boot of their car. This was a completely new concept for me – the fact that students could casually carry a gun without being questioned or people being afraid. In England, anyone seen with a gun is automatically seen as a threat and here people were carrying guns around like they carry a handbag. Granted, they were not allowed to walk around campus carrying guns or have any guns inside their student accommodation but the fact that just outside in their car was a gun, made me feel very uneasy.
Then there was my roommates boyfriend – he laughed when he realised I had never shot a gun in my life. ‘What world do you live in? What would you do if someone attacked you?’ For some reason, grabbing a gun and shooting someone is not the first thing that came to my mind!
I actually wasn’t so surprised that so many people owned guns since they were so easy to get hold of. They had a gun aisle in the local Wal-Mart which is the American equivalent of Asda. No licence was needed to buy guns or bullets. You needed to prove you were 18 or 21 depending on the gun you wanted and that was all. Knives and swords were on sale at a flea market and there was a knife stand at a service station – why you would need to purchase a knife at a service station is beyond me!
In one of my classes, a teacher made us watch a movie called ‘Bowling for Columbine,’ which was about the Columbine shootings in which two students took the lives of 12 students and one teacher before committing suicide in 1999 in Colorado. The movie sparked debate in class and left me completely shocked when I was the only one who thought it was wrong that the students were able to get hold of those guns.
‘The Second Amendment’ is what was being brought up by all the students. ‘The right of the people to keep and bear arms.’ It’s understandable that the country is based upon the Bill Of Rights but surely after massacres like this and shootings which happen every single day that go unreported in the media should be reason enough for them to reconsider and rethink their approach to weapons and who is able to hold them.
In the UK, you are not able to carry a gun without a licence and have to have good reason to be able to receive a licence. Even the majority of police officers do not routinely carry firearms. Yes, it’s true that some people will always be able to get hold of a gun and commit a crime – but surely, having procedures in place which makes it difficult to get hold of a gun may deter certain people and could quite possibly, prevent fatalities.
The figures of fatalities through gun crimes speak for themselves. In 2011 there were 58 murders by firearms in Britain (taking population into account this is equivalent to 290 US murders) compared to 8775 in the US. I genuinely believe this is down to how easy it is to be able to get hold of a gun in the States.
So although this has been a subject of fierce debate for a while, I believe that there is no better time for America to show the world that they are taking this seriously and they are willing to change the laws – even if this simply means there are background and medical checks done on people who are purchasing guns and having to have a licence to carry a loaded gun. This could theoretically prevent massacres that have destroyed lives and devastated the world.