Tuesday, December 18, 2012

An ex-pat American's Thoughts on the Sandy Hook shootings

I've been fuming since the Sandy Hook shootings. I do it every time there's a mass shooting in the U.S. That makes me angry quite a lot of the time. Up until yesterday I simply failed to understand why the U.S. doesn't change its gun laws. I was at the hairdresser and he posing the same questions. As he did so, however, I felt personally attacked; not because I don't believe in gun control but because a great number of American family members who I love and respect and believe to be intelligent, well-educated people don't. As he ranted and raved I pondered how it could be so that that was the case.

Then it hit me. As much as I - and other Australians - are at a loss to understand why gun laws aren't toughened in the U.S., the Americans who don't want tougher gun laws are at the same loss to understand our point of view. Both sides think they're right.

I'd be generalising if I were to suggest that all Americans support guns and no Australians do. The fundamental difference, I believe, is cultural. Guns are part of American history, culture and psyche. Try changing that. Yes, we've got guns here and, despite the introduction of stricter gun laws sixteen years ago, a young man went on a shooting spree at Monash university ten years. Guns are not part of our culture, however. Most everyday Australians simply do not feel the need to own a gun for protection whereas many Americans do. 

So, today, I go above and beyond my usual gratitude for being middle-class in a Western country. Today I'm grateful that:

  • my parents decided after their two year working holiday in Australia forty one years ago to stay
  • I grew up in a country where guns are not part of the culture
  • when a disgruntled student walked onto my daughter's school campus with a score to settle he was carrying a sword, not a semi-automatic weapon, and no one was killed or even injured 
  • following the worst shooting massacre in the world, which sadly was here in 1996, there was "a ban on all semi-automatic rifles and all semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns, and a tightly restrictive system of licensing and ownership controls."
  • the thirty five deaths at the above shooting galvanised both sides of politics, as well as the general public, so that the victims didn't die in vain. (It was still senseless and a tragic loss of life.)
  • the most recent mass shooting here was ten years ago
Things are not perfect here by any means. I live in Adelaide where we've have some really bizarre murders. Furthermore, I don't know the overall crime stats for Australia. I'm still glad, however, not to live in a country with a gun culture.

For a different perspective from a fellow Aussie blogger check out Trifectagirl's most recent post. It's very insightful and makes me wish I'd written it.

Finally, I could not finish this post without acknowledging of the children and teachers who were killed or injured at Sandy Hook elementary school and their family and friends who are going through a horrific time at the moment. My heart goes out to all of them.


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