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Gun violence in America: an international perspective

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Gun violence in America: an international perspective

Lily Wang

Lily Wang

Lily Wang

Alexandra Bentzien, Editor in Cheif

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Whether you read this as a supporter of gun rights or gun control, there are certain facts which mark gun violence an undeniable problem permeating our day-to-day America.  It is impossible to ignore the horror of senseless killings in settings from nightclubs to music festivals – and most pertinent to us, in schools. While news of mass shootings seem to have become a staple in domestic news, along with a new wave of activism coursing through the media after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, gun violence is not an issue most international Masters students have had to reckon with before studying in the United States.

“Growing up, we never talked about gun control or even thought about it.  I didn’t even know gun control was an issue until I came here,” senior Youssef Aly, a boarder from Cairo, Egypt said.

Masters’ boarding program draws international students from six continents and over 30 countries, each with a different political system and attitude toward civic security.  Many of these students were surprised at how easy it is to purchase a gun in the United States compared to the process in their own country.

In Egypt, Aly’s home country, acquiring a license to own a gun is a thorough process involving a criminal background test – which must be notarized – as well as vision tests and psychological and physical evaluations, all of which must be administered by a public hospital.  Once a license is issued, it is only active for a three-year period, after which it must be renewed again, following the same procedure, in order to ensure information about gun owners is up to date. In Egypt, gun owners must be 21 to earn a license, a stark contrast from the minimum age requirement in the United States, wherein some states, including Alaska and Minnesota, allow those as young as 14 or 16 to purchase a rifle and 18-year-olds can   purchase a semi-automatic weapon.

“If you want a gun you should have to go through the proper steps, like getting a psych evaluation and getting your eyesight checked,” Aly said.    

Aly’s own opinions on gun control have been influenced by the regulations put in place in Egypt. “The most striking thing is that in this country, you could go to a Walmart and buy a gun,” he said.  Maya Asante, a junior from Ghana, stated that someone cannot simply purchase a gun by walking into a gun store, only if they directly contact a gunsmith; in general, guns are reserved for military and police forces.   

Similarly, Noon (Stellar) Son, a sophomore boarder from South Korea had her perspective shaped by her country’s own gun laws.  “If you own a gun you should report it and the government should know who has it.  There should be some regulations,” Son said. South Koreans are only allowed to own guns for hunting or sport, Son said, and the guns must be stored at a police station, where gun owners can safely retrieve and return their weapons after use.   

According to GunPolicy.org, an international firearm injury and prevention database researched by the University of Sydney, the latest year on record, 2013, reported 31 deaths due to gun crimes, homicides, suicides and gun-related accidents in South Korea whose population of approximately 50 million is only 16 percent of the United States’ population.  In comparison, the United States saw a rate more than a thousand times higher in the same year, with a total of 33,636 firearm deaths, according to ProCon.org.

Since the tragic massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, where 26 were killed,  as of Apr. 10, there have been 2,006 mass shootings in the United States, according to a live article by Vox.  In a country where the reality of gun violence is a constant threat it is an aspect of life to which international students learn to adjust.

“[Gun control] is not something that’s crossed our minds because we know every person who has a gun is a responsible person who’s qualified to have one,” Aly said.  Whereas at home Aly is comfortable getting “mouthy” with people who might be rude late at night, he is cautious to remain calm while walking in New York City. “I hold my tongue a little more just because a crazy person or someone might pull out a gun and shoot you, and no one will care,” Aly said.  

Though Son feels safe while in school, mass shootings have also made her more careful and aware of her surroundings.  “I know there are some mass shootings in crowded areas; sometimes I do worry to be careful and look around for a place where I can run.  In a city there is always an empty street that I can escape to if anything happens,” Son said.

Son acknowledged that in Seoul, her home city and South Korea’s capital, violence is still a threat, but is more commonly perpetrated by knives or other tools in armed robberies, as is the case in Asante’s home city of Accra, Ghana’s capital.  

“Here in the U.S. people can own guns, so I will be more careful and find a place to protect myself in case anything happen,” Son said.  

“I definitely feel more safe at home.  A lot more safe,” Aly said.

 

Sophomore Caio Lanes, however, immediately answered he felt “much safer overall in the U.S., specifically in Dobbs Ferry.” Lanes hails from Brazil, the largest country in South America and home to 17 of Business Insider and USA Today’s list of the world’s 50 most dangerous cities.  Number 49 on the list is Lanes’ hometown, Vitória, where he is “very aware” of gun violence despite living in the city’s richest neighborhood.   

“Even there, in this rich neighborhood, where it’s really safe, someone was killed in front of my house. One of the bullets even hit my wall. So if we didn’t have a thick wall my parents potentially would’ve died by being shot,” Lanes said.  

Gun control was implemented in Brazil in 2003, but even though the government was able to collect legal guns, weapons could be easily obtained illegally, smuggled over the border to neighboring countries like Bolivia or purchased through the black market, sometimes even from corrupt police officers.  

After Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil, he signed a decree in Jan. 2019 loosening gun control restrictions and making it easier to obtain guns.  Guns had been used in Brazil primarily in cases of individual thefts and murders, with school shootings occurring infrequently. Before Bolsonaro’s election, the last school shooting was in 2011; since 2019, a massacre at a school in São Paulo killed nine students, and another school shooting was unsuccessfully attempted.      

Though Lanes does not like to comment on gun control in the United States, he noted that the government should take more effective action in Brazil, where the gun control advocacy should be driven by gun violence experts and criminologists instead of by popular protest.  

While Asante was not previously preoccupied with gun violence, she has grown increasingly aware  of issues of gun violence in the United States due to recent news reports of school shootings and police violence against black Americans.  

“Gun violence and being black both play a significant part in my own safety,” she said.  Asante naturally feels safer in Ghana, though being born in California and living there for a few years has made the U.S. feel like a second home: just like in Ghana, she is now aware of the places she “can and can’t go.”  

“These days you don’t know what’s going to happen when you’re walking down the street with the police shooting down little black kids who weren’t doing anything. Just doing anything from day to day I use caution,” Asante said.    

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Gun violence in America: an international perspective