On February 14, 2018, there was a mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, by a former student. He killed 17 people and injured 14. The Parkland shooting is just one of 36 mass shootings that have occurred in the United States this year. This amount of gun violence is an incredibly American problem. I spoke with four international students studying in the United States and four non-American university students abroad about their perspectives on gun violence in the United States.
“I felt like it was expected,” said Ashleigh Nongogo, a junior at Clark University. This is a sentiment echoed by the other international students. The words and phrases ‘unsurprising,’ ‘history repeating itself,’ ‘not another one’ and ‘again?’ come up over and over. “When will America wake up?” asked Tyra Eberwein, a first-year at the University of Queensland. How this could possibly happen to schoolchildren evoked outrage for students like Jude al Qunaibit, a first-year at American University.
Another common theme was the idea that mass shootings and the current level of gun violence are problems that are distinctly American. Joseph Cheung, a first-year at the University of Sydney, called gun violence a “defining characteristic” of American social issues. One of the reasons it is so inherently American, as pointed out by sophomore Micha Trouillot from Clark University, is because “people won’t give up their rights guaranteed to them by the Second Amendment.”
The problem is unique and so pervasive that Tyra attributed American gun violence as “one of the reasons I didn’t consider going to America for university.”
When reflecting further on why this is such an American problem, many brought up the powerful role lobbying groups and larger organizations play in American politics. Joseph points out that the American government “leaves a lot of room for organizations such as the NRA, who have a vested interest to abuse the way legislation is shaped.” Ashleigh also identifies these large private organizations as having “inhibited the ability of the government [to properly] protect citizens.” And because of the role big money plays in politics, students like Jude are disheartened with how the government appears to ignore “issues that directly impact their citizens.” These claims aren’t unfounded. A study in 2014 found that the United States is an oligarchy controlled by only a small group of powerful elite.
Looking abroad, we see that countries outside of the United States do not share this problem. Maia Nikoladze, a junior at Clark University originally from Georgia, explains that she “cannot recall mass shootings in Georgian schools.” While she acknowledges that every country has violence, Georgia does not have “innocent kids who are walking to their classrooms [getting] shot.”
Georgian gun laws are stringent in that the age of legal ownership is higher than in the US and they have made it tougher for individuals to purchase or carry guns – if they break the rules, they face prison-time. Georgia isn’t alone in having stringent gun control policies. Similarly in Nigeria, as Morufat Bello – a sophomore at Clark University – points out, “owning a gun isn’t legalized” without a license, which is hard to obtain. If they have a gun, Morufat says “they’d have to be a hunter or associated with gangs.” Ashleigh’s home country of South Africa had one of the highest homicide rates in the world. But in 2000, they implemented stricter gun laws which halved the rate of deaths from gun violence within five years. Joseph also points out that gun violence is a “non-issue” in Australia. “Look at what the Prime Minister did in 1996,” Tyra says, “there was a mass shooting and they immediately introduced strict gun laws.” There hasn’t been a mass shooting since.
All the students I spoke to see gun control policy as being necessary to prevent this from happening, with some questioning why guns are even in the equation of American identity. “If no one has a gun, then guns can’t be used as a weapon,” said Colin Wu, a first-year at the University of Hong Kong, “if taking away guns is going to lessen the amount of innocent lives lost, doesn’t it make sense to enact gun reform?” Along the same vein, Morufat points out that “the cons of owning a gun outweigh the pros,” a heated debate that will continue to be had in the United States.
While students like Maia see revitalized push for gun control with the Never Again movement as “very powerful and important,” many aren’t hopeful. Jude brings back her “doubts of how far capitalist governmental interests will permit” the government to enact change. Jude attributes her loss of hope due to American stubbornness. Micha, who has a relative who attends Stoneman Douglas High school, is more cynical. “We’re going to keep having these hashtags ‘pray for so and so’ over and over,” she says, “We’ll keep seeing mass shootings.”
Like many Americans, Colin struggles to accept that the United States government most likely will not act. “The United State government applied the principle of ‘take away their guns so they can’t shoot’ when fighting al Qaeda,” he says, “so why don’t they apply the same logic to gun control?” While his point stands, it is important to understand just how much gun ownership has been transformed into another realm, identity politics.
That being said, “having so many killings of school kids should be enough proof that something needs to be changed,” says Maia. And while it looks like the current administration and several Republican politicians are beginning to budge, Maia reinforces the idea that “it is society’s duty to stand next to these students” spearheading the Never Again movement. After all, never again does anyone – left or right, American or international – want to see another mass shooting occur.
Lead Image Credit: Lorie Shaull via Flickr