Violence in the USA & Questioning Why

Over a decade ago, I returned to my apartment after a law school class and flipped on the TV to see coverage of a breaking news story taking place in Colorado. Two students had entered a high school called Columbine and started shooting, eventually killing over a dozen people. At the time, pre 9/11, it was one of the most shocking, violent things that had happened in my lifetime.

Yesterday, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and saw a breaking news tweet about a shooting in Connecticut. Initially, I barely paid attention. My first thought? Oh, another one.

A couple hours later, I turned on CNN and couldn’t turn it off again. I continually refreshed my Twitter stream, following news and reactions. I kept wondering why.

I wasn’t wondering why the shooter did it. We may never know that and, frankly, I don’t know if it matters.

No, I was wondering why our country has gotten to this point.

Why have we gotten to a place where we reference “the last school shooting” and “the next school shooting” – as if another one is inevitable?

Why are there more shooting deaths in my adopted hometown of Chicago in one weekend that there are in some European countries in an entire year?

Why have there been more mass shootings in the United States that all other European countries combined?

Why does the United States have a higher rate of gun violence than any other “rich” country? The only countries with more gun violence than us? Places like Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela.

Why do we have so many guns in this country? Yes, I know all about the Second Amendment – I am an attorney, remember? But honestly, I am sick and tired of that being used as an excuse by the gun lobby for people to have guns.  It is moot today. The fact that they argue that people need guns to protect themselves from other people who have guns just proves the point of how messed up we are as a society today.

Why does anyone need a semi-automatic weapon? The mother of the shooter in the Connecticut shootings had at least three – all obtained legally based on what has been released so far. Why the hell does a kindergarten teacher in a small town in Connecticut need 3 semi-automatic weapons?? Again, why does anyone?

I read this article about gun laws in Japan with fascination and admiration. Almost no one owns guns in Japan and, as a result, they have fewer shooting deaths in most years than many US cities have in a day.  Even those who do own guns have to go to great lengths to get them:

To get a gun in Japan, first, you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental test and drug test (Japan is unusual in that potential gun owners must affirmatively prove their mental fitness), which you’ll file with the police. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups, and you will be the proud new owner of your shotgun or air rifle. Just don’t forget to provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in your home, as well as the ammo, both of which must be locked and stored separately. And remember to have the police inspect the gun once per year and to re-take the class and exam every three years.

I’m not naïve enough to think we can get rid of all guns in the United States. But why can’t we at least make it a heck of a lot harder to get them? And yes, I realize people who really want to kill may still find a way to get them – but in a majority of mass shootings in recent years, the shooters obtained the guns legally. If stricter laws were in place, maybe they wouldn’t have had access to a gun in the first place. And maybe the time they would’ve needed to obtain a gun would’ve been enough time for them to change their minds or lose their nerve – or for someone to intervene and stop them.

I know it isn’t all about gun control.

But consider this – an elementary school was attacked by a man in China this week. But in that case, the attacker had a knife, not a gun. As a result? They suffered injuries – not deaths.  I’m not trying to minimize what those poor families in China have gone through, but their children are still alive.  Twenty children in Connecticut are not.

Beyond the gun aspect, think about this: the United States has a higher homicide rate (4.2 per 100,000) than Australia, New Zealand or any EU country. That isn’t just killing with guns – that’s all murders. The rate in the UK? 1.2 per 100,000. Spain? 0.8. Japan? 0.3.

The bigger question to me is – why have we developed such a culture of violence in the United States?

A few weeks after returning to the country, I was watching TV with a friend and the show Criminal Minds came on. The crimes committed in that particular episode were so gruesome, I had to turn away. I felt sick. The next night, it was the same thing, but a different show. Neither involved gun violence, but both involved extreme violence nonetheless.

Why has this become entertainment? I can only speak anecdotally, but in my year overseas, I never saw such violence on television in other countries. I feel like we live in a country that increasingly glorifies violence in television shows, movies and video games that we accept in the name of entertainment and we approve under the guise of the First Amendment. Again, I know all about the right to free speech, but don’t we have to draw the line somewhere?

There’s no single cause. If anything, the guns, the movies, the video games and the violence are symptoms of a society that is simply broken. I look back on my childhood, in which I played outside and rode my bike around the neighborhood and hung out at the mall or at the movies and my parents didn’t have to worry.  Slowly, we have evolved into a country where my 4-year-old niece and 2-year-old nephew may not be able to the same.

So today I just feel sad. I feel sad for the families in Connecticut, but even more so, I feel sad for our country. And I just keep wondering why.

14 thoughts on “Violence in the USA & Questioning Why”

  1. It is easy to point fingers and say the killer used guns and played the incredibly violent Call of Duty video game, therefore we must ban that type of gun and Call of Duty. But how effective is that?

    I think the question should be “How do we prevent those who are mentally ill and prone to violence from harming society?” instead of let’s ban this and let’s ban that.

  2. I grew up with guns. Our 6th grade [11-12 year olds] PE class spent a quarter teaching a class on ‘hunter’s safety’ and the culmination of the class was a field trip to the shooting range. It was part of the rural culture I grew up in. I live in the 2nd largest city in my state now. I own guns. Yes, more than one–all legally obtained. [and so do a lot of my friends] I have a concealed weapons permit to carry a gun. Do I? Mostly no, because 90% of the places I go regularly–schools, hospitals, government offices–you can’t carry a gun, but I do occassionally go fire a couple hundred rounds of ammo–just for fun. It’s relaxing and it keeps my skills sharp.
    I place them blame on the media and the ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ motto that makes people have to do something bigger and more violent than the last time just to get attention.
    Everybody wants to blame somebody or something, and I think that is the crux of the problem–no one want to take responsibility of their actions anymore.

    1. Thanks for commenting Michelle. I’ll be honest – I don’t know that I have ever even been near a gun. Just the idea of it scares the heck out me. I’m sure I might feel differently if I’d grown up in a family that hunted or had guns around, but we didn’t. And I’m in shock that you actually went to a gun range as a 12 year old as part of PE class, I just can’t even imagine that (that’s not a knock on you at all, it’s just so far removed from how I grew up…)

  3. Thank you, Katie. One of the positions that puzzles me is that taken by some gun-possession advocates who want to have armed school principals.

    I know a fair number of teachers and school administrators, and, while some of them have serious concerns about in-school violence (teachers are notoriously unable to protect themselves from violent students), not one has said “I wish I’d had a gun.”

    1. Thanks Susan. A friend of mine who has been a teacher for years posted on FB addressing this issue of teachers having guns. She made these points: No teacher is just going to keep a gun in their purse or desk drawer – too much risk of a student encountering it, in which case all heck would break loose and people would be questioning why teachers are exposing students to guns. So that means the gun is locked up somewhere, possibly in a secure place in the classroom (still accessible for a student to break into) or in a separate office. In either of the latter cases, what are the chances that the teacher is going to have the time and the nerve to unlock the gun and actually use it? The entire incident in Connecticut took about 10 minutes. And even if a teacher is trained on using the gun, when they’re placed in a situation like that, who knows how they will respond?

  4. Well said, Katie. I’ve had this conversation with other worldly travelers and they agree that something is broken in the US. I’ve had the exact same conversation with those that have never left the US and sadly, they don’t think anything needs to change in regards to gun control.

    Until you live in another country, or even spend a significant time outside the US, I think people are just blind to how broken our country really is.

  5. it is so interesting to see things from another point of view. very, very well written katie.

    i am actually an advocate for gun rights, but sadly, my advocacy comes from the fact that i feel safer in the US society by having one. how sad is that? my wanting to have one when in the US has nothing do with with enjoying shooting, hunting animals, or anything else…simply security. i dont know when as a society, we needed to have such a powerful weapon to defend ourselves. i constantly tell people that if the criminals got rid of their guns, id be apt to take another stance on semi-automatic weapons. but until then i cant. but when you really look at the big picture, you have to find it quite sad that people even have to own such a thing for their own self defense or security. what kind of world do we actually live in???

    im a firm believer that if people want to kill, they will kill. but you definitely brought up a good and valid point by stating that if it is more difficult for them to access a weapon, then perhaps someone can intervene in the time-being. while i am not for a ban on guns, i am for more of a control when the weapons are being purchased. but just like this recent shooting shows, even if the mother, who was sane, purchased the guns, who isnt to say that someone living in her household, like her 20 year old socially awkward son, is sane too? while gun owners may have to pass a test or get a background check to purchase the things, it doesnt completely indicate that they’ll be responsible owners once the weapons are in their possession.

    this all leaves me torn. and while im not a huge supporter of obama, i sympathize for the predicament he is in right now. something clearly has to be done, but what will actually be done is the big question.

    thanks so much for sharing such an insightful post! it is nice to read something with passion and extremely valid points. this is the second shooting where i have either known personally a victim (VA Tech) or known of the victim (i worked w/ one of the victims in CT’s dads at my previous company in the US), so i definitely am interested in this ever evolving topic and really want not only our kids, but also adults, to be able to go out in public without having to worry about heinous acts of violence.

    1. Thanks Megan. I think you are the first person I’ve met who has said they feel like they need a gun in the US for their own personal security. It is sad to me that anyone should feel like that here. For me, even living in Chicago, where there have been shootings mere blocks from where I live, it would never occur to me to by or carry a gun myself. The idea of even coming into contact with one scares the heck out of me.

      I think my biggest point to make (which I didn’t necessarily articulate in the original post) is why not try? Why not at least try to ban semi-automatic assault weapons? Why not limit the amount of ammunition people can buy at one time? Why not try to make it harder for someone who is mentally ill to get a gun? Why not place stricter regulations or training requirements or background checks on people who want to buy guns? None of these propositions should significantly hurt any law-abiding, mentally stable individual but could go far in preventing gun-related deaths. So why not at least try?

      And yes, guns aren’t the sole issue, but with the way the health care system is set up in the US and the amount of debate over those laws, I think it is more likely for us to address the gun issue in the near future than the mental health issue.

      1. as long as the US is working towards a common goal (no more of this crap in the future), im all for trying anything and everything in order to get there. if it doesnt work, we can try different routes. i just dont want to see guns in the hands of people who shouldnt have them. and i hate feeling as though i need to have some type of weapon on me when im in certain places there.

        my dad received death threats towards our family when i was young (he was military commander…kind of went w/ the territory) so he always was permitted to have a gun for our safety. i guess that is where i gained the philosophy. it helped me feel safer 😉

  6. I have to agree with Amanda, why can so many people in our country see what the majority of the rest of the world sees? It’s crazy to think more guns will solve anything. You’re so right, if gun laws were stricter, people like this guy wouldn’t have such easy access to them. There needs to be a drastic change SOON, otherwise this problem will only get worse. Things like this were never reasons for my wanting to live in Europe, but it certainly makes me not want to live back in the US anytime soon. Our country is breaking and it needs to be fixed.

    1. Agreed. And it frustrates me to no end that people who are opposed to gun control in the US won’t even acknowledge how stricter gun laws have been successful in other countries.

  7. It makes me so sad. And frustrated.

    But what makes me even MORE sad and frustrated are the people arguing that this could have been stopped if the teachers at that school would have had guns. … The saying “fight fire with fire” does not apply here. More guns will lead to more violence, not less. You don’t fight fire with fire anyway – you fight it with water and lack of oxygen. For the record.

    I was actually just having a discussion about gun control in the U.S. with some people in London last month. I know someone there who is a police officer, and he was fascinated (and a little appalled) by the fact that I grew up with guns in my house (my dad was also a cop, and is a hunter, too). People in other countries think we are crazy with our gun laws. I can’t understand why we can’t see what they are seeing.

  8. Thank you for writing this Katie. I agree, there seems to be a sick obsession with violence as entertainment in the U.S. Growing up in Canada, the only people I knew who owned guns were police officers. Now you can purchase a TSA approved gun carry-on case from Walmart (how frightening is that!?) I am a teacher in an elementary school and I can’t even imagine what I would do in this situation.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top