US Gun Owners Are Holding the Country Hostage-And I Fear for My Family's Safety

By Hasan, Mehdi | New Statesman (1996), September 14, 2018 | Go to article overview

US Gun Owners Are Holding the Country Hostage-And I Fear for My Family's Safety


Hasan, Mehdi, New Statesman (1996)


There was a mass shooting in the United States on 6 September. A lone gunman, armed with a legally purchased 9mm pistol and a stunning 250 rounds of ammunition, walked into an office building in downtown Cincinnati and opened fire. He killed three people and wounded two others. Dozens more might have died had his gun not jammed.

You probably didn't hear about any of this. Why would you? Mass shootings have become normalised in the US. Politicians offer only "thoughts and prayers"; journalists take less and less interest. The Cincinnati shooting barely registered in the Donald Trump-obsessed news cycle. Nor did the arrest of a 12-year-old boy who arrived at his school in Iowa on 31 August with a loaded handgun and tried to shoot his teacher and fellow pupils.

Friends and family in the UK often ask me: "What do you hate most about living in America?" My answer is always the same: "Guns". The horrific epidemic of mass shootings. The ludicrously easy access to firearms. The ridiculous power of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Here in the US, guns are everywhere. Virginia, where I live, is an "open carry" state, which means it is legally permissible to carry a firearm in public. My halal butcher is located right next door to a gun store. My commute to Washington, DC requires driving past the imposing headquarters of the NRA. The Walmart round the corner from my house sells both guns and ammo.

What disturbs me most about living in a country filled with legally acquired firearms, however, is the widespread fear and anxiety; the terrifying realisation that you could be shot and killed at any time, in any place. A cinema. A school. A college. A church. A nightclub. A video games tournament.

I hate having to admit to this nagging, perhaps irrational fear of random gun violence; to even having changed my behaviour since moving to the US in 2015. I now refuse to use my horn at a reckless driver who cuts me off on the freeway. What if he pulls out a gun? I can't watch my kid perform in a school play without also keeping one eye on the hall doors. What if, God forbid, a nutjob with an AR-15 were to walk in? I can't even be relaxed in the presence of police officers: these days, plenty of people of colour in the US fear being shot by armed police almost as much as they do by armed criminals.

The fear works both ways. Surveys suggest that American gun-owners no longer cite hunting or target shooting as their main reason for buying and possessing firearms; they cite personal security. This is despite a dramatic fall in violent crime in the US over the last 25 years. "When I look at our survey, what I see is a population that is living in fear," said Deborah Azrael, one of the lead authors of a 2015 study of US gun ownership by Harvard and Northeastern universities. "They are buying handguns to protect themselves against bad guys, they store their guns ready-to-use because of bad guys, and they believe that their guns make them safer. …

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