Reflecting on the United States Mass Shootings as an American Intern Living Abroad

There have been many charming cultural differences that I’ve encountered since getting to London and living here as an American abroad student. However, there have been larger differences that have changed the way I look at the world and, more specifically, look at America on a global scale. One of those prominent differences is my home nation’s stance on guns compared to England’s and the rest of Europe’s.

In recent events, there was a devastating school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee. A former 28-year-old student of Covenant School returned and killed six people, including 3 children and 3 adults on Monday, the 27th of March. The shooter was armed with three guns, including a semi-automatic rifle. All of these were obtained legally per the gun laws within the state. Despite having been treated for a mental health disorder, this was no hindrance to acquiring these weapons. Someone actively struggling mentally was able to go out and purchase guns that could take precious, undeserving lives in just seconds. How senseless are we to legally protect the rights of inanimate objects over our own citizens? It’s time to wake up.

When you grow up in a nation whose gun culture is instilled in the very words of the document it was built on, there is a shocking normalization towards objects that can be used to end a person’s life. It is unfathomable that America places so much importance on the right to purchase and own guns, especially given that this right was formed in a reality almost three hundred years ago that could not look more different than the modern day.

After having lived abroad for over two months, I’ve come to realize that I now walk onto public transportation or through a crowded shopping center significantly less on edge. I no longer think about the fastest way to escape an enclosed area in case of an emergency. Although there is no shortage of crime in Europe, it doesn’t feel like any place I go can be turned into a shooting range at any moment. It’s made me realise how abnormal and heightened my fear of guns is, simply because of the political climate in the States and the failure of legislators to meet citizens’ needs.

Headline after headline lights up my phone. “3 dead”… “6 killed in mass shooting”… “leaves 8 children dead”. What has begun to haunt me is the sense of normalcy that is felt when I read these things. My heart, of course, still drops when I read a new headline detailing a mass shooting. However, there have been so many instances of this happening, that it feels like a miserable routine. As an American, I have become desensitised to events that are considered tragic–and relatively rare compared to the rest of the world. There is a sense of normalcy to occurrences that are nowhere near remotely normal.

I have begun to realize how unique this is to America, which makes the issue even more frustrating. The United States is gridlocked and polarised on the issue. Very little progress can be made given the current political landscape. Living in the United Kingdom, where some of the world’s strictest gun-ownership laws are implemented, has shown me that there is a whole other world without living in constant fear of gun violence.

In 1996, the Dunblane massacre occurred in Scotland when 43-year-old Thomas Hamilton used legally owned handguns to kill 17 people: 16 students aged 5-6 and one teacher. After that, there was widespread revulsion against guns. The Conservative government banned all handguns except for .22 caliber single-shot weapons. The Labour government following banned all handguns as well as .22 caliber single-shot weapons. After these regulations were tightened, there has only been one mass shooting that took place in 2010 in Whitehaven, a part of northern England. In comparison, the Gun Violence Archive has counted 130 mass shootings in 2023 in the United States alone.

I am an American and I have been conditioned to fear for my life when I walk on the streets. I fear for myself, my family, my friends, and the generations that follow me. Yes, the Brits do tea and scones very well. But, they also know how to prioritize and keep their people safe: an area that America severely lacks in.

By: Maddy Adler