Violent America: Why I Don’t Feel Safe in My Own Country

I return to the US, my putative homeland, at least once a year, and even when not there, I (like most of the world) have constant access to American culture via movies, TV shows, and websites. In spite of all this, I feel ever more a stranger when I land there. I can’t put my finger on why. Have I become more European? (Whatever that means.) I don’t feel European, or Italian, but lately I don’t feel particularly American either.

Perhaps I’ve become unaccustomed to some of America’s standard features, such as the plethora of churches – in many states juxtaposed with huge store signs advertising guns.

Guns, yes, that’s a factor. America feels less safe to me than Europe. One big reason is that there are far more guns around in the US, waiting to be snatched up and fired in a moment of rage. I have often thought, at times when I’m almost mad enough to throw dishes, that if there was a gun to hand, I’d be at risk of using it. So I’m glad there aren’t any in our house, and I prefer to stay away from guns altogether – I don’t trust myself with them, let alone anybody else.

Are Americans inherently more violent, with or without guns? On our way back from North Carolina, Susan and I were very irritated, even worried, by a pickup truck that hugged our bumper in fast, heavy highway traffic. I turned around and made a pushing-back motion with my hands, trying to indicate to the driver that he should give us more room. Susan snatched my hands down, saying: “Don’t do that. You never know, here.” (Susan lives in Abu Dhabi, and says it’s the safest place she’s ever lived.) I do exactly this in Italy, and it never occurred to me that anyone might consider it a shooting offense.

Reflect on the recent confrontation, at a children’s baseball game, between all four grandparents and the father of a boy at the center of an ugly custody dispute, reported thus in the local paper:

“[The maternal grandmother], Patricia Noe… may have sparked the confrontation when she said something to Jerry Shands [the father] and pointed an umbrella at him, the district attorney said.

"Then, of course, he says, ‘Get that blankety-blank thing out of my face.’ … And the next thing you hear is pop, pop, pop (from Samuel Noe’s gun)."

Three people dead, one critically injured, and the boy himself a witness. Which begs the question: Who the hell goes armed to a kids’ baseball game? And in how many parts of America is it legal to do so? I don’t want to live in any place where an angry grandpa can just whip out a gun and start shooting – because, god knows, we wouldn’t want to infringe on his right to bear arms and protect his grandson from a bad umpire call!

Yet Americans seem to take this potential for violence for granted. Reporting on this week’s “incident” in a Colorado school, the New York Times says: “Gov. Bill Owens, who visited the school and the church Thursday afternoon, said he thought school security improvements made in Bailey after the 1999 attack at Columbine High School in nearby Littleton had probably kept Wednesday’s attack from being worse. The school was built with evacuation fully in mind, including a system that allowed students in adjoining classrooms to escape quickly…”

Huh? Schools are now being built with evacuation in mind? I already knew that in some districts people have to go through metal detectors to get into a school in the first place, but – evacuation? And we’re not talking about al Qaeda here – the danger is from ordinary American citizens, including the schoolkids themselves.

What kind of society is America’s that kids have to spend their school days under the assumption that at any moment they could be rounded up and shot? Is that how we want American children to be growing up? How can such an atmosphere produce psychologically healthy citizens? It’s not videogames that inure kids to violence: it’s what they see every day on the news and in their daily lives!

What could have stopped this week’s tragedy would have been to ensure that some random guy who didn’t even have a home address did NOT HAVE A GUN. How could he have legally bought it if there’s no address to do a background check on him? If he got it illegally, why was that allowed to happen?

What makes America even scarier is that the violence is not on the surface. Everyone we meet in America seems so nice, especially anyone in a customer service position (truly startling when you’re accustomed to the indifferent or downright hostile service culture of most European establishments). Yet, given the number of deaths, you have to wonder: how many of these nice people are ready to explode? And will find a weapon ready to hand when they do?

What are your thoughts?

14 thoughts on “Violent America: Why I Don’t Feel Safe in My Own Country

  1. Sean

    I live in Utah, a state where almost anyone can get a handgun and a concealed-carry weapon permit–a state where OUT-OF-STATERS can even carry concealed weapons without notifying local police. Even worse, I attend the University of Utah, which is losing its battle with the state legislature to keep concealed weapons off of campus.

    I was shocked to read an editorial in the campus paper a week or so ago that was written in response to the recent Dawson College shootings in Montreal. In the article, the writer claimed that if the victims had been carrying concealed firearms, the death and injury toll might have been lighter. Excuse me? I can just imagine how much better it might have gone if some cocky student had whipped out a Glock nine-millimeter and gotten into a firefight with the gunman. My god.
    (You can read the editorial here: http://www.dailyutahchronicle.com/media/storage/paper244/news/2006/09/14/Opinion/Dont-Shoot.The.Messenger.But-2271151.shtml?norewrite200609300016&sourcedomain=www.dailyutahchronicle.com)

  2. Norma Wright

    I agree with you 100%. I live in small town Texas where it is not only legal to carry a gun but also a sign of manhood. I was sitting in a local cafe one day and a man was seated at the table next to me when suddenly he jumped up and drew out his gun. It seems his beeper had gone off…it was on vibrate…and it startled him. His first reaction was to draw his weapon. Boy, did I feel safe!

  3. Farrah Shingoose

    Personally I’ve never been to the states, why, maybe because I am afraid. There is so much violence, crime and drugs. It such a scary place when you hear about it on the news. But I ask myself, how come? Why is there? What’s the cause?

  4. Timoti

    Governments are created to serve the people not the other way around. Europes silly gun laws are the reason why you can’t defend yourself if someone attacks you or robs your store. If you shoot the criminal then you go to jail. That seems silly doesn’t it?

    There are some things Europe does well, and there are some things America does well. We can all agree that Europe is not an Eutopia.

    I’d rather have a choice in the ability to own a gun then have the government prohibit me.

  5. Brian

    I feel it is the height of irresponsibility to admit you would use a gun on someone if you had a gun just because you had a bad day. I own a gun. If I am really mad at someone and feel they done me wrong I call my lawyer. Yes-my lawyer. Perhaps I am guilty of wrecklessly endangering somone with a lethal weapon–an attorney. So watch out, if you piss this gun-owner off you just might get a lawyer’s letter. Seriously, guns are only for target shooting and defending your life or the lives of your loved ones–if you are truly in danger of losing your life (lives). For all other battles a lawyer will do nicely.

  6. webmaster

    I didn’t say I WOULD use it, I said I might be at risk of doing so.

    As for the willingness to wield a lawyer instead… well, that’s arguably another thing that’s very wrong in America today!

  7. Steve

    Love the commentary. Excellent insight. Look at the rash of school shootings lately (Va Tech, Cleveland) and planned shootings (Philly suburbs). The danger to our country is far more inside of our borders than in some far away land (Iraq). When society keeps accepting and drilling individual gun ownership rights down our throats, no wonder so many tragedies occur. And these are in the supposed sacred hallows of our learning institutions? Go to school and get killed. Think about it.

    No institution is safe from this proliferation of weapons (um I mean guns) in this country. A gun is a legalized weapon. As long as NRA people and gun toting conservatives make the rules, more kids will die. Sad story.

  8. robert joyce

    hello,I am from the U.K England and I used to think as you do , that it is insane for private citizens to be allowed to walk around with deadly weapons.Then I did some resourch, and I think now, that it is nessesary, if not issential for every citizen to carey arms. Can you trust your government to treat you with respect ? will your government protect you from their Police force? You might get let off with reasonable doubt, if you have money, as in the case of O.J , but without the wherewithall to protect you, and yours you are stuffed. The american constitutian is a very powerfull document, one of THE MOST powerfull documents in the World, but together with the right to bear arms it is being taken away ,dismantled, bit by bit by your present government.
    Have YOU ever read YOUR constitutian? America , and AMERICANS USED TO BE FREE , YOU called it the land of the FREE. Are you still living in the land of the FREE?
    I think not,when you were’nt keeping your eye on the ball,your freedom and YOUR Country has NEARLY been stolen away from you.

    AMERICA does not belong to the AMERICAN PEOPLE anymore, it belongs to the NEOCONS and the ZIONISTS, YOU do not own AMERICA, you the PEOPLE. YOU didn’t keep your eye on the ball, whilst you were eating, drinking,taking drugs,making babies,having a good life YOUR COUNTRY was being ,and is still being stolen away from YOU THE PEOPLE.
    IF some stupid old drunken fool shoots some one , THAT does not mean you should scrap THE constitutian and GIVE you COUNTRY AWAY allong with you rights.

  9. Chris

    It isn’t the guns – it’s our attitude toward each other. Generations of ethnic and racial groups clawing out an existence in the same space has left a very competitive society where we fear our neighbor is out to better us.

    We don’t trust each other.

  10. webmaster

    Robert – From recent news stories in the UK (where my father lives), I’d say the UK is unhappily following in the US’s footsteps – young teens murdering each other in the streets because it’s easy for them to obtain weapons. I think you were better off before.

  11. Joe

    Guns are OK for trained people, trouble is, most Americans have issues with anger. I say each person get training in anger-management classes. Too much rage on the road, schools, work. Time it ended.

  12. Michele

    As a canadian who now lives in America, I can relate to the author- and some of the comments. Initially I thought that it was just that I was new to the country- but after living here for a year this feeling has not gone away. Everyone seems to be on edge- people seem very unwilling to help out one another. The whole race thing prevalent I don’t get- from both sides of the equation.

  13. CLO

    I’m an American who spent time in Europe as well. When I first returned after a few years abroad I felt the tide of violent culture immediately upon me. There are safer nuthouses than the typical American city- at least the nuts are sedated!

    In the time since my return (17 years), violence has only gotten worse and more gruesome. Criminals who seek to outsmart DNA labs will ‘cleanse’ a living victim with bleach, set them on fire or mutilate the body. I’ve wondered if it was always like this and, if not, when did America become so violent.

    Some say ‘always’ and point out the conflict between the European settlers and Indians, locals and newly arrived immigrants, etc. But really this is very different. I’m not saying these things were peaceful by any means but during those times people didn’t fear the common criminality we see today. It’s a lie to say Washington feared his children might be accidently gunned down by two rival gangs or that his daughter might get raped in college or disappear while out jogging.

    I used to believe the problem was entirely gun-related, but I’m inclined to believe guns are only a wider expression of the problem. The hijacked planes that hit the twin towers were taken with men wielding box cutters. Guns merely amplify the casualties and heaven knows America’s interpretation of the constitution will never allow for the removal of guns. I would vote we tax bullets to death but the manufacturers would argue otherwise.

    So why is this country so violent and when did the violence begin?

    I will put money on our violence as a direct impact of the 1960′s. I believe that because some used violence to acquire their ends successfully that others took this model as an alternative means to their ends. In addition I believe the same forces shaped the justice system. Lawyers who argued for ‘civil rights’ created a model that expressed all defenses were valid. Couple this with the absurd rates of law school graduates and you have an opportunity for thousands of people to exploit law for money. It doesn’t matter to a lawyer what arguement they defend as long as they’re defending one and thus gainfully employed.

    Part of that equation is attacking those who can pay, and thus you have criminals with ongoing lawsuits against cities.

    Add to this those who sympathize with criminals because they believe America is inherently ‘unfair’ and that everyone deserves the same material goods regardless of whom they may hurt to get them.

    Add to this children/teens who buy into this mentality and have no regard for life so much as what they can get through violent means.

    Add to this a population growth which provides a handful of opportunities to divide into smaller and smaller sums.

    Add to this a handful of corporate managers who believe that they deserve the lion’s share of the company’s profits at the expense of everyone underneath them.

    Add to this the increasing cost of goods.

    Add to this the outpouring of jobs away from the country in the new ‘service’ economy.

    Add to this the greater longevity of the population, adding more competition for the job market.

    Add to this the increasing belief that science can fully replace any good once bestowed by religion.

    and you have America.

    It’s not so scary to me anymore as it is trying to raise children. If our children have no guarantees of safety what good is all the progress, technology, jobs or anything that’s supposed to be good about the country?

  14. Jim

    Having Guns in the US is specifically related to one of the systems of checks and balances against an out of control Government bent on gaining more and more power without any accountability to the American people.

    Yeah like the Government we have now that is a HUGE threat to liberty and freedom.

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