A mom wonders where the U.S. stands when it comes to gun safety.
A good friend came to visit from Ecuador this week. We were on the subway in Manhattan and I asked her how things were in Ecuador. I told her that I wished there was less violence over there, and that it was safer. I said that New York City was one of the safest cities in the world; I boasted that I was able to take the subway or bus and not fear that I would be mugged at knife point, as would be the case in Ecuador. Furthermore, in NYC I could get in a cab without fear that it would be rerouted, and that I would be taken for ransom, or robbed and be dropped off somewhere far away. I explained that while I had had a great time seeing family when we visited Ecuador in 2011, I felt that my vacation was hindered due to fear of traveling to certain parts of the city with my foreign husband, or simply fear of taking a cab. I explained that I enjoyed being able to talk on my smartphone in public without it being snatched out of my hand, or travel by car without being intercepted and mugged.
My friend then said something that has since been stamped in my mind. She explained “Perhaps that is true. But, at least in Ecuador, they don’t kill innocent children at school every week.” Now of course, my immediate reaction was to retort, “It doesn’t happen every day.” But, the more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t help but agree with her point of view. She continued, saying, “Diana, I would be terrified of raising children here, thinking that were not safe at school, that at any time a crazy man with a gun could come and start shooting.” She absolutely has a point. In the United States, we like to think that we have the best of everything and are the best in everything, when, just as with paid maternity leave (Which Ecuador and most of the world has!) our country is lagging behind in protecting our citizens. So yes, perhaps Ecuador and other countries are not as safe as we’d like to visit, but at least the chances that their children will be killed at gunpoint just for being in school are pretty slim.
Read Related: After Sandy Hook We Must All Look in the Mirror
SCHOOL SHOOTINGS IN LATIN AMERICA
I was curious about school shootings in Latin America, so I did some research. The most significant one I found occurred in 2011, when a gunman entered a school in Brazil and killed 12 children, injured 12 more, and shot himself. That is 25 people total. By comparison, in December 2012, Adam Lanza killed 26 innocent people—20 of them children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In 2007, 32 people died and many others were injured as a result of gun violence at Virginia Tech; and of course, who can forget Columbine? Two teenagers went on a killing spree and killed 13 innocent people.
I’d like to explain that I am not anti-gun per se. I know that the Second Amendment protects a citizen’s right to bear arms, as the NRA loves to repeat over and over again. I will not try to explain that what the Founding Fathers were trying to protect citizens against in the 1780s no longer applies to the 21st century world we currently live in (they were dealing with muskets and bayonets, not with assault weapons.) What I am adamantly against are the lax rules and (virtually) no control on gun purchases in this country, as well as the idea that ordinary citizens need military style artillery.
The NRA does an excellent job of demonizing the people who use guns, not the guns themselves. They cite the need to own a gun for protection. Statistics show however, that access to guns makes weapons more dangerous to everyone. According to the John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy, the presence of guns in the home is associated with a three-fold increased homicide risk within the home. “Family and intimate assaults with firearms are 12 times more likely to result in death than non-firearm assaults. Limiting access to guns will result in fewer lethal family and intimate assaults.” So, it is not just people who kill using guns. It is that guns are available for purchase at Walmart and anyone can get their hands on one…that is what makes guns dangerous.
Read Related: It’s Time For Real Gun Control Legislation
GUN LAWS IN SOUTH AMERICA
While there is gun violence in South America, it turns out that some of our southern neighbors have pretty strict rules about obtaining gun permits, for example:
Argentina has a National Firearm Registry, and requires prospective owners to prove that they have no criminal record, pass physical and psychiatric evaluations and training through the National Firearm Registry. Applicants must be 21 or older and must also be fingerprinted.
In Brazil, you have to be at least 25 years old to own a weapon, and it has to be registered with the Federal Police. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, only semi-automatic weapons are authorized; assault weapons are illegal. According to GunPolicy.org, Brazilian law Brazilian law prohibits the manufacture, sale, and import of toys and replicas of guns that could be confused with real weapons.
Colombia guarantees civilians the right to possess a weapon (but they must obtain permits from the government.) Colombian law states that those 18 and older may purchase and carry small caliber handguns, however, semi-automatic guns, automatic guns are prohibited. Gun owners must register with the military, which maintains a national gun registry.
Now, of course, many will dismiss any initiatives taken by the above named countries because they have high death tolls due to gun violence; however, their requirements and laws about legal gun ownership are pretty good: age requirements, background checks, National Registry, fingerprints, psychological evaluations, assault weapons ban; great ideas that Congress should be thinking about implementing.
GUN CONTROL: SOMETHING MUST BE DONE
After the Sandy Hook tragedy, the world looked at the U.S. and thought What is it going to take to change the permissive laws that kill so many innocent people? I thought something would be done; public opinion was at an all-time high, it was the moment to act. Unfortunately Congress is still afraid to do something. Last week Senate Democrats decided not to include an assault weapons ban in the gun control legislation that will be presented soon. This is a major blow to Senator Dianne Feinstein, who authored the bill and who has been an advocate of gun control for many years. But, most importantly this is a major blow to anyone who has lost family members due to gun violence, not only in schools, but anywhere. It is a slap in the face to those parents who did what no parent should have to do—bury their own children.
School should be a safe environment where, as parents, we can be sure that our children are protected. Sadly, Congress seems to be more interested in protecting their fundraising coffers than American children… Sadly, it seems that the tragedy of Sandy Hook was not enough to make real change on gun control. Perhaps politicians are too afraid to stand up to the NRA or gun manufacturers.
I can only hope that I will live to see Congress members who have the guts to do so. I want to live in a country where I am not afraid to use my iPhone or ride the bus, but more importantly, where I know my kids will be safe while they learn.