There is perhaps nothing more foreign about America than its "gun culture," and of course its plague of mass shootings. For a French-American who has lived her life in Paris, there is a search for understanding with her family in Louisiana.
PARIS — The daughter of a French mother and American father, I’ve lived my whole life in France. Still, having attended the American School of Paris, where my dad was a teacher, I was surrounded throughout my childhood by kids from the 50 States, learned my U.S. history and sold cupcakes at pep rallies. It was like going to school in America, but with the Eiffel Tower just a metro ride away. And, yes, without school shootings.
I remember class discussions about the school shootings happening on the other side of the Atlantic, which no one seemed to be able to wrap their heads around. It felt as though every American who had left the U.S. and lived in another country immediately understood the problem back home. For my French friends, what was happening in U.S. schools was utterly beyond comprehension — and the deep attachment Americans had to their guns a sign that there was something fundamentally wrong with the country's culture and politics.
And yet for me, guns and gun culture were not exactly foreign.
America's harsh reality
My father is from Monroe, Louisiana and his brother is a passionate hunter and gun owner, with one of the rooms in his house dedicated to taxidermy. The stuffed animal heads, immortalized trophies, 30 or so guns in a case and an antique rifle displayed on a mantle, are reminders of his skills as a shooter and great times with family and friends. I never associated his hunting in any way with America’s plague of mass shootings. And rightly so.
When I was 15 years old, however, during a visit at my uncle’s, I started to get a feel of the problem. A man, who had come over to to buy my uncle's used truck, was wearing what looked like a revolver around his belt. I bolted inside the house, sensing danger and thinking something was wrong. When I asked my uncle about the man and his “open carry” weapon, he shrugged it off: “That’s just the way things are around here.”
Indeed, that’s the way things are in America. The recent shooting in Uvalde, Texas that killed 21, including 19 children, is the deadliest school attack in the country since the Sandy Hook shooting that left 26 dead in 2012, and came just 10 days after a gunman killed 10 at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York.
The latest batch of individually perpetrated group killings have reopened (like it does after every mass shooting) the conversation on gun laws. When will the government finally do something to stop history from endlessly repeating itself? By now, the answer is definitive: No time soon. Instead, we have to watch elected officials debate gun lobbyist proposals of preventing shootings by arming teachers and making sturdier doors in schools.
Used rifles for sale in Jasper, U.S.
The Canadian counter-example
Ever more, the U.S. is out of step with most of the rest of the world on this issue. The starkest contrast comes from just north of the border, where Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a total ban on the buying and selling of all handguns. In response to this latest incident,Trudeau’s government is proposing a new law that would freeze private ownership of all short-barrelled firearms.
“Other than using firearms for sport shooting and hunting, there is no reason anyone in Canada should need guns in their everyday lives,” Trudeau told reporters.
New Zealand suffered a mass shooting in 2019 that left 50 people dead. Less than a month later, the nation's parliament voted to introduce a nationwide ban on semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles. In 1996, the UK faced its deadliest school shooting, with 17 dead — but it was also their last one, after the British parliament immediately passed laws banning private ownership of most handguns.
Drastic measures or nothing
I asked my 16-year-old cousin in Louisiana what she thought about all the mass shootings, and if she was ever scared of going to school. She said she thought that the problem was that certain people don’t have the right training and understanding of how to responsibly use guns. She also spoke about the fact that these mass killings were carried out by mentally disturbed people.
I understand that growing up the daughter of a responsible hunter, where a neighbor can show up to buy a used car with a revolver on his belt, guns themselves don’t seem to be the problem. Even more than a part of the culture and daily life, owning guns is seen as a “right,” guaranteed in the Constitution, a “god-given” privilege.
But even from Paris, I learned about the same rights, and I have my own claim to America’s culture and Constitution. Just this past weekend alone, there were more mass shootings around the country that killed another 15 people and injured 70. I have no doubt that these senseless killings pain my cousin and uncle in Monroe as much as they pain me here in Paris. Our conversation about how to make them stop has only just begun.