On Oct.1, a mass shooting in a community college in Oregon killed 13 people. The gun man, a 26 year old was dead during the gun exchanges with the police. The violence in Roseburg was the latest in a flurry of mass killings in recent years across the United States. It was the deadliest so far in 2015 and was the 994 incidents in the US where there were four or more victims (including the shooter) since 2013.
The incident, which sent another shock wave across the country and the world, has left the president Obama visibly irritated and prompted him to call the gun massacres a routine. But despite the heated debates over a tightened law on gun control, the president seems unable to do anything to turn the tied around.
The “routine mass shootings” in the US has also sparked heated conversations in Chinese social media. Many people in China, a country where firearms are rarity and owning a gun is illegal, blame the prevalent gun ownership in US on its democratic system, accusing that the government gun control policies lack teeth.
“If Americans start teaching their children how to use an Uzi at such a young age, it’s no wonder that shootings in the United States occur so frequently,” one Weibo microblogger wrote as news of the incident emerged. “And owning and using guns is still considered a ‘normal’ thing in the US, simply because it’s a so-called ‘democratic’ country.”
But an insightful look at US deep rooted gun culture and its profound history may lead you to different conclusion.
In fact, a significant portion of Americans – especially in the southern states -- like guns. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that gun ownership is in Americans’ DNA. It's estimated that there are roughly 300 million guns in the country, which equates to nearly one gun per person.
But it was through my last year’s visit to Georgia, a southern state in the US that I have more deep understanding of this gun culture.
In Georgia, boxes of ammunitions were sold at Walmart just as bottles of water were sold in groceries, and almost 100% of households in Georgia had a gun in their home as a self-defence weapon.
The local media – including radios and papers -- encourage all residents to own a gun, especially women and ethnic minorities like Chinese. When I walked into a shooting range in Georgia, where I had my first life time experience of real gun shooting, a female clerk at the office offered me a warm greeting. Her words instantly relieved the fears and concerns of an Asian who grew up in a culture where gun was distant and remote:
“Many women in Georgia have had shooting drills…. We encourage women to practise gun shooting, as it is an important way for women to learn how to protect themselves,” she said to me.
Although her suggestion -- that women practise shooting for self-defence seemed a bit shocking to me at the time, it turned out to be a quite common advice in this southern state of America. How to use a gun to protect yourself, or how to deal with the legal aftermath of shooting a home intruder -- has become very common discussing topic in radio talk shows, newspaper articles and the conversations with locals.
Chinese Americans in Georgia are particularly encouraged to protect themselves through gun ownership. Being less armed than the local average, the Chinese community is generally perceived as defenceless, thus more likely to be bullied or taken advantage of by others – a local resident told me.
After posing a shooting stance at the range –holding a gun straight and aiming at the target 5 meters away, I fired a consecutive 10 shots at the perceived intruder with trembling hands. I breathed a sigh of relief when I successfully killed an imaginary intruder who posed a threat to my life in this gun culture-prevalent state.
“You are better off being judged by 12 than carried out by 6” a talk show host shouted through the radio wave as I listened in the car during my return trip from Georgia. According to him, when your life was threatened, you’d better fire the shots to save your own life and then face 12 jurors, than being killed and carried out by 6 paramedics on a stretcher.
“You’ are also better off protecting yourself than relying on the government to protect you.” He added.
I came back from Georgia with a completely different view on the US gun culture. And I believe any new immigrant from China who loves to wag their fingers at Americans’ and call them gun-worshipers would become a gun owner one day – for self-protection, of course.
Amid this widespread gun-ownership and the deep-rooted gun culture in the US, Obama and the US lawmakers feel helpless to prevent the mass shooting tragedy from happening. In fact, Oregon’s shooting incident would only lead to a growing trend of gun ownership as it will prompt more Americans to rely on their weapons to fight violence and to safeguard the wellbeing of themselves and the families.
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