The Orlando mass shooting, which killed 49 people at the Pulse night club, has been marked as the worst mass shooting in US history. It has sent shockwaves across the globe and once again put America’s gun control legislations under global scrutiny. But to people from Asian countries, where guns and weapons are under strict controls and inaccessible to ordinary citizens, American gun culture seems particularly odd and confusing.
As an immigrant, gun violence was new and shocking to me when I came to Canada in the early 1990’s. I witnessed my first dramatic gun shooting back when I was a visa student at the computer science department of Concordia University in Montreal. On a hot summer afternoon in Aug. 1992, an associate professor at the department who was denied tenure carried three guns and ammunition in his briefcase and went on a shooting rampage on my floor, killing four of his colleagues and wounding a staff member.
The emotional responses from the wives of the slain professors when the news broke to them were beyond expression – who could possibly expect that their husband would not make home from work on a beautiful afternoon in such a great and peaceful country, Canada?
The horrific incident has still haunted many of us students till today, but the petition for gun control in the aftermath of the shooting also conjured up our vivid memories. Large portraits dedicated to the slain professors were posted up on the ground floor of the building, as gun control advocators made their emotional pleas and sought signatures on petition letters from every passerby.
“We must reduce violence! We must limit the access of fire arms!” the advocates shouted through the megaphones that has since constantly rang in my ears. Shouldn’t we stop the monsters from taking away innocent lives immediately? Absolutely! I thought. Shocked by the brutal killing and the gun violence, I signed the letter instantly without any hesitation.
But over the years living in North America, I’ve had more exposure to gun violence in the US, as incidents of mass killings occurred one after another, and the scale of the catastrophes grew seemingly larger. But while each incident brought back memories on the Concordia shooting, it made me increasingly desensitized to gun violence.
The US, especially the Southern States, has deep roots in gun culture. I recently travelled to Atlanta, Georgia, where gun ownership ranks amongst the highest in the US. Some of the nicest, most amicable and hospitable people I have ever met were all gun owners, a far cry from the murderous monsters I initially believed.
While guns are murderous weapons to most people from arm-restricted countries, they are in fact self-protection tools for Americans. Nearly two decades after I signed the gun control petition at Concordia, I even found myself standing in a shooting range in Atlanta Georgia carrying a pistol aiming at a target 3 meters away.
Bang, bang, bang! After I blasted several shots, the instructor, after reviewing my shooting results, gave a positive appraisal and encouraged me to come back again. “It is particularly important for women to learn gun shooting to protect themselves!” he said.
Since then, more mass shootings have taken place – including San Benardino in 2015 and now the Orlando massacre. While widespread gun violence has heightened my concerns over citizens’ safety, good gun culture has also led to my growing skepticism over passing any laws to remove Americans’ right to own firearms.
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