As the nation witnessed the horrors of the Virginia Tech tragedy last April, I watched this awful event unfold from a somewhat removed standpoint. I was studying abroad in Barcelona, and having lived in Europe for several months at that point, I had become accustomed to elements of life and society that contrasted with that of the United States specifically regarding the notion of gun violence.
When I first arrived for orientation in January, my program director devoted 45 minutes advising students to stay constantly vigilant of our surroundings. Pickpocketing, she warned, was very common in the city, with tourists as the usual targets. While she did say that violent muggings and rapes occur, your average criminal would most likely be sporting a trendy mullet and fashionable European-cut jeans.
Fortunately, I was not the victim of any crimes while in Europe, however, I cannot say the same for some of my peers. In one instance, a man approached my roommate outside our building in a quite friendly manner: "Mi amigo, I love America" — then boom! — my roommate was pushed back, and his phone was quickly seized.
In another instance, a female friend of mine was the victim of an attempted purse snatching. The villain, who could have been no older than 17, and my friend, being the tough cookie she is, wrestled for the bag for about 30 seconds, until the perpetrator gave up and ran away without the purse.
In this land of gypsies, trendy thieves and sleazy Spanish men, one could easily be put on edge. Moreover, you are thousands of miles away from home in a completely foreign city with little knowledge of the language. However, while these acts of violence will startle someone and force them to cancel their credit cards, one vicious factor does not come into play: guns.
According to a 1998 study by the International Journal of Epidemiology, there was an average of 14.24 gun deaths per 100,000 people in the United States. Compare that with 4.31 in France; 2.90 in Belgium; 2.44 in Italy; 1.57 in Germany, and Spain, with a mere 0.90.
Of course we all know the issue of gun violence is deeply rooted in U.S. history and culture, but I feel there is something inherently wrong when citizens can be made to fear for their lives because a mentally challenged individual has better access to weaponry than legitimate therapy. The panic of last week regarding. Jesse Miller, and the armed robbery at Regent and Park streets, only reiterates this absurdity. While I commend the university and police for informing students via e-mail and locking down potentially dangerous areas, it baffles me that U.S. students must accept these alarms as part of daily life.
The founding fathers created the Second Amendment's "right to bear arms" in the 18th century, when it took five minutes to load one musket ball, which would rarely even shoot straight. They couldn't have fathomed that automatic weapons spewing 80 rounds a minute could be purchased. Observing the Virginia Tech catastrophe from overseas allowed me to realize the number of guns in America is far from rational when the general public can be put in jeopardy at the drop of a hat. In comparison, the anxiety I may have felt while walking a shady European alley was very real at the time, yet miniscule when faced with the fear of one of my peers coming to class with a loaded gun. While guns obviously won't disappear in this country anytime in the near future, just think: Does the Second Amendment genuinely protect citizens in the modern age, or does it foster a means of destruction for those who seek its protection?
Jesse Solomon ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in political science.