I love America, but the gun culture is senseless

Clara Laino

I’m an exchange student, 100% Italian, raised eating pasta and admiring the American dream.

At 16, I decided to pack my bags and come to the United States. And man, I love this country. 

I love going to all the sport events: football games, basketball games, lacrosse games–especially lacrosse.

I love McDonald’s and its fries.

I love Veterans Day.

I love American high schools, the sports, the classes, the teachers.

I love the Grand Canyon, Chicago, and all the other places that I visited. 

I love American people, the friendly ones that hear your accent and do everything to make you feel at home.

But there’s something that I hate about America: guns. 

   Let’s back up to October 19, 2021. I had arrived in the States less than two months before. I was still in a stage of excitement because everything was new, I didn’t know many people, and sometimes I still didn’t know what was going on. That day there was a lockdown drill–probably nobody remembers that, but I will never forget it. The first of my life; one of many for all my American classmates.

   I didn’t understand what the voice on the speaker said, so I asked a classmate why the teacher told us to be quiet and all move in a corner of the room. “We have to move to the corner to practice hiding in case there was a shooter,” they explained to me, and my face went pale. 

   Later on I was texting my Italian classmates and I shared with them my crazy experience. “I don’t know if I should find it funny or be horrified by the fact that they need to do it,” one replied. 

   Actually, before I left Italy I was told many times “don’t get shot.” Or “What if they shoot you at school?” or “What are you gonna do if there’s a shooting?”  My mother almost did not let me leave because of gun violence in the US. 

   Even now, my friends are still stunned (so am I) about gun policies in America. The other day, a friend back home texted me. She was at school and she “had a crazy thought.” There, the doors are always open and there are no security guards. “If someone with bad intentions would come into the school, they could do everything they want,” she said. But it simply does not happen. So she asked “How does it feel waking up in the morning and thinking that somebody could come to school and shoot people?”

   Let’s move to today, May 25, 2022. I’ve been in the United States for a while. Now I am familiar with that kind of news: between October 19 and today there have been at least 39 school shootings, 12 between October 19 and the end of 2021, and 27 in 2022. 

   Among those, there was one at Oxford High School, on November 30, about 150 miles from here. My family heard of the shooting on the news in Italy; before realizing it was another school, they feared that could have been mine. All my friends worried for me, because they knew I was in Michigan. They asked me if I was scared, what was being done to keep everybody safe.

   I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what to say: four people died in that shooting–that was the only thing I could think about. “That could have been West Ottawa; that could have been my friends, me.” But nothing was being done, other than sending “thoughts and prayers.” I wonder if those prayers are of any use, then yesterday, May 24, it all happened again.

   The shooting was in an elementary school. The youngest victim was in second grade. I didn’t even know what a gun was in second grade. But that’s not the same for my American friends. “My first lockdown drill was in fifth grade. I was terrified; standing at the end of the room balling out. I was so scared,” one of them said. 

   I’ll be completely honest: this is stupid. There are so many arguments about why there should be stricter gun control all over the media, the news, everywhere. 

   But just let me give you some numbers: the U.S. has had over 2,032 school shootings since 1970; 948 since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in 2012. Apparently the 26 victims of that shooting didn’t teach anything to people. 

   The 2nd Amendment, often used in pro-guns arguments, was ratified in 1791–again, 1791. When reloading a gun would take two minutes. But its supporters still believe it is their Constitutional inviolable right. Most of them are also against abortion. Why, when it is about guns, it’s about protecting your freedom, but, when it’s about abortion, it’s fine to limit someone else’s? Then it’s fine to kill kids with dreams, that can scream and laugh, that cry and smile; that did probably scream and cry when they were getting shot to death–but not something that is not even a baby yet. 

   When I came here, I noticed the lack of something: Kinder eggs. I asked around and did some research, and I found out they were banned because they were considered a choking hazard. So, America can and does protect children. If Kinder eggs never killed a child in America though, guns kill 2,100 children and teens every year. But “it’s not time to act yet,” they say.

   Gun supporters often present mental illness as a reason for the shootings; they don’t admit that mental illness contributes to only 4% of the overall violence, even lower for gun violence. Other countries have mental illness as well, but weapons are not available to unstable people. However, school shootings are a purely American thing. 

   But honestly, I’m not interested in a debate. Those who believe gun freedom is essential to American culture are only disrespecting their country that is so much more than that, and they are supporting children getting shot. It might not be something that they directly aid or they would do, but right now fighting against stricter gun control only means supporting more shootings. Maybe I’m a foreigner and I’m just not used to it (nobody should be), but that’s my firm and only point.

Protect your guns→personally endanger innocent children. 

   That’s the simple equation from which the rest of the world sees the United States. 

   Curiously, people whisper when they talk about it: “Did you hear there was a shooting at EK after their graduation?”, “18 children… this is crazy”. 

   I want to ask them: why do you whisper? Now it’s the moment to scream, to be loud. Know what you’re advocating for, and be ready to answer back. That’s how you can, even if just a little, bring some justice to the victims, to their families. If you keep whispering, you’ll just protect those who carry out those acts–and the ignorant gun supporters with the Confederate flags on their trucks will be the only ones left screaming. 

   Since this is also my last article on The West Ottawan, I want to thank all the teachers. American teachers are not just teachers; they are special, and they should be allowed to go to work and feel safe like everyone else.

   They risk their lives every day only for the sake of teaching to the new generation. In my eyes, they are not different from a policeman, just without protection and for a danger they didn’t agree on. Nevertheless, they keep teaching with passion, and they value their students. Students, you do not realize how much effort this requires. 

   I really wish, for you all, to experience one day going to school without the smallest thought that somebody could come in your class and fire on you and those around you. 

   For parents, without the fear of your kids not coming home after school, for siblings to not fear for their little brother and sister. 

   For teachers, to not be called to sacrifice their life attempting to save their kids, like Irma Garcia, Eva Mireles, and others. 

   Things can be different; it does not have to stay this way. All the other developed countries don’t deal with this issue. America can do it too–the country of the free, the country of the dream, the country you live in. 

   Will you allow this for longer?