Friday, July 20, 2012

Theater Shooting Reaction: US vs. Europe

I woke up this morning and looked at Twitter. @grrlscientist in Frankfurt, Germany was live tweeting from a live video feed out of Colorado about the shooting at the Batman midnight premier in Aurora. It was a good way to get the news. She pointed out the horrible reporting without me having to actually see it myself. I have no interest in watching live coverage of that. I'm sure it's heart wrenching and mind numbing at the same time.

As people in the US started waking up and more reactions appeared I noticed a trend. Americans are sympathetic and are saying the things you're supposed to say. Europeans are saying what they really think. They think rampant American gun ownership is insanity.

I think we just have a different relationship with guns. They just aren't comfortable with guns like we are. They don't have a long comfortable history with them. Which is weird because marksmanship originated in the UK. But here in the American South guns are like tractors. They are dangerous, but useful. Actually, I know more people killed and injured by tractors than guns, yet there are hardly any regulation on tractors at all. Guns are just something we have. We don't even need a reason. It's like having china and silver. I sure as hell don't need that, but I have it.

All my life I've been around guns. I live on what is historically a hunting plantation. All around us are hunting plantations. I was raised to NEVER point a gun at a person. We never had toy guns, never played games of shooting one another. My mother didn't allow my brother to even point his finger at me and pretend it was a gun. Guns were not toys, not a joke, not ever. When Dick Cheney shot his lawyer friend quail hunting everybody here was incensed. First rule of hunting "You don't SHOOT people!" Everybody I asked from the archeology expert at work to my mother said those exact words.

My major professor at Georgia Tech designs movie theater sound systems. He patented the speaker system for AMC theaters solid toroidal screen technology. He invented the IMAX speakers. And he carries a .45mm handgun wherever he goes.

When I was a student in the '80s I had a mechanical engineering student friend who was licensed to carry a concealed weapon and he carried it wherever he was allowed. This did not include on campus or into bars. He had a special place he kept it locked up. He did wear it to movies though, shoulder holster, over a t-shirt, under a buttoned up collared shirt. He went on to have a career in the Army where he had lots of other guns. He is now retired and lives in Colorado where he competes in target shooting competition.

My father got a varsity letter in marksmanship in college.

I have a friend who once got pulled over for speeding and the policeman asked him if he had any guns in the truck. My friend said yes and got his handgun out of the console and gave it to the cop. The cop looked at it, complemented my friend on his choice of ammunition, handed it back, and wrote the speeding ticket.

When I graduated from college my mother told everybody I was going to be a science teacher in Miami. My uncle gave me a .38 special for a graduation present.

In America we have experiences with guns, we have anecdotes, good memories. Good people have guns. I am used to it, I expect it, and I don't really see how my gun or my friends and relatives guns relates to what happened at that movie theater in Colorado at all.

I don't have any answers or easy solutions to stop this evolving style of American geek terrorism. It makes me very uncomfortable. But it's not my area of expertise. I have to trust that people that think about this stuff for a living will come up with something to try. I read that law enforcement has already changed their training tactics to act faster based on the Columbine shootings.

I don't know what will change based on this recent event. It could be more loss of privacy and the immediate hiring of guards to sit at theater emergency exits, but I'm pretty sure it won't include everybody in America being asked to hand over their guns. That is the first thing that occurs to people in Europe, but the last thing that would occur to me or anybody I can think of that I know in real life. I'm not saying I'm right and they're wrong. I just think it's interesting how we're so different. What changed in the UK after the National Rifle Association was founded there in 1860? The American version was started in 1871, and it certainly is more in the spotlight than the UK version, if it even still exists. (I can't believe I'm linking to Wikipedia, but there it is.)

Maybe the American fondness for guns is related to herpetology. Americans love to kill snakes. They hardly have any snakes in the UK. Seven native species of reptiles, three snakes? That's as bizarre to me as it is bizarre to them that so many people in the US have guns. (I am not advocating shooting snakes. I believe killing snakes is a terrible idea, but I also recognize that it is a real thing that other people do. The mass killing of Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes has caused them to become an endangered species.)

*Update: Here's an article from an American in the New Yorker taking the other side of the argument from me. He sees guns as people-killing devices, instruments of violence. Completely different viewpoint from mine where guns are no more violent than tractors. I expect this may be related to growing up where there are tractors vs. where there are just millions of people. Maybe there could be a rural exemption on new gun control rules?


  1. Honestly, why do we really need a gun? Just because they "were around" when we were born it does not mean we have to keep on "having them around". I live in Europe where carrying a gun is something really weird. Perhaps we (all human beings) should invest more into education and healthcare. I don't think you have a peaceful country with all those guns around. In fact, the US is not a peaceful entity for those who live in or out of it. This shooting things, in my opinion, should cease. But hey, it's the land of the free and Holmes got this phrase for granted. Yes, technologically we (as humanity) we might be advanced, but socially we are almost nowhere.