I lived in Washington, DC for eight years and have now been in London for nearly six, yet when I think of “home” I always think of the Skagit Valley. The beautiful, green oasis filled with farmland and the winding Skagit River, and surrounded by snow topped mountains. Where tourists flock to from all over the world to view the hundreds of acres of tulip fields. Where strangers smile and wave when they pass on the street, and you can’t go to the grocery store without seeing at least three people you know. The Skagit Valley is a very wholesome, small community to grow up in; it is certainly not the kind of place where you would expect someone would walk into a department store and kill five people with a rifle.
With Seattle over an hour’s drive away, residents of the valley tend to stay local. My friends and I used to go to our local mall–The Cascade Mall–for anything we needed to buy: clothes, gifts, etc. I flirted with boys in that mall, I bought my prom dresses in that mall, I even worked in that mall (as did my sister and my nephew). As an adult, I have taken my kids to the mall, had family pictures taken at the mall, and spent many hours shopping at the mall with my mom. The Cascade Mall is a fixture of life in the valley and this horrific act of violence came as an absolute shock to this small community.
In retrospect, however, it was really just a matter of time before a mass shooting came to my lovely valley; gun violence in America has become unavoidable. It doesn’t matter how close knit your community is, or how friendly the people are, or how beautiful your surroundings are. Gun violence in America is no longer something that only happens to other people.
I want to shower you with statistics on gun violence, and explain how it is completely avoidable, but I won’t. Surely you have seen it already. I want to discuss how more Americans have died from gun-toting toddlers this year than from terrorists, but surely you already know this as well. What I do what to tell you is that if a mass shooting can happen in the Skagit Valley, it can also happen in your community (if it hasn’t already). You are no longer safe to go to church. Your kids are no longer safe to go to school. You are not safe to go to the movie theatre. Very soon, if it hasn’t happened already, you or someone you know will be personally affected by gun violence. It has become an inevitable part of life in America.
Should your skin have more pigmentation than mine, you are at even greater risk. You are not able to drive a car, help someone who is having a mental break down, or even go for a walk in your own neighbourhood. (PS: #blacklivesmatter) But what most Americans don’t seem to realise, is that though this is a reality in the US, this isn’t the case in other comparable countries.
After one mass school shooting in the UK in 1996, the government decided they wouldn’t allow it to happen again. The UK has had one mass shooting since the one in 1996. By comparison, the US currently clocks one mass shooting every single day. Every. Single. Day. It’s not that we have fewer instances of mental illness here in the UK, or fewer radicals, it is simply that people do not have access to guns here. Even most police officers in the UK don’t carry guns (yes, really). It is a basic fact that restricted access to guns in the UK has resulted in less gun violence. Yet many people in America continue to argue that more guns will result in less gun violence. So far the opposite has been true.
My friends here in the UK are shocked when I tell them that I have to ask my parents to hide the guns in the house before I bring my kids to visit. They are even more shocked when I tell them that my dad is licensed to carry a concealed weapon. Is he a police officer? No. Does he live in a particularly dangerous neighbourhood? Nope. Is he just a bad ass? Not really. In fact, my dad is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, but he is a typical American in this way: he loves his guns, and believes it is his right to carry one; I will never convince him otherwise. This is completely normal behaviour in America, but absolutely bizarre to much of the rest of the world. America always been “extraordinary”, in good ways and bad, but the balance is heading in the wrong direction. (PS: when I called my dad to ask him if it was okay that I write about this, my mom got on the phone and wanted me to make a note of the fact that she is going to get a gun as well.)
After the Sandy Hook shooting I was certain that America would make a change. The deaths of those 20 children and 7 adults were so horrific and the nation was so outraged that I was certain we had finally reached the tipping point . . . but nothing happened. Then the next day there was another mass shooting and the next day another. Soon, to add insult to injury, instead of discussing gun control, politicians discussed the need for even more guns. More guns to prevent gun deaths is such poor logic. Guns will not make America safer. More guns will only mean more gun deaths. Just as fire won’t put put out a fire, and alcohol won’t cure an alcoholic, more guns won’t solve the gun problem in America. That isn’t a political statement. It is just basic logic.
My hometown is now forever changed, and for those of you in America, soon yours will be as well. Soon you won’t look on an article like this in an abstract way. You will look on an article like this and you will tear up because you will finally relate to it. You will think about the senselessness of the deaths that occurred in your community. You will remember those who died and think of the families they left behind. You’ll be frustrated and angry that this sort of nonsense has been allowed to spiral out of control with absolutely no real efforts made to stop it.
This week it was my home town, but next week it could be yours. Until Americans decide that the lives of its citizens are more important than their desire to bear arms, this is the future of our great county.