Culture Shock Over America’s Love For Guns
Last May, I tried to explain to my countrymen the role of guns in America. It’s a difficult subject but essential for understanding an important aspect of American culture: personal freedom. But what do guns look like in my everyday life?
Inside a gun shop in Maryland
A few days ago, I was strolling through the streets of a small town of the Chesapeake Bay. Suddenly, I found myself in front of a gun shop. A gun store in Historic Downtown Easton, just between a drugstore and a theater? Even after three years in the States, this stunned me for more than a few seconds.
I didn’t think for long before popping inside Albright’s Gun Shop. Luckily, I was able to talk with Mr. Albright and his gunsmith—both very cordial people—who were eager to explain to me the differences between long and short guns and to offer insight about Maryland gun laws.
As you can see from the picture below, it looks more like a hunter’s paradise than a freaky retreat for gangsters.
I could have bought a long gun at AIbright’s. Sorry to disappoint you, but I didn’t. First of all, I’m not familiar with guns and not particularly thrilled at the idea of holding one. Secondly, buying firearms in Maryland isn’t easy.
How easily could I buy a gun in Maryland?
Maryland is a small state close to Washington DC, and I’ve lived here since 2013. I was pleased to learn from Mr. Albright that Maryland has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the United States.
To buy a long gun doesn’t require any background check, permit to purchase, or firearm registration. Moreover, long guns may be carried openly without a license. Although I understand that long guns are hunters’ firearms, I struggle with this easy access.
On the other hand, Maryland has very restrictive legislation concerning handguns. Even if I wanted, I couldn’t have bought a gun at Albright’s shop. Maryland requires a permit to buy a handgun, preceded by a background check, and that my purchase would be registered with the State Police.
Furthermore—and I like this one—open carry is permitted with a carry license but is not generally practiced, except by uniformed private security officers.
Comparison with Germany and France
To be honest, this trip was the first time I saw a gun shop in the middle of the city. Before that day, I only saw shooting ranges along lonely roads or highways (and a gun department at a Walmart in Nashville, Tennessee).
In France or Germany, I’ve never seen any shops, department stores, or whatever selling weapons. I also have no idea where I could buy a gun in my home countries—maybe from an online catalog?
It’s a gigantic difference that probably explains my cultural shock.
I understand where it comes from, but I don’t really get the American love for guns
Even though I’ve written about the origins of this American view of guns, I still can’t embrace it completely.
I live in a stylish suburb of Washington DC. Considering the support signs placed in front of neighboring houses in this electoral year, I have no doubt that my city is liberal.
In order to improve my intercultural understanding of this topic, I asked my American friends (all living in my stylish suburb) if they are gun owners and if they know people who own a gun in the neighborhood.
Virginia, lawyer and mom of two (17 and 21)
I don’t have a gun at home, and I don’t know anyone who does. And if I found out someone did, I would never let my child go over there. Ever.
Toni, security consultant and dad of two (5 and 8)
I don’t do guns. I’m Canadian! I think this is just an American thing.
Adriana, microbiologist and mom of two (10 and 17)
We don’t have guns in the house, and I don’t let my son go to houses where I know the parents are pro-gun. I know one couple, but that was not an open discussion, it was part of an unrelated conversation a few years ago. But, I was paying close attention and therefore I did not encourage a friendship with their kids.
Margaret, mom of three and twice grandmother (9 and 13)
No, I do not own a gun, and I do not know any gun owners. Speaking for myself, the very sight of a gun terrifies me and fills me with revulsion. I would never want one in my house.
Great. I know for sure that my kids are safe at neighbors’ houses, but these reactions don’t help me understand gun owners.
What does my everyday life look like in a country with more guns than people?
First, I’ve got plenty of gun topics in the local news. For example, on September 6 this year, an armed robbery occurred on campus at the University of Maryland. During the weekend, two children ages 4 and 8 were wounded by a firearm in Baltimore.
Then, there’s national news. I remember my shock when I heard about a toddler who shot his mom with a handgun he found while playing with her purse. This happened two years ago in a supermarket in Idaho.
Most of the time, gun violence happens far away from my house. I still feel safe most of the time, but not always.
Last year, my three children’s schools were on lockdown for three hours following a mass shooting. This was the worst time in my life.
Outside of the papers, sometimes the gun conversation happens when you don’t expect it.
Last weekend, I enjoyed a break with my family in West Virginia. When we drove home, we stopped in Boonsboro, Maryland—and it happened again! All of a sudden, I stood in front of funny (or scary, depending on your perspective) store display with advertising plates celebrating the second amendment.
Gun legislation changes from state to state and has a serious impact on how people feel and act.
Maryland is a small state. From my place, I can reach Virginia in only 20 minutes, a state where the Second Amendment is taken seriously.
If I drive one hour north, I’ll arrive in Pennsylvania. One hour west brings me to West Virginia. Pennsylvania and West Virginia have gun laws similar to Virginia’s. They have few restrictions on buying, owning, and carrying a gun in the state.
I spoke with my good friend Maureen, who lives in Virginia. Maureen works as consultant and has a son (11). I asked her the same question: do you have a gun at your place, and do you know people in your neighborhood who own one? Here’s a transcript of our text conversation:
Maureen: Yes, I know many people with guns. My friend straps her holster and gun for our morning walks. My brother carries one (with a license), and my husband wants one. We don’t have one in our house, but my brother travel to our place with his.
Me: How do you feel about it?
Maureen: I’m not sure. When my friend pulled her gun out in my kitchen and strapped it in her holster, my son was at the kitchen table. It’s her right to bear arms, but I just wasn’t accustomed to seeing it casually like that.
Me: Did you say anything?
Maureen: I just questioned what she was doing. I thought she was putting on a case for her cell phone. She and my brother are licensed and responsible. She has three guns, a concealed weapon license, and always carries one. I’m safe with her 😉
Me: Thanks a lot Maureen for sharing!
Next year, my oldest daughter will turn 18. She could drive to Virginia, Pennsylvania, or West Virginia and buy a handgun. Nobody would ask her anything, and her purchase would leave no trace.
So could anybody with really bad intentions. Like a lone terrorist? Unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of them lately in France and Germany…
Honestly, I think the U.S. should make getting a gun more difficult, especially for people with bad intentions.
In my humble opinion, this idea is compatible with the Second Amendment.