Barbara McCarthy: ‘I love America – but its attitude to guns is terrifying’

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When I was in a liquor store not far from Thousand Oaks, California, a few months back, a guy came up to the counter with his shirt half over his head and what I perceived as a gun protruding underneath it. I’m slightly (insanely) paranoid, so I ran out with my daughter in her pram, leaving my purchases on the counter, and legged it across the street. My daughter was wondering why we didn’t get her apple juice, and I was vexed I didn’t have my Mexican beers after my ordeal.

You can’t but be jumpy. There are up to a billion guns in the US, 400 to 500 million are owned by civilians. Most of them for ‘personal protection from the enemy’ who also has a gun. No matter how many mass shootings there are, around 310 so far this year, 13,000 homicides and 22,000 suicides by guns, there’s a cognitive dissonance among Americans. I know many Americans are virulently against guns, so this isn’t about them.

But others can’t see that guns have anything to do with it, even though more people have died from guns in the US than on the battlefields of all wars.

In this era of fake news, migrant caravans and fear, there is a cartoonish idea of the enemy.

“Yeah, when they come, we’re loaded up, they’re not getting into my house. F***, no,” I’ve heard people say to me, shaking their head. I’m like, “Who? We’re at a hippie festival. What enemy?”

“We’re not the problem. Legal guns aren’t the problem. Its illegal guns.” Only 250 gun deaths last year were by shooting the bad guy, because often when the enemy comes you’re in a bar and you won’t have access to your arsenal.

At least two-thirds of Americans have lived or live in a house with guns, and half of all white men own a gun; one third own up to five guns. “Yeah, but I’m not some lunatic who’s going to start shooting people.” Of course most Americans don’t shoot people. They don’t have the monopoly on loons, but loons have access to guns.

Ian David Long used a legally owned .45 calibre Glock semi-automatic handgun to kill people in the Borderline Bar, Thousand Oaks. In Facebook posts before the rampage, he wrote: “Yeah… I’m insane, but the only thing you people do after these shootings is ‘hopes and prayers’…or ‘keep you in my thoughts’.”

Unfortunately, he knows the process.

“If people could legally carry a concealed firearm, it wouldn’t have happened, someone would have shot him,” my friend argued. So California’s tighter gun laws were the problem? “In Arizona, you can carry a deadly weapon without a permit within the state.” Great.

Two guns are better than none. It’s about pride and freedom. Gun advocates insist “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” as per the Constitution of 1778.

When I was in college, American friends said they were buying a gun. Why? “What about buying a keg and a few bottles like a normal 21-year-old?” I love America. Americans are the friendliest people, they’re open and non-judgemental – yet many have their flag outside their house and a gun inside.

The company that owns the Mandalay Bay hotel in Las Vegas where Stephen Paddock killed 58 people has taken legal action against the victims, stating it’s not the hotel group’s fault.

It’s not, but the Mandalay Bay is a trigger-happy hotel, popular among NRA members, host to the annual Safari Club International convention, where 20,000 people gather to buy hunts, which kill precious animals around the world.

I made a point of boycotting it when I was there, getting a shiver as I passed by, and this was before Paddock’s killing spree.

More Americans love guns than Americans who don’t. “So what if you just get rid of guns altogether? And no one had a gun?” I asked innocently as we sat by a Californian campfire. “That’s never going to happen,” they said.

Sadly, they’re right. You’ll never take the guns out of America.

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