By Sarah Jost
I was visiting a friend in Sweden when 12 people were shot and killed and 21 wounded at a movie theatre in Colorado this summer. Everyone I spoke to was shocked such a thing could happen. I heard more tuts of ‘only in America’ than I could count.
Growing up on the south side of Chicago, I always knew the U.S. was a violent place. What I didn’t know is that it doesn’t have to be that way. Living in London and New Zealand and meeting people from every continent of the world, I’ve since learned that the shooting deaths I became so accustomed to hearing about as a child are not only not the worldwide norm, but also extremely preventable.
The citizens of the U.S. live in fear. Fear of terrorism, fear of each other, fear of what they don’t know or understand. The effects of the country’s rampant xenophobia pervade numerous aspects of daily life, from airport security to home security systems, from mass shootings to a country singer calling our Christian president a Muslim as though it would be a bad thing if he were. Fear is leading to hate which is leading to violence, and we simply don’t have laws in place to protect people.
In 2010, the Chicago Police Department reported 436 murders and 2,334 shooting incidents. In the same year, the London Metropolitan Police reported 113 murders. These statistics are more staggering when you consider that Chicago has a population of just 2.7 million compared to London’s over 8 million. In the first six months of this year, 228 Chicagoans were killed, a figure that already exceeds the total number of gun fatalities in Canada in an entire year.
Every weekend in Chicago brings a new round of gun violence. This past weekend, six people were killed and 36 wounded in shootings. One weekend in June, at least eight were killed and 46 wounded. During a weekend in March, 10 people were killed and 40 wounded. But this isn’t new, and it’s not just on weekends. Last Wednesday, two people were killed and seven wounded in shootings in the span of an hour, and another person was shot and killed and six more wounded later that night. In 2008, seven people were killed and 40 shot in a period spanning less than 60 hours. Less then two weeks ago, a fatal gang shooting occurred four blocks from my mum’s house.
With high figures like these, the victims range from a baby being held by its mother to a seven year old year selling candy in her neighborhood to an elderly woman crossing the street. Some argue that guns should remain legal in the U.S. so that people can use them for protection, but I guarantee that that baby, that little girl, and that elderly woman would not have been able to defend themselves if they or their loved ones had had guns. You can only protect yourself from a drive by shooting with legislation, not a gun.
Earlier this summer I mentioned that my favourite Chicago pastime, foodie heaven Taste of Chicago, which used to span the last week of June and the first week of July and included numerous concerts and a magnificent Independence Day fireworks display accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, was relegated to a weekend in mid-July. When my mum gave me this news in Norway, I was devastated that the city was being deprived of one of its best community events due to what I perceived to be budgeting issues. Now I understand that Chicago has become infected with fear.
While the city may have thought it was being cautious when it cancelled its fireworks and drastically reduced the popular festival, they were actually caving to the criminals, telling the gun-toting gangs and other violent individuals, ‘You win. Have our city. We’ll be inside being scared.’
We cannot afford to let fear dictate our lives any longer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 11,493 firearm homicides in 2009. People own guns because they are scared, and people use those guns to kill other people because they are scared. The U.S. needs to take a cue from our civilised neighbours and allies. This is not the only way. I feel safer walking around London than anywhere in the U.S.
The nation was stunned when 12 people lost their lives in Colorado this summer. Chicagoans are aghast at the hundred of people already murdered this year. But as long as guns are legal, this kind of violence must be expected. Shootings should not be a surprise to anyone. Americans are so afraid of terrorists and foreign threats that they can’t see that they will tear this country apart from the inside far before anyone from the outside will have the chance.