Gun Control Non-Issue in Europe
October 16, 2004 10:03 PM
Sparked by the recent expiration of the Assault Weapons Ban, which regulated military-style firearms and bullet clip capacity, America has again become the focal point of a global debate on gun-related violence. For many of SF State's international students, the issue remains completely “foreign.”
“I don't know anybody who owns a gun and I've never been afraid of guns,” said Stine Larsen, a Dutch foreign exchange student studying photojournalism.
Denmark, like many European countries, has heavy regulations on civilian firearm possession, limiting their use almost exclusively to gun clubs and hunting. In fact most countries in the European union- which boasted a collective gun-related murder rate of 1.7 per hundred thousand in 2000- posses gun laws much stricter than those in the U.S.
Examples include mandatory psychiatric evaluations, age restrictions, training and gun-club requirements, documented “proof of need” laws and even police sponsored raids of civilians rumored to posses gun surpluses.
“I think the biggest problem with guns in America is that they are legal,” said Larsen. “But I also think the problem can be explained by your welfare, or non-welfare, system. The difference between the poor and the people who have money is so huge, and many can't afford healthcare and education for their children.”
Tighter regulations and more progressive health and social services programs alone have not been able to completely stop the spread of violence overseas.
In May 2002, Robert Steinhauser, 19 years old at the time, methodically executed 12 teachers, two students and a police officer at Johann Gutenberg High School in Erfurt, Germany before turning his pump-action shotgun on himself. A Time-Europe article the following week quoted a visibly shaken news anchor as saying, “It's the kind of thing you expect to happen in America.”
German exchange student Hannah Schunter took the analogy one step further.
“I think he saw Columbine and wanted to imitate that same thing,” said Schunter. “That's been the only shooting like that.”
Although not entirely accurate, due to additional high-profile German shootings in 2002, 2000 and 1999, Schunter's comment points to a larger trend highlighted in a 2000 World Bank/CDC study and Time Europe follow-up piece, documenting trends in countries gun murder rates. Of the 14 most notable gun-related incidents listed in the article- dating back to 1964- six of the 14 (43%) took place in America. That is an almost
Schunter and boyfriend Ingolf Barth both reiterated Larsen's earlier claims that class and social system play a key role in America's alarming figures. Germany, like Denmark, has a strong welfare and healthcare system available to all its citizens. But more recent attempts to privatize the German system, like the U.S., have already had a notable impact on the psyche of the country.
Barth said that Germany's nearly 4 million unemployed are weighing down the economy and creating a gap in the class system that is synonymous with America's own gun violence debate.
“Germany is starting to have problems (violence) in the cities, Frankfurt specifically, because of the large social differences,” said Barth. “People are becoming disappointed and don't know what to do.”
Shunter said that much of America’s gun-violence problem is undoubtedly motivated by poverty, race-related anger and easy access to firearms.
“You see someone on the street and they're different and you don't know what to do,” said Schunter. “There's criminality in Germany but they don't point a gun at you, they just want your money. It's all about how you deal with your problems.”
Another example, France, also has comprehensive medical and social services programs and a thriving government-driven benefits system. But Nathalie Chun, a 21-year-old SF State French foreign exchange student, thinks there is a more telling reason why American’s are so often prone to pulling the trigger.
“Here in the U.S. you a have a lot of these 24-hour news stations, which we don't have in France,” Chun said. “We tend to have like six channels and no cable.”
Chun said that the French tend to look skeptically at the American media's seeming obsession with the sensational and violent.
“From the French point of view, many of you Americans appear stupid, crazy and all having guns,” Chun said. “You actually have TV shows that follow police chasing criminals.”
A more eerie moment came when Chun reflected on the impact that Hollywood and cable television have had in establishing America's infamous global reputation.
“The first time I saw the news of 9/11, I thought it was a TV show and I went back to playing with my cousin," Chun said. “I really thought it was an American movie.”
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