My European Host Family Doesn't Understand American Gun Violence
Politics and Activism

My Host Family Can't Comprehend America's Gun Violence, It's An Exceptionally American Phenomenon

It took me moving to a different Western nation to truly see American exceptionalism at its finest.


Perspectively speaking, the strangest yet most mundane subject came up when I was sitting at dinner, having a "sobremesa" with my host parents: guns. Those curious items are absolutely abnormal to my senora and completely comfortable to me.

The nightly news sensationally reported on the Spanish black market in which one can *gasp* purchase a gun for 4,000 euros. I snuck glances at my host parents' appalled reactions to the story and began inquiring about the state of criminal activity involving firearms in Barcelona.

From here, I learned that the regulation of guns in Spain is categorized as restrictive, with the right to private gun ownership not guaranteed by law. Jaw on the floor, I took in this information as best as a Texan can. Beside myself, I could not help from further questioning, "But what about private citizens? Concealed carrying laws? Universal background checks? Manufacturing and record-keeping?!?"

If that was not aggressively American enough, I asked them about school-shootings, which is a challenging topic to explain in English and nearly impossible to comprehend in Spanish.

My European parents had their eyebrows stuck in a furrow, not knowing what I was rambling on about. Dumbfounded why I was so obsessed with what they viewed as rare, handheld murder machines, my host family asked if I had ever seen a gun in real life. This was a pure question, stemming from a mind-cloud that has not been jaded by school-shootings, massacres in movie theaters, or hate crimes in religious institutions.

For me, this decidedly cruel situation has been my foundation. I came-of-age in the age of terrorism.

I don't think twice about the fact that there have been more than 2,000 mass shootings since Sandy Hook, a disturbingly desensitized political buzzphrase in which a gunman killed 20 elementary-aged kids, six adults, and himself. I'm not even a little bit surprised by the statistic that, on average, there has been one mass shooting for each day thus far in 2019. I can yawn at the ordinariness of on-duty police officers (aka, "the good guys with guns") being killed at a noticeably higher rate in U.S. states with more private gun ownership.

All of this data probably shouldn't be so commonplace, but it's just a part of my gunned-down generational experience. This existence makes sense, given that U.S. Americans make up 4.27 percent of the world's population, yet we own nearly half of all the world's privately held firearms.

Acclaimed anthropologist Edward T. Hall pointed out, "a culture hides itself most effectively from its own participants." Once I entered a new country's culture, I realized that what I considered the norm (i.e. the slaughter of peers and the prevalence of guns) is inconceivable to those with a different foundation.

In the developed world, these levels of gun violence are a uniquely American problem. It is funny how (not a comedic "funny" but a "this milk tastes 'funny'" use of the word), it took me moving to a different Western nation to see American exceptionalism at its finest, (kidding, sorry).

The effects of gun violence extend far beyond those who suffer casualties and their immediate families. Gun violence shapes the lives of the millions of U.S. Americans who witness the news because we all live in fear of the next shooting. To give an example, my close friend, currently studying education to teach children, has a terror of returning to the school setting ingrained in the back her head — what a telling anecdote.

Originally, I perceived it as odd that the Spanish vernacular does not even have a term for "mass shooting," honestly, but why do we?

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