Among the many books and websites I read about Israel before I went on my Birthright trip almost two years ago was a publication that the Boston branch of Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP) gave to the people who attended one of the pre-trip sessions. It was a thick pamphlet giving some of the history of Israel, details about certain cities, some words to know and just general bits of Israeli culture. One thing that stuck out to me was a small blurb saying that on the buses and throughout the country, armed soldiers would be everywhere since most Israelis have been trained in the IDF. The blurb also mentioned that this wouldn’t be alarming to Israelis as it may seem to visitors. When I noticed all the soldiers with their guns at the mall where my group had stopped for lunch on the second day of our trip, I wasn’t alarmed because I had this information beforehand. In America however, seeing people with guns who are not in the armed forces or the police scares me.
I never grew up thinking guns were cool. I never saw the appeal of violent television or movies and when my father and I would watch wrestling tournaments, he showed me all the tricks the wrestlers used to make fake blood look real and how scenes were edited to make the fighting look worse than it was. I didn’t understand how people enjoyed violence, but then again, I was being physically abused by my mother. A professor at my college told me that children who have been physically abused grow up either hating violence completely or harm themselves or others because it’s the only pain they can control. Finding a healthy balance between the two is hard. I know that I am on the extreme side of the spectrum of hating violence. I never played violently during recess at school, nor did I play violent video games. I know that there are children who can act out violent scenarios and never physically harm a person as long as they live. But what about the children who don’t know the difference between fantasy and reality and act violent for real? What can be done to stop them?
I know that America has issues with gun violence, but I never knew how bad it was until I moved to London almost four years ago. I didn’t know that gun ownership was so strict in the UK until a policeman gave a talk about how gun violence wasn’t as big of an issue in the UK because owning a gun was incredibly difficult. Of course I could still get stabbed, mugged, raped or beaten up like in any country. But the odds of me getting shot were extremely slim and the aforementioned scenarios would inflict a lot less physical damage than a gunshot wound. I felt much safer walking around by myself at night because of this. I’d imagine that another factor as to why I felt safer was the movie ratings system. In America, a children’s movie can be “G” or “PG”-rated but still show extreme violence, yet a movie will be rated “R” if a female’s breast is shown. London was the opposite. Violence was seen as more detrimental to children than nudity and I saw PG-13 (or whatever the UK equivalent was) movies in London with nudity. When a few people in my London cohort went to a winter carnival and we saw a shooting game, one of the guys asked why that game would exist when the Brits wouldn’t even know how to shoot. It seems that in America, it’s more shocking if someone doesn’t know how to shoot a gun than if they do.
I have walked in the streets of Israel by myself at night several times. Just like in any country, I know I can be attacked, but because of the strict gun laws here, I never have to worry about getting shot. I have been on the buses and the streets where I have seen soldiers with their guns. It has never bothered me. I remember last year right after the Boston Marathon bombings seeing soldiers from the American military in the train stations with their guns. Seeing a soldier with a gun wasn’t shocking since I had done Birthright, but to see a soldier in Boston with a gun threw me for a loop because I rarely see members of the armed forces there since army service isn’t mandatory. I knew why they were there, but it was still a bit frightening. Of course, what frightens me more, is people getting a hold of guns when they don’t know how to use them or how I keep reading that children are either maiming or killing themselves or their friends because the guns in their homes aren’t locked up properly.
I know the Second Amendment says I have the right to bear arms. I know that it says Americans have the right to form a militia. But people, that amendment was written in order to stop the British. And really, the only threats coming out of Britain these days are the non-talented group called One Direction. I doubt the Founding Fathers had AK-47’s in mind when they wrote those words. I understand that the Constitution has to reflect current times—we need freedom of speech online even though there was no internet back when the Founding Fathers were around for example—but really, why would someone who isn’t in the armed forces or a cop need a big gun? Or more than one? Things like this make me glad that Israel doesn’t have a constitution because it means her citizens can’t hide behind some misunderstood wording in order to get a gun. And by the way, Israelis can own guns, but there are more restrictions and the system is better regulated. I am sure that there are Israelis who find the restrictions unfair, but as an American who feels unsafe just walking to the convenience store around the corner from my apartment back in Boston, I appreciate what Israel has done with its gun laws and wish America could do the same.
I don’t know how many more school shootings, or shootings in general, it is going to take before America gets its head out of the sand and realizes that we have a serious problem with gun violence. After the Newtown shootings in 2012, I remember reading absurd arguments that said arming teachers would solve issues like school shootings in the future. Really? Do people really not think that a student is going to make a teacher angry and then the teacher will shoot him or her while claiming that it was an accident? What if a student got a hold of the gun? None of the teachers in my school here were armed, but that was because no one suspicious ever entered the school. Do you know why? Because my school has a security guard in front who knows everyone who enters and is the only person who can unlock the gate. The gate stays locked all day. Even the parents of the children cannot get in unannounced. Why can’t American schools do this? I know that kids can still bring in weapons, but I don’t think clear backpacks or metal detectors will solve the problem, as they’re still in place in schools in America and yet these incidents still seem to happen. It will take a lot more, like teaching children that violence in television and movies is fantasy and that in real life, guns can seriously hurt or kill people. I have told the children I nannied for in the past that they can play shooting games if they want, but they need to understand that in real life, violence (and not just limited to guns) hurts people. As Americans, we have to stop glorifying these killers, keep the outsiders out of the schools, implement background checks, fix the movie and television ratings system to restrict our children from seeing violent images and to stop making guns seem cool and sexy in advertisements. It will take a cultural change to do this; after all, only in America can you show a violent football game on television yet go absolutely bonkers when Janet Jackson’s breast shows for 9/16ths of a second, but I think it’s possible to curb gun violence.
I don’t know the answers to the problem; I can only offer suggestions. I know that America and Israel face different security concerns and I’m not trying to take away an American’s right to own a gun. I don’t want to argue with the NRA because they scare me. I just know that I have no reason to own a gun because I don’t want it turned on me, nor am I a soldier or cop who would be properly trained to use it. I may have the right to own a gun, but that does not mean I deserve one.
So for now, until someone can figure out a way to get the gun violence to stop in America, I have to go back to a country where normal college students who have never boiled an egg can carry a gun. Where a drunk person can walk into a bar with one. Where people can walk into the baby aisle at Target with guns to make some kind of statement. Where I can be shot just for walking down the street and minding my own business.
And I’m terrified.