Once again, Americans are trying to make sense of the mass murder that is so commonplace in public places. Why do we continue to have little to no success addressing the horrific loss of human lives?
Insisting that a problem is unsolvable is easy when one has never experienced anything different. Other developed nations that took action after mass shootings do not see violence on the levels we do. Although we know how other countries effectively prevented mass shootings, how often do Americans experience these achievements firsthand? Not that much.
Americans aren’t known for traveling out of the country, and the numbers show it. According to the State Department, in 2021, there were a little more than 145 million valid passports in circulation, and that number has increased every year since 1989. But that data also indicates that over half the population still doesn’t own one, meaning a majority of our citizens have literally never left the country. (Meanwhile, nearly half of Americans say they live in households where someone owns a gun.)
I’ve been to 28 countries, which is about 14% of the world. I’ve traveled enough to countries with stringent gun control laws to see, even as a tourist, that there is a remarkable, noticeable difference — and the nations with far less access to weapons don’t feel less free.
While struggling with severe jet lag, I walked the streets of Tokyo at 3 am without apprehension or hesitation. When I went scuba diving off the coast, everyone in my group left their cash and passports on the shore, and nothing was stolen. The Japanese leave their bikes unlocked all over the country.
In Japan, only air guns and shotgun rifles are legal while handguns are banned. Individuals who do wish to purchase guns must attend a class, complete a written exam, and pass a shooting range test with at least 95% result. In 2016, Japan had a knife attack that resulted in 19 deaths and 26 injuries, but that was the largest mass murder since World War II.
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When I lived in Germany, the worst thing that happened to me was encountering a group of three skinheads at 1 am The immediate knowledge that they had no guns was comforting. I took public transportation by myself and walked alone at night in Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt and Dresden without dread. Several times, I encountered belligerent people because they could hear my accent, but never once did I fear for my life as millions of Americans do in our country.
Germany’s firearms laws are very specific on which types of weapons are legal. War weapons, which are illegal, include machine guns and fully automatic rifles. Individuals who want to own guns must apply for a license that requires them to demonstrate knowledge and need for a firearm. Gun laws also require specific storage requirements.
In London, the pubs close at 11 pm Hooliganism is a serious problem. When I wandered into a rough area, I saw drunk people brawling with each other. The only weapons they had had inept fighting techniques. Law enforcement escorted the offenders into police vans with brute force and no weapons.
The Firearms Act of 1968 establishes requirements and regulations around gun ownership in the United Kingdom. Similar to Japan, no handguns are allowed while shotguns and rifles may require a license. Law enforcement completes an assessment of the firearms license applicant.
Planning a vacation from the United States to another country can have logistical and financial challenges. However, when possible, I encourage all Americans to get a passport and travel the world to experience, if nothing else, these ease and comfort of being in a place where the chances of horrific violence and mass murder are very low.
We might learn something.
Reppas lives with her family on the East Coast.