Thursday, 27 March 2014

Georgia on my mind

Like pretty well everyone else in Europe (and most of the rest of the world) I am always totally baffled by the American attitude to guns. I have friends in the US who are lovely, kind people, who will defend to the hilt their constitutional right to bear arms, and given the record of gun killings the country has, this seems bizarre. But I always hold off commenting, because in the end, it's not my country it's not up to me to decide what their laws are, or whether a constitutional amendment designed to allow for militias should apply to the general public in everyday life.


However, one thing is very clear now. Given the new gun laws there, I will certainly never be visiting Georgia. Now admittedly this was pretty unlikely, as I have only flown once in the last 20 years - it's not something I do very often, so I am unlikely to visit the US at all. But while I don't think it's down to me to criticise the decision to allow ordinary citizens to carry guns in bars, restaurants, churches, airports (airports?!?!), libraries, sports grounds, youth centres and primary school classrooms, I do think it is entirely fair for me to say there is no way I am going to set foot in a place where everyone in the restaurant I pop into for a meal could be carrying loaded guns.

Of course, those who are in favour of carrying weapons will point out that these guns are purely defensive. As long as I don't do anything I shouldn't, I'll be fine. But hold on. Remember this combines with the 'Stand Your Ground' law, which allows those gun-toting citizens to defend themselves with deadly force if they feel they are threatened with serious harm. So I don't have to pull my own weapon (which, of course, I wouldn't have) to get shot. Someone from a very different cultural background merely has to misread my body language, or way of speaking in a way that makes them feel they are threatened and they can shoot me down. I am not prepared to take the risk.

Now over here in the UK, we are always saddened when Americans stop coming to Europe in their droves if there is a terrorist attack. It seems an over-reaction. So is my response here a matter of double standards? I don't think so. When an attack occurs it is a one-off, undertaken by extremists who are likely to be dead or captured afterwards. If anything, a country is safer to visit after an attack than it was before - and the chances of being in a place where one will happen is extremely tiny. But in Georgia we aren't talking about a handful of individuals being dangerous on one specific occasion, but potentially every adult I come across every minute of the day - and what's more, the law supports them being able to shoot me and get away with it. Is this going to ensure they don't pull the trigger if they get a little irritated? Again, I'm not prepared to take the risk.

Sorry, America, I love you dearly, but Georgia is on my mind for all the wrong reasons.

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