America is a Gun
England is a cup of tea.
France, a wheel of ripened brie.
Greece, a short, squat olive tree.
America is a gun.
Brazil is football on the sand.
Argentina, Maradona’s hand.
Germany, an oompah band.
America is a gun.
Holland is a wooden shoe.
Hungary, a goulash stew.
Australia, a kangaroo.
America is a gun.
Japan is a thermal spring.
Scotland is a highland fling.
Oh, better to be anything
than America as a gun.
In the wake of the recent school gun-death tragedy at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde Texas, I’ve felt compelled to try to answer the obvious (to anyone who is not American), heart-rending questions my UK and European friends are asking:
- “What is wrong with America?”
- “Why, when other nations banned guns after a single incident, does America still refuse to ban guns?”
- “Why can’t pro-life Americans understand that you can’t condemn or make abortion illegal on one hand while you continue to support the National Rifle Association (NRA) on the other, after so many children have died and continue to die?” and
- “How many more children will have to die before the Constitutional amendment allowing Americans to carry guns is finally revoked?”
Although other journalists and social media posters have written extensively about this event, I’d like to offer my personal perspective, which comes from my own several scary encounters with guns in the US – all before I was 16 – and the ways these have shaped my life. My present views are a direct result of these experiences, augmented by data and the ever-escalating news reports.
But before I share these, let’s take a look at some statistics – which are chilling enough in themselves.
US school gun incidents: the historical data
While all of my own gun encounters took place long before the current school-shooting epidemic (let’s call it what it is: a widespread mental illness/national insanity) began, there seems to be a clear link to the current situation, as I will explain.
According to Time magazine, “Every year, more than 3,500 children and teens to age 19 are shot and killed in the US, and another 15,000 are wounded in shootings, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data from 2016 to 2020.”
These stats were given extra poignancy in a recent viral list highlighting the names of some 253* high schools, elementary schools, middle schools, intermediate schools, universities, academies and technical colleges – quite a few of them supposedly ‘Christian’ institutions – where children and teenagers across the US have met a violent death directly as a result of the easy, legal access to guns, all within the past two years.
A recent US News and World Report stated that there have been 540 school-shooting incidents across the US in the past 10 years alone (from 2012–2022), with the majority taking place in the bigger states of Texas (43), California (41), Illinois (37), Florida (31) and Pennsylvania (26).
According to this report, “The year 2021 was the most violent on record, with 193 people killed or wounded in school shootings, not including the shooters themselves. There have been 145 victims in just the first half of 2022. (These numbers included the at least 21 people killed and 19 wounded at the shooting in Uvalde.)”
The article adds: “Overall, the database shows that school shootings are still quite rare. Since 1970, there have been 681 total recorded deaths from school shootings, of which 441 victims were under the age of 20. That means more children have died in car crashes in one year than been victims of school shootings in the past 52 years.” Yes, perhaps – but clearly, that is no reason to consider it a ‘harmless’ or unusual event, at least not in view of the ever-increasing numbers of deaths from school shootings.
According to another data-based site (K12 Academics), the history of school violence and mass shootings in the US actually goes all the way back to an incident on 26 July 1764 – even before the Declaration of Independence (one wonders whether guns would be the kind of epidemic they are now, had America remained part of Britain) – where four members of the Lenape Native American tribe entered a school near present-day Greencastle, Pennsylvania, and shot and killed schoolmaster Enoch Brown, along with 9–10 children; only two survived.
(Arguably, aggrieved Native Americans might have had a far more viable reason for such an attack, but it’s possible this event pulled the [literal] starting trigger on this epidemic. Perhaps the real Americans cursed the immigrants who stole their land and blighted their children’s futures? If so, I could hardly blame them.)
The K12 site contains a long data list of shooting/gun incidents in schools from the 1800s up to 2010. Such events speed up tremendously in the past few decades of the 20th and the first two decades of the 21st century, with a notable rise since 2021 – as seen in the chart below.
Read/view these stats and weep. And if stats and charts don’t rend your heart, I can only hope my own stories below will.
My own horror stories, in context
I grew up and went to school and university in the US from the mid- to late 1970s through the mid-1980s, after which I began to plan my exodus abroad. Even though the numbers of school shootings in this time were relatively low compared to now, I believe this was a significant turning point in America’s history, as well as my own.
According to the above sites, “The mid- to late 1970s is considered the second-most violent period in US school history, with a series of school shootings including incidents where a school custodian at California State University’s Fullerton campus opened fire in the library with a semi-automatic rifle, killing seven and wounding two (June 1976); a 15-year-old self-proclaimed Nazi killed one student and seriously wounded another pupil with a Luger pistol after being taunted for his beliefs (February 1978); and a 16-year-old girl at Grover Cleveland Elementary School Shootings, California, who opened fire with a rifle – a gift from her father, note – killing two and wounding nine (January 1979).” [edited]
These incidences of troubled teens’ reactions to being bullied at school for being a ‘weirdo’ eerily echo the 1976 Stephen King horror classic Carrie, where the ridiculed teenager vents her grievances at the entire school on prom night, killing them all with her psychokinetic powers. I would not be surprised to learn that many kids, having seen this film and lacking the fictional psychokinetic powers of the character but having legal access to guns, found in it the inspiration for their actions.
Following the experiments with psychedelia and other drugs from the late ’60s through the ’70s, along with the general questioning of/rebellion against authority, traditional morals and institutions, there was a massive turning towards the occult, as well as an escalation of dangerous cults such as the Charles Manson gang, whose members brutally murdered pregnant film actress Sharon Tate, Los Angeles executive Leno LaBianco and others.
The general liberality of the 1970s made many things previously ‘forbidden’ or illegal – such as abortion and the pill, as part of the sexual revolution and the women’s rights movements – much more commonplace. When I was in school, there tended to be a very strict social divide between the ‘goodie-goodies’, academics and sports devotees, and the ‘others’ – often called ‘freaks’ because of their drug use or other non-conforming attributes.
Being artistic/intellectual and neither sporty nor having classically ‘all-American’ looks, I found myself in the latter category of ‘freak’ by default – and was bullied as a result. Thankfully, I never considered responding to school bullies with open-fire violence, although I did rebel to ‘fit in’, getting heavily involved with drugs and a wild crowd early in my teens. I also ran away from home at one point; it was during this experience that I had my first scary encounters with guns.
Once, I was hitchhiking with a friend when a driver pulled over, and I got in and sat in the front passenger seat. As we drove along, suddenly the driver opened the glove compartment, pulled out a gun, cocked it and pointed it at my head. Terrified, I pleaded with him to let me out of the car. My friend, who was high on drugs and engrossed in the loud music in the back seat, had no idea what was going on and why we were suddenly dumped out on the street, but she was pretty horrified when I told her what had happened afterwards.
On another occasion when I was also hitchhiking with a different friend, some wild guys drove by in a car with loaded shotguns, and began shooting at us as they sped past. Luckily, neither of us was harmed – but that was the last time I ever hitchhiked in the US.
The most truly frightening experience happened shortly before my 16th birthday. Our family was visiting relatives in South Carolina, and I had decided to go with my cousin Steve and his friends to spend the weekend partying at a beach house in Folly Beach (it looks pretty innocuous in the Shutterstock image below – but it was anything but).
Arriving earlier in the day, we stopped at a scenic point along the beach, where we observed a man some distance away who was clearly watching us. At that time, my cousin and his girlfriend were into transcendental meditation and had got out of the car to sit down in an ‘Om’ position, so I assumed the man was staring at us simply because he thought we were nuts.
Later that evening, after we had made a bonfire on the beach to which I had stupidly worn my favourite pair of sparkly green platform shoes, I realised I had left my shoes on the beach. I went back to the bonfire to find them, and was leaning over it while trying to light a stick to use as a torch to find my shoes when I suddenly felt a man’s arms around my waist and a cold, hard object at my temple. “Make one sound and I’ll shoot!” he said.
Fortunately for me, being very short, I managed to wriggle out from below his grasp. I took off running, flooring it until I reached the beach house. Only once did I look back; I could see his evil face clearly lit by the fire, his outstretched arm still pointing the gun in my direction (I later learned the gun was unloaded, but he used it to trap his victims).
As soon as I reached the beach house, I screamed, “There’s a man on the beach with a gun! He just tried to kill me!” Ironically, even though the drunken partygoers thought I had consumed too much booze and was making it all up, it still took 10 of the strongest guys to return to the bonfire and retrieve my shoes.
After this, I begged my parents to go straight home to Virginia, but the next day my cousin overheard a television report about a man walking his dog on the beach whose dog had unearthed the remains of a mutilated female body while pawing in the sand near the remains of a bonfire – the exact bonfire we had used.
My cousin gave the detective my telephone number, and a few days later he phoned. I told the detective that, as an artist, I could draw the killer’s face as it was now etched into my mind. I agreed to testify on the basis that they would not supply my name to the papers, however they did not keep this agreement – even only a few years ago in the US, people still recognised my name in connection with this horror story.
Apparently, the killer (Richard Valenti, who mercifully died in 2020 after his last parole plea was denied, enabling me to tell this story finally without fear of reprisal) was found after the police uncovered the remains of three missing teenage girls’ bodies in the sand below his house. They later learned how Valenti had kidnapped the teenage girls at gunpoint and taken them to his beach house, where he strung them up to overhead pipes, chopped off parts of their bodies, abused them as a sexual deviant, and then kicked the chair out from underneath them or strangled them before burying their mutilated bodies in the sand.
Valenti was also charged with attacking five other girls; whether or not there were more victims is unknown. I was the only one (at least as far as the court/news knew) who ever got away.
How this changed my perspective
Over the next months, years and decades, I remained deeply traumatised by this experience, having nightmares every time I recalled the vivid image of Valenti’s face staring at me over the bonfire. I was convinced that if he ever got out of jail, he would come looking for me – this time, with a loaded gun. I reasoned that since the police had publicised my name in the newspapers, he could have easily tracked me down.
These firsthand experiences radically altered my views on many points. I came to believe that capital punishment – as in, those who had taken a life should be executed via the electric chair – was just and should be made law universally. I also began to see how easy, legal access to guns was responsible for far too many innocent deaths in America, and to view it as an evil that needed to be stopped. I became an angry, passionately justice-driven person, eager to see all wrongs righted and all victims vindicated.
I had no idea that America’s gun situation was not the same everywhere else in the world until I went to study in Ireland in my junior (third year) at university, and later worked with an international organisation across Europe and Latin America. In most places, while there was some minor knife or other crime, mass gun ownership was never an issue. I even felt safe – or at least safer – hitchhiking in Europe; sure, weirdos can be everywhere, but at least they do not usually have a gun in their glove compartment. Such things are not a ‘normal’ part of society elsewhere, as they are in the US (okay, maybe in some heavy drug-dealing countries like Colombia, but not in most countries).
“These firsthand experiences radically altered my views on many points. I came to believe that capital punishment – as in, those who had taken a life should be executed via the electric chair – was just and should be made law universally. I also began to see how easy, legal access to guns was responsible for far too many innocent deaths in America, and to view it as an evil that needed to be stopped. I became an angry, passionately justice-driven person, eager to see all wrongs righted and all victims vindicated.”
After I completed my degree, I became determined to live abroad permanently, as at least then this nightmare might finally go away – although in truth it became even more challenging when my mother and father decided to retire to Charleston (fortunately in a ‘gated community’ on a small island outside the city, far from Folly Beach), particularly as every time I went to visit, someone mentioned it.
Since becoming a UK citizen, where I have now lived in relative peace for the past 30+ years, I’ve watched with mounting horror as the death tolls from guns in schools have continued to escalate. Like every other Brit, I simply cannot understand how – even after most sensible nations have banned guns after only one such incident – the US still blithely continues in its NRA-sponsored business-as-usual approach, leading to staggering numbers of innocent deaths. I, too, have to ask: What is wrong with the US?
On a recent visit to the US driving from Washington, DC (my former home) to Charleston, we stopped to stay the night with an old high school friend, Cheryl – a schoolteacher living in Richmond, Virginia. I was completely gobsmacked to learn that despite the shared horrors of my personal experiences and the mounting death tolls in schools, she and her gun-fanatic boyfriend still insisted fervently on their “right to bear arms”. We argued about it all night, but in the morning, it was clear they were still literally blinded – or perhaps brainwashed – and refused to listen to reason.
Even though Cheryl claimed to be a Christian, it was very clear from this exchange that something was deeply wrong, both with her faith and her capacity to reason and/or be objective about guns. I’d wanted to think her attitude was purely to keep her boyfriend happy, but even as we drove off, she smiled sweetly and said, “God bless America!”, as if to imply, “We are still the greatest nation on Earth – still a nation truly blessed by God.” But whatever any patriotism-blind American may think, any country with this degree of innocent deaths on its hands is NOT in any way BLESSED! (You could certainly argue the contrary – that in fact it is cursed – but that is another debate.)
So what IS wrong with America?
I have since concluded that it is because of the actual gun worship of many Americans – the literal ‘enshrinement’ of the second amendment as a fundamental right – which is why the idol of guns has exacted so many deaths of innocent children. It is similar to the backslidden ancient Israelites’ worship of the god Molech, a Canaanite deity who required child sacrifice. So, because Americans worship guns, they literally and willingly sacrifice their children to this all-consuming false god.
(Others have pointed out how all of the plagues God punished Egypt with were directly correlated to the gods they worshipped – eg frogs, hail, the Nile, locusts, boils, their firstborn, etc; perhaps we will yet see such visitations on the US?)
You might ask, “But America claims to be a Christian country. So how can this be?” Yet even Billy Graham, America’s most well-known preacher, once quipped: “If God does not judge America, He’ll have to apologise to Sodom and Gomorrah!”
Surely this judgement is already underway. The land that was indeed once incredibly beautiful and fruitful – including the abundant prairies and grasslands of the ‘Wild West’, home of the legendary gun-toting cowboy image of shoot-outs in saloons – is now ablaze with never-ending wildfires. The once-great beauty of many US cities such as San Francisco, which I once dreamed of moving to, are now all gone, thanks to America’s other idol, Mammon (money), and its never-ending obsessions with the oil and gas industry.
As the huge divides between rich and poor continue to increase, the US begins to look increasingly corrupt, its political core and motivation no different to that of Russian oligarchies. The once-bright dream of democracy, of true “justice and liberty for all” and the freedoms to choose “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, are dying embers of a once-strong flame that lit America up as a beacon and example to the world. And while of course corruption always existed under the idealism of the flag and all it symbolised, the fact it is now mainstream and seemingly condoned even in the highest corridors of power (I speak of the Senate and the House of Representatives) is truly alarming.
And don’t get me started about Trump, who even danced at an NRA convention after naming the Uvalde victims (horrifyingly, there is a golden statue of Trump in Orlando, Florida – talk about outright idolatry!).
Pro-life – or pro-death?
But let’s look now at the issue of the pro-life, anti-abortionists who are nevertheless still married to the gun lobby. What right do they have to call themselves ‘pro-life’ when they are loyal to a law that spawns death?
Anyone with half a functioning brain cell can see the pure hypocrisy of saving foetuses only to kill them a few years later when they are old enough to go to school.
With such instances of heavily mixed messaging and contradictory beliefs, it is no wonder America is as completely screwed up as it is, and largely failing to be the world leader it imagines it still is. When some states are even considering passing laws that could require all citizens to own a gun (according to an article in Scientific American), you just know America is doomed – and this despite the evidence (as also reported in this article) that gun ownership in no way reduces violence, and in fact only increases it (a 2015 study by Harvard University and the Boston Children’s Hospital “reported that firearm assaults were 6.8 times more common in the states with the most guns versus those with the least. Also in 2015, a combined analysis of 15 different studies found that people who had access to firearms at home were nearly twice as likely to be murdered as people who did not”. Excuse me while I quote Bart Simpson: “Doh!”
Surely, no greater example of destructive idol worship masquerading as some warped form of nationalism exists – except perhaps all those Germans who blindly swore an oath to worship and serve Hitler as a sign of their ‘love’ for the Fatherland. (Don’t get me wrong – a little bit of patriotism or patriotic pride is not in itself a bad thing – it is just when such patriotism becomes excessive – an idol, even – that it becomes dangerous. Even the British motto, Dieu et mon droit [God and my right] or the traditional ‘For God and country’ could be queried for these reasons.)
“Anyone with half a functioning brain cell can see the pure hypocrisy of saving foetuses only to kill them a few years later when they are old enough to go to school.”
Much as I may be horrified at the numbers of innocent deaths due to abortion – perhaps another tribute to Molech, or his modern-day equivalent of the idol of convenience/instant gratification without conscience or responsibility – the fact children are literally growing up in fear and ignorance, with some suggesting the “solution” is for schoolchildren to carry guns to school themselves as “self-defence”, is deeply troubling (that is, to anyone with a conscience).
While you could sensibly and even logically ask, “Why is abortion necessary when the pill and condoms are now wildly available?” I also have to wonder why, if the argument for guns to be carried by children (or even adults) as a form of “self-defence”, the option of instead carrying a non-lethal stun or Mace gun – as the detective in South Carolina provided me with following our interview, and which I carried for several years thereafter – has not occurred to anyone?
To this day, because of my experiences, whenever I find myself in any potentially dangerous situation, I often carry a large stick or a rock, or a small can of hairspray in my bag, as that would likely be as effective as a Mace gun if sprayed in the eyes of a would-be attacker.
So again, are guns really ‘necessary’ for self-defence? Especially when the chances of shooting and killing any innocent person unintentionally are so high?
‘There are none so blind as those who will not see’
The only answer I can find to these disturbing questions is that Americans – even the professing Christians who are still addicted to their guns, and cannot see the errors of their ways – are indeed blinded by their false gods.
Having lived with the trauma of my own experiences throughout my life, I hate to think how deeply traumatised today’s American school kids must be – how badly their mental health must be affected after watching so much violence and death on a daily basis on the news, and all the horrific videos and TV reports they see. It is not just a burden for the kids, but also for the schools, the teachers and the parents who feel helpless to stop it all.
Yet clearly facts, charts and statistics, and the endless alarming death toll, cannot make those who have chosen to be blind – or who have allowed themselves to become blinded – see.
“Only if enough Americans will finally stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough!’ Only if enough US schoolchildren and teachers simply refuse to attend school until the laws are changed to protect the innocent.”
Only if enough Americans will finally stand up and say, “Enough is enough!” Only if enough US schoolchildren and teachers simply refuse to attend school until the laws are changed to protect the innocent. Only if there are enough protests, and enough politicians willing to step aside from the powerful gun lobby, can we hope to see any real and lasting change.
The world is watching and weeping, America.
*List of gun-death schools shared and currently going viral on social media:
Thurston High School.
Columbine High School.
Heritage High School.
Deming Middle School.
Fort Gibson Middle School.
Buell Elementary School.
Lake Worth Middle School.
University of Arkansas.
Junipero Serra High School.
Santana High School.
Bishop Neumann High School.
Pacific Lutheran University.
Granite Hills High School.
Lew Wallace High School.
Martin Luther King, Jr. High School.
Appalachian School of Law.
Washington High School.
Benjamin Tasker Middle School.
University of Arizona.
Lincoln High School.
John McDonogh High School.
Red Lion Area Junior High School.
Case Western Reserve University.
Rocori High School.
Ballou High School.
Randallstown High School.
Bowen High School.
Red Lake Senior High School.
Harlan Community Academy High School.
Campbell County High School.
Milwee Middle School.
Roseburg High School.
Pine Middle School.
Essex Elementary School.
Platte Canyon High School.
Weston High School.
West Nickel Mines School.
Joplin Memorial Middle School.
Henry Foss High School.
Compton Centennial High School.
Success Tech Academy.
Miami Carol City Senior High School.
Hamilton High School.
Louisiana Technical College.
Mitchell High School.
E.O. Green Junior High School.
Northern Illinois University.
Lakota Middle School.
Knoxville Central High School.
Willoughby South High School.
Henry Ford High School.
University of Central Arkansas.
Dillard High School.
Dunbar High School.
Larose-Cut Off Middle School.
International Studies Academy.
Discovery Middle School.
University of Alabama.
Deer Creek Middle School.
Ohio State University.
Mumford High School.
University of Texas.
Kelly Elementary School.
Marinette High School.
Aurora Central High School.
Millard South High School.
Martinsville West Middle School.
Worthing High School.
Millard South High School.
Highlands Intermediate School.
Cape Fear High School.
Chardon High School.
Episcopal School of Jacksonville.
Hamilton High School.
Perry Hall School.
Normal Community High School.
University of South Alabama.
Banner Academy South.
University of Southern California.
Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Apostolic Revival Center Christian School.
Taft Union High School.
Osborn High School.
Stevens Institute of Business and Arts.
Hazard Community and Technical College.
Chicago State University.
Lone Star College-North.
Cesar Chavez High School.
Price Middle School.
University of Central Florida.
New River Community College.
Grambling State University.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Ossie Ware Mitchell Middle School.
Ronald E. McNair Discovery Academy.
North Panola High School.
Carver High School.
Agape Christian Academy.
Sparks Middle School.
North Carolina A&T State University.
Stephenson High School.
Brashear High School.
West Orange High School.
Arapahoe High School.
Edison High School.
Liberty Technology Magnet High School.
Hillhouse High School.
Berrendo Middle School.
South Carolina State University.
Los Angeles Valley College.
Charles F. Brush High School.
University of Southern California.
Georgia Regents University.
Academy of Knowledge Preschool.
Benjamin Banneker High School.
D. H. Conley High School.
East English Village Preparatory Academy.
Georgia Gwinnett College.
John F. Kennedy High School.
Seattle Pacific University.
Reynolds High School.
Indiana State University.
Albemarle High School.
Fern Creek Traditional High School.
Langston Hughes High School.
Marysville Pilchuck High School.
Florida State University.
Miami Carol City High School.
Rogers State University.
Rosemary Anderson High School.
Wisconsin Lutheran High School.
Frederick High School.
Tenaya Middle School.
Pershing Elementary School.
Wayne Community College.
J.B. Martin Middle School.
Southwestern Classical Academy.
Savannah State University.
Harrisburg High School.
Umpqua Community College.
Northern Arizona University.
Texas Southern University.
Tennessee State University.
Winston-Salem State University.
Mojave High School.
Lawrence Central High School.
Franklin High School.
Muskegon Heights High School.
Independence High School.
Madison High School.
Antigo High School.
University of California-Los Angeles.
Jeremiah Burke High School.
Alpine High School.
Townville Elementary School.
Vigor High School.
Linden McKinley STEM Academy.
June Jordan High School for Equity.
Union Middle School.
Mueller Park Junior High School.
West Liberty-Salem High School.
University of Washington.
King City High School.
North Park Elementary School.
North Lake College.
Freeman High School.
Mattoon High School.
Rancho Tehama Elementary School.
Aztec High School.
Wake Forest University.
Italy High School.
NET Charter High School.
Marshall County High School.
Sal Castro Middle School.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Great Mills High School.
Central Michigan University.
Huffman High School.
Frederick Douglass High School.
Forest High School.
Highland High School.
Dixon High School.
Santa Fe High School.
Noblesville West Middle School.
University of North Carolina Charlotte.
STEM School Highlands Ranch.
Edgewood High School.
Palm Beach Central High School.
Providence Career & Technical Academy.
Fairley High School (school bus).
Canyon Springs High School.
Dennis Intermediate School.
Florida International University.
Central Elementary School.
Cascade Middle School.
Davidson High School.
Prairie View A&M University.
Altascocita High School.
Central Academy of Excellence.
Cleveland High School.
Robert E. Lee High School.
Cheyenne South High School.
Grambling State University.
Blountsville Elementary School.
Holmes County, Mississippi (school bus).
Prescott High School.
College of the Mainland.
Wynbrooke Elementary School.
Riverview Florida (school bus).
Second Chance High School.
Carman-Ainsworth High School.
Williwaw Elementary School.
Monroe Clark Middle School.
Central Catholic High School.
Jeanette High School
Eastern Hills High School
DeAnza High School
Ridgway High School
Reginald F. Lewis High School
Saugus High School
Pleasantville High School
Waukesha South High School.
Oshkosh High School.
Catholic Academy of New Haven.
Bellaire High School.
North Crowley High School.
McAuliffe Elementary School.
South Oak Cliff High School.
Texas A&M University-Commerce.
Western Illinois University.
Oxford High School.
Robb Elementary School .