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When Home Is A Foreign Land

This is not supposed to be a political post.

I’m just confused trying to reconcile the country I see in my mind with the country I see in the media.

As an American living outside the States I am occasionally asked about the crime in my home country. When I first moved to the UK over 20 years ago a British tourist was shot and killed in New Orleans. He had been using his video camera in a rough part of the city and he was attacked and the camera stolen. It was very sad, as anything like this is. The British media was in a frenzy of indignation about gun laws and crime rate in the States and many of my British friends were in awe of how I managed to survive to my 20s growing up there.The truth was that I had lived to my early 20s without ever witnessing or being a part of an attack of any kind. Apart from that one time a friend of mine and I were leaving a bar and the ex-girlfriend of her current boyfriend attacked her. But that was scratching and slapping, no guns.

I used to always defend the States, saying that although there was statistically more crime per capita, it wasn’t as rampant as people outside the States thought and many Americans go all their lives without being a victim of crime and without knowing any victims of crime. I reassured people again and again that so long as you were sensible you could live long happy lives in the States.

But now, even I am starting to wonder.

Reading a Facebook post by a friend who genuinely wanted to learn more about the current gun issues from her FB friends I was shocked by the comments. One woman said she had a license to carry a concealed weapon in case her car got hijacked and her kids were under threat. Seriously?! Is this a real threat now? Another person said that they carry a weapon “in case the other guy has one”. So then what, they get into a gunfight a la Ok Corral? And another added that they carry one to prevent problems, “it’s called a demonstration of power—you mess with me and you’re messing with my gun. And not many people want to mess with my gun.” Well, no.

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I am seriously asking this: have things changed so much in 20 years that we need personal protection like this?

I was also told a story recently about a road rage incident. I guy rear-ended a woman on a road. They both pulled into a petrol station to sort it out. The guy jumped out of his car, ran up to the driver’s window and started angrily threatening the woman. She pulled a gun out from under her seat and shot him dead. The person telling me this story was using it as evidence that we need guns for protection—he said the woman obviously felt threatened.

So why didn’t she just drive off?

It made me start to wonder how many people across the States carry concealed weapons. And it made me terrified of getting in an argument with anyone.

And then there was the guy last week who took his legally owned semi-automatic rifle into a Utah branch of JC Penney’s (a family clothing/home goods store, kind of like Marks & Spencer’s, for those more familiar with the British chain). He did this to demonstrate that a gun is perfectly safe in the hands of law-abiding citizens.

Oh boy.

Do we get a tattoo that says “it’s ok, I’m a law abiding citizen” or some other identifying mark that means everyone in JC Penney’s can relax and not run screaming from the shop the next time he comes in to buy some towels? Apparently no one was bothered, not even the company. But I can tell you that if I had been shopping for socks in that store that day I would have turned right around and gone to Wal-Mart instead.

My homeland seems like a foreign land. I must confess I am starting to succumb to the idea that my home country is a freaky scary place.

Then again, I can’t help but remember the original truth—I have never felt threatened by guns in the States. So I guess I’ll just keep reassuring myself with that fact the next time I book tickets for a visit home and there are no bullet proof vests available in the shops at Heathrow.

Michelle Garrett is an American expat making a life in Britain for over 20 years. Yes, she's still homesick for the States and yes, she'd be homesick for Britain if she moved back there!

Michelle is a freelance writer and blogs at The American Resident.

Read Michelle's other Expat Focus articles here.

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