Friday, April 17, 2009

Guns in America

Americans love their guns. Our right to own guns is protected by the second amendment to our nation's constitution. It's been ten years since the Columbine High School massacre, and not much has changed in terms of gun control in the US since then. In fact the situation has become worse, and America's gun control problem has become Mexico's problem.

Growing up in Colorado, I saw first hand how infatuated Americans are with their guns. It's as if guns are toys. When I was 15 years old, a good friend of our family, an Iraqi American (Iraqi father, American mother) who was in his 30s at the time, invited me to go with him deep into the Rocky Mountains and shoot his guns, a .22 caliber and a slightly larger pistol- not the most powerful handguns available. He had bought the .22, which was used, a few weeks before. We took with us a few aluminum cans and found a secluded spot along a river bank. After a safety lesson, we filled the cans with water and started shooting them from about 100 feet (30 meters). I used the smaller pistol. After a few shots, we walked up to the cans to inspect the damage. While kneeling and with the .22 in my right hand, the gun fired. Luckily it was pointed towards the ground. My finger wasn't even on the trigger - at least that's how I remember it. We were both shocked by this mishap, and we decided to pack up and go home. My friend sold his guns soon after that incident.

Two summers later I got the chance to fire a much larger gun, a .357 magnum, with a good friend in Utah. That gun was incredibly powerful. I didn't touch a gun after that until my senior year in college. That year I befriended a bespectacled rock climber, also half Iraqi, half American. He walked into the Arab Students Club one day and we hit it off immediately. He was one of the most brilliant people I had met, and he turned out to be a gun freak. One day as we sat in the university cafeteria chatting, he looked around to make sure nobody was looking, put his backpack on the table, opened it, and showed me a small handgun inside. WHAT? I think that was against campus rules, I said. He smiled proudly. I couldn't believe it. A few weeks later he invited me to meet his parents and have dinner with them in their lovely home in the hills of Boulder. After dinner he took me up to his room and said he wanted to show me something. He was giddy when he pulled out a box from under his bed and opened it to reveal parts he had ordered in the mail - parts to make a machine gun! He finally received all the parts he needed, he said, and it was time to test it. He asked me if I would like to join him at the range. OK, I said, feeling slightly uncomfortable and excited at the same time. We drove to the local shooting range, where he was a regular, and he assembled his new gun and loaded the magazine. It was around 9 pm and we were alone. He fired and the magazine was emptied within a couple of seconds. The trigger was sticking. The sound was deafening. He reloaded the magazine with bullets and handed me the gun. I must admit I was very excited. I pulled the trigger and again it stuck. I was amazed by how quickly the magazine was emptied. He examined the trigger mechanism and said he would fix it, but he was chagrined that bullets were being wasted like that. A few weeks later we graduated, and I never heard from him again. A few years later I heard he was working for a federal government agency.

It is scary how easy it is to buy a gun or make one in America. What is wrong with this picture?
Photo by Michael Stravato for the New York Times

If you want to learn more about guns in America and haven't watched Bowling for Columbine yet, it is a must see documentary.

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