Why it’s still safe for you to study in the US despite its gun epidemic

Why it's still safe for you to study in the US despite its gun epidemic
A memorial service for Charleston Hartfield, an off-duty Las Vegas police officer who was killed during the Route 91 music festival mass shooting. Source: Reuters/Chris Wattie

Las Vegas (2017) : 59 dead, 500+ injured

Orlando (2016) : 49 dead, 53 injured

San Bernardino (2015) : 14 dead, 22 injured

Sandy Hook (2012) : 28 dead, 1 injured

These are horrifying stats. They are painful to everyone living in the United States, and even more so for those who have lost loved ones to the mass shootings above, as well as the 127 other events in which four or more people have been killed by a lone shooter since 1966.

They are not new, however. For most Americans, guns are part and parcel of their everyday reality – there are 88 guns for every 100 people and mass shootings occur 11 more times more often than other developed countries.

This is a lot to take in for those who are new to the US. That includes the more than one million international students the country hosts annually – the ones who have chosen to study in America, the first-world global superpower with elite educational institutions and admirable government agencies, unlike many of those back in the developing world where the majority of these students had come from. So, how is it possible that deaths at this scale can occur here?

The next inevitable question would be: Is it safe for me here?

While the country is going through an “unparalleled epidemic of gun violence” and much more must be done to solve this, our fears on this must be seen in context, according to Paul Helmke, the former president and CEO of the Brady Center/Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

“One needs to put all risks in perspective – bad things can happen anywhere, but we shouldn’t let fear control our lives,” Helmke wrote in an email to Study International News.

“There are 32 people murdered, and a couple others accidentally killed, with guns every day in the US, but this is out of a population of over 326 million,” three-term mayor of Fort Wayne, Indiana explained.

Helmke adds that the lifetime odds of dying in a motor vehicle crash or from a fall are several times greater than the chances of dying from a firearm assault, based on data from the National Safety Council.

Another measure newcomers should be reassured of is that most US universities have policies to keep guns off campus and maintain overall safety.

“As a result, college campuses are safer than the community in general. Universities are required to report information about threats to safety from all cause on campus. Most universities schedule training drills and post response procedures to help keep campuses safer and prevent gun violence,” Helmke said.

Former US ambassador to Mozambique and Peru Dennis Jett echoes this view. In a scathing opinion piece denouncing the US’ nationwide obsession with guns which was published in Quartz, Jett assured international students there is still “little risk” on their safety, despite the disappointing lack of gun control laws.

The professor of international studies at Penn State University wrote:

“The violence mainly consists of white men committing suicide and black men being shot by other black men or, of course, the police.”

That’s not to say all the above means there is a blanket guarantee of safety. The reality remains that guns are easily available in the US (more guns means more violence), and precautions must still be taken.

One of them is by knowing how different states treat the presence of guns on campus and if possible, to avoid states where guns can be carried openly on campus, Jett advised. Sites such as gunlawscorecard.org rate each state for their overall gun policy, which is a good place to start your research.

As for those who are already in a university located in a state with not-too-stellar grades for their gun policies, Jett urged these students to express their fears to their lecturers, academic adviser, the international students office or their American peers.

“No one will think less of a student who is concerned, but the worse thing to do is let those fears go unaddressed and not discuss them. Also be aware of the safety precautions on your campus and follow them. Your campus police can give you advice on those,” Jett said.

The alternative to this is to forgo studying in the US altogether, which would be a shame for both the student and America. US universities are consistently ranked as among the best in the world and have produced many foreign graduates who have gone on to be world leaders in their own field.

If certain precautions are taken, there shouldn’t be reasons why international education, and the wealth of mutual benefits it brings to both student and host countries, be stymied by the US’ complex relationship with guns. In fact, it may even be good for it.

As Helmke said: “There are great opportunities to learn in the US – and we can learn from you, particularly on what other countries do to reduce gun violence.”

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