I was born in Sweden and grew up in the United Kingdom, a part of the world that conservatives in America denounce for their “cradle to the grave” welfare policies while also being a place that liberals think of as a utopia.

Europeans look at America and are mystified by it’s enduring racism and strange gun laws, but are also drawn to the promise of the American dream.

I was drawn to it too.

In 2013, I moved to Tallahassee, Florida for university.

Unbeknown to me, I had stepped into a National Rifle Association (NRA) battleground state, which would ultimately set the course of the rest of my college career.

Before I stumbled onto the campus carry debate, I had no idea what the term meant. I didn’t pay much attention to Florida politics, so learning that lawmakers wanted to allow people with concealed carry permits to bring their firearms on to campus, with no restrictions, was bewildering.

Which is why I decided to join the Florida Coalition To Keep Guns Off Campus as their Director of Communications.

The UK has some of the strictest gun laws in the world. I’m a fan of those laws. They helped keep me safe.

But I’m not here to force them on my fellow students. I simply want international students like me to have a say when such a dangerous bill could impact us, because my college campus is my home.

Europeans find America’s gun obsession both fascinating and disturbing. We question how a country, a leader in the modern world, struggles with doing anything about their gun violence problem.

It’s an issue unique to the US, when even the majority of police officers in the UK don’t have access to a gun, unless they join a special armed police unit.

In a country of 70 million people, only 6,000 police officers are armed. And the strategy seems to work.

Which is why the concept of arming everyone in society is just absurd to me. Especially on a college campus, where controversial ideas are discussed, students are failed by professors, and alcohol and drugs are frequently used.

I know some proponents of campus carry personally, and in no way am I suggesting that they would harm anyone. On a whole, our political leanings don’t impact how we behave in our day-to-day lives.

But as students, in an environment that essentially promotes, to quote Snoop Dogg and Wiz Khalifa, “living young and wild and free” that is no place for a deadly weapon that can kill people.

To get into the nitty gritty of this, why do lawmakers, some constituents and even some students feel that the only way they’ll be safe is if they have a gun all the time?

Florida state capital complex. Photo Credit: Kristopher Volkman/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)
Florida state capital complex. Photo Credit: Kristopher Volkman/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

The NRA has peddled the “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” theory to push the narrative that a gun will provide you security because everyone else has one.

And it turns into this never-ending cycle of everyone wanting a gun to protect themselves from each other. The problem is, a “good guy with a gun” only stops a “bad guy with a gun” 3 percent of the time.

But that doesn’t stop the gun lobby. They further push their message out there, grasping on to the national conversation on campus sexual assault, and attempt to use it to their advantage.

Their argument is that a woman should be able to defend herself with a gun on campus if she feels her life is threatened. On its face, that may sound reasonable. The problem is: facts and variables. Every assault is different, and proclaiming that a gun is the answer to all of them is simplistic and ignoring real solutions.

Every time there’s a mass shooting, America is again forced to confront its addiction to guns.

As gun control activists and gun rights proponents face off in the national arena of public opinion, the British watch on in a perplexed manner.

Seeing this over and over again, I’ve come to realize trying to apply a British ideology on guns in the US is useless.

Of course, the statistics speak for themselves, higher rates of gun ownership in the US does equal in higher rates of gun violence. Clearly there is a problem. But the Second Amendment has to make us Europeans take into account the cultural significance of firearms in the US, so we understand why they are so voraciously defended.

For many, the Constitution is their bible (apart from, you know, the Bible). Who am I to dismiss that so casually?

But even when I put that in my pile of things to think about over my morning tea, I also know that the majority of American voters do want more gun regulation.

Even the majority of NRA members want universal background checks. So what is holding the US back?

Again, it’s the gun lobby. The NRA has stopped representing their members, and instead represents gun manufacturers, and with their financial muscle, most politicians cower in their presence.

How does this relate to campus carry? Allowing guns on campus is the NRA’s new mission, and although the political will for it isn’t as readily available even in red states, their campaigns are slowly gaining ground.

In Florida, we’ve managed to beat it two years in a row, but next year is looking to be our toughest yet because the NRA will put this on the top of their priority list and they’ll pour their resources into the Sunshine State.

Marion Hammer, the NRA’s former president turned lobbyist, comes back every session with a determined glint in her eye that admittedly I find a little scary. She’s such an effective lobbyist that Florida is sometimes referred to as the Gunshine State.

One interesting part of this whole conversation has been the NRA’s and Students for Concealed Carry’s manipulation of data.

They’ve compared US and UK violent crime rates, using the numbers as a justification for campus carry, and guns everywhere in general.

It is a completely misleading comparison.

Yes, violent crime rates in the UK are higher per capita. But they forget to mention that the violent crime definitions in the two countries are very different. In the UK, the definition is “all crimes against the person”. This includes bicycle theft, all domestic violence offences, all sexual offences, all assault offences and many more. And even the definitions of those crimes are broader in the UK.

In the US, the FBI definition is much narrower; “violent crime is composed of four offenses: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.” So there is no real way to compare the rates.

Florida House Rep. Julio Gonzalez, (R) made a similar argument, citing a ‘study’, that I later found and read. Two Harvard students who were gun rights activists, not researchers, wrote it. On top of that, the paper was severely criticized by the Director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, Dr. David Hemenway.

How does the Florida Coalition To Keep Guns Off Campus, a group that just doesn’t have access to resources like the gun lobby, beat them again?

I’ll be honest, I’m concerned.

The logo for the National Rifle Association. Photo Credit: Bart/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)
The logo for the National Rifle Association. Photo Credit: Bart/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Our continued efforts to combat their problematic ‘solution’ to sexual assault and mass shootings in an educational environment resonates with the majority of students, but will it resonate with legislators in 2017?

It’s certainly interesting that legislators are so ready to consider and pass guns on campus, when every university stakeholder that has spoken out has said they don’t want it. But a bill that would have allowed guns in legislative meetings hasn’t moved forward since last year. A little hypocritical, no? If Florida legislators really believe guns lead to greater safety, then they’d want to flood legislative chambers with them.

As of now, this issue isn’t going away.

Florida is on the NRA’s priority list. Students, staff and faculty need to pull together for the 2017 legislative session.

And what am I doing? I graduate this semester, so I get to go back to my cozy gun-free London, and watch this whole situation unfold from afar.

But now that I’ve gotten to know all these amazing people during our fight against these farcical bills, I know I’ll be somberly watching as they do it again without me.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us!

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Saina Behnejad is a international student from the UK at Florida State University. She is Co-Director of Amnesty International at FSU and Social Media Coordinator for The Florida Coalition to Keep Guns Off Campus. You can find her on Twitter @SainaBehnejad.

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