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Dublin: 3°C Wednesday 14 April 2021

'I surprised my mum when I told her I’m more afraid of visiting home in the US than living here'

Incidents of gun violence have become so commonplace back home that I can’t remember a time when we could go a full week without hearing about a shooting.

Shawna Scott

WHEN I WAS a kid, I thought my family and I would die in a fire or some horrific natural disaster.

As the daughter of a firefighter who meticulously put together individual go-bags for each family member in the event of an earthquake; held an annual fire drill in the house; and strategically mapped out our family escape route and meeting point on the other side of the state in case Mount Rainier ever erupted, it seemed inevitable that one or all of those terrible fates would befall upon us.

Strangely though, I didn’t fear them. I just accepted it as a fact of life. These things happen, and nobody can control them.

My parents never said this to us explicitly, but given everything I had learned from all the emergency preparedness and fire safety videos they made us watch in school and the plague of natural disaster films that dominated the box-offices in the 90s, I was fairly certain that the leading causes of death in America were by gas leak explosion, monster tornadoes, and freak geological events. Following that was alien abduction and asteroids – it was the 90s after all.

One day at the end of the 20th century, something happened that changed how I thought I could die. As I sat in maths class, the last of the day, my teacher opened an internal email from the school district.

She clapped her hands over her mouth as she gasped louder and with more fright than I had ever seen before or since. We all turned toward her as she explained that there was a shooting in a high school called Columbine in Colorado and that we were on lockdown.

School Shooting SWAT officers run down Pierce Street while a Jefferson County, Colo., Sheriff's Department deputy peers through a fence to keep an eye on Columbine High School after a pair of gunmen went on a shooting rampage inside the facility. Source: Associated Press

Before that moment I had never considered that I might die from gun violence.

With the amount of X-files I was watching at the time, the only malicious death I thought was possible for me was the alien abduction scenario. When my maths teacher read us that email, I suddenly started to fear death.

No longer would my demise be some sort of badass cinematic adventure involving flying cows and forces of nature, but one of pointless, tragic violence. That was what upset me most – what I had always naturally accepted as “these things happen” immediately shifted to “these things shouldn’t happen.”

16 years later, I live in Ireland where my strange death fantasies are back to natural disasters – floods, windstorms, etc.

Obamas IOUs Guns Students, friends and family hold candles up during a candlelit vigil marking the second anniversary of the 16 April 16, 2007, shootings at Virginia Tech on the campus of the school in Blacksburg Source: Associated Press

On a recent Skype call with my mother, she asked if I worried at all about living in Europe, given the attacks on Paris last month. She was surprised when I told her that I’m far more afraid of visiting home for Christmas this year than living in Ireland. I despair at how “normal” mass shootings have become.

When the San Bernadino shooting was happening, only days after the Planned Parenthood attack in Colorado Springs, I lamented on social media that I could remember a time when we could go a full week without hearing about a shooting.

A few hours later, I had to update that tweet, as reports of yet another active shooter in another state started to flood in.

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Obamas IOUs Guns Carlee Soto reacts as she learns her sister, Victoria Soto, a teacher at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, was one of 26 people killed in a shooting at the school in Newtown, Conn. Source: Associated Press

Incidents like these have become so commonplace back home that there is now an entire industry of products designed to defend against mass shootings. When one occurs, we see a spike in gun sales across the country. According to the FBI, this year’s Black Friday set a record for the most background checks processed in a single day – 185,345.

A few days ago Inside Edition, a popular American television programme, provided a segment on how to survive a mass shooting. Despite being shocked to see such a segment, there was something eerily familiar about it – the young, smartly dressed office staff; the half smiles cracking through forced seriousness, adding to the cheesy tone; the security expert in the pin-stripe suit with his shirt unbuttoned at the top.

Obamas IOUs Guns

At first I couldn’t quite articulate why it made me so uncomfortable, but then it hit me. This was the modern day equivalent of those boring fire safety and earthquake preparedness videos I used to watch in school.

What was once an act of domestic terrorism so vile and extreme that it warranted locking down schools across the country, could now be the premise for a blasé bit of everyday infotainment.

I wonder if kids today think about death the way I did 20 years ago. What scares me more than being hurt or killed by gun violence, is the idea that our younger generations might simply accept that kind of death as an inevitable, uncontrollable and unchangeable fact of life the way I thought about natural disasters, rather than see it for what it truly is: greed and marketing.

Shawna Scott is from Seattle and has been living in Dublin for 10 years. She is the owner of SexSiopa.ie.

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Shawna Scott

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