I grew up hearing that everyone in the world yearns to come to America. But as the body count grows, I began to wonder: Do people in the more civilized countries see our gun violence rates and fear traveling to the USA?
In late May of this year, while reeling from the news of the mass shootings in a Buffalo, NY grocery store and Uvalde, TX elementary school, I found myself thinking about which progressive country with sensible gun regulations I could emigrate to. A place where my husband and I could send our son to school knowing the emotionally disturbed don’t have readily-available firearms for the inevitable day they decide to live out their homicidal fantasies.
Since so many American citizens have entwined gun ownership with their identity and the NRA has lined the pockets of politicians who say the Second Amendment ties their hands, it sometimes feels hopeless that any meaningful change can occur.
In the first week of June, we had still more mass shootings—in a nightclub, hospital, graduation party, and an entertainment district.
I grew up hearing that everyone in the world yearns to come to America, to experience life in the land of the free. But as the body count grows, the dynamic has reversed for me, and I began to wonder: If people like me fantasize about living in a country that’s not plagued by gun violence and a do-nothing government, do people in the more civilized countries see our gun violence rates and fear traveling to the USA?
So on May 31st at 7:06 pm, I tweeted: “If you live outside the USA, does our gun violence epidemic make you less likely to want to vacation here?”
I put my phone down to watch a movie with my husband, then went to bed without checking Twitter.
The next morning, my husband texted me from work to ask if I’d seen the response to my tweet. He attached a screenshot showing hundreds of likes, retweets, and comments. I was stunned.
Within two days, the tweet had garnered more than 41,000 likes and thousands of replies from people all over the world. As of this writing, it’s over 48,000 likes and 22,000 comments. I even had a quote tweet from Canadian author Margaret Atwood.
Clearly my question had struck a nerve. And most replies to my question were a resounding “YES.”
Many reasons for not visiting the United States were shared repeatedly. A paraphrased list of the most popular:
“It’s not just the guns”
In addition to the gun violence, many people cited other troubling aspects of American life that keep them away, like the rise in Christian Nationalism, racism, and our expensive for-profit healthcare system. Some have been advised that if injured while visiting the US, they should avoid US hospitals and fly back to their home country for care. The fact of Donald Trump’s presidency received a number of mentions, even after it ended. Many have decided never to visit a country that could elect him. Some pointed to women’s reproductive rights being attacked and the rise in anti-LGBTQ laws and hate crimes.
“I’m an American and I feel so much safer when I’m visiting other countries with sensible gun restrictions”
Plenty of US citizens chimed in to share personal stories about feeling so much more relaxed while visiting other developed nations. They described walking around cities like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and London, even in the middle of the night, and feeling safe. You’re not always on edge if you know the stranger nearby is most likely not armed. People in these countries often replied, “I don’t know how you Americans do it, constantly in fear of your fellow citizens.”
“I don’t want to financially support a country that values the right to own firearms over their children’s lives”
Many people responded that even though they don’t necessarily fear they’ll be a victim of gun violence while visiting us, they wouldn’t travel here simply out of principle. They don’t want to support the tourism industry of any country whose values conflict with their own. They cited their own country’s response to one school shooting being the enactment of sweeping new legislation or gun buybacks and how they’ve not had another mass shooting since.
“Americans say they fear visiting Australia because of our venomous creatures, but that’s laughable considering they have the most dangerous animal of all: an armed human”
A bunch of Aussies made this point while saying they wouldn’t travel to the US. Some even provided statistics on how many Aussies are killed by poisonous animals compared to the number of people who die by guns in the United States.
“When I was visiting (insert US city here) I witnessed/experienced gun violence or the threat of a shooting”
Plenty of people shared personal stories of something terrible happening to them when they had vacationed here in the past. These stories were sometimes posted in response to someone else claiming Americans only shoot each other (as if mass shooters care to ensure everyone on that busy sidewalk is a US citizen) or if someone claimed the chances of being a victim are too low to worry about.
“Our country has travel advisory warnings about gun violence in the US”
Many people posted screenshots and links to Amnesty International’s travel advisory in which it “calls on people worldwide to exercise caution and have an emergency contingency plan when traveling throughout the USA. This Travel Advisory is being issued in light of ongoing high levels of gun violence in the country.”
“I only travel there for work and rarely leave my hotel, so I’m probably safe.”
A minority of replies were by people who acknowledged the gun violence issue but generally weren’t deterred since they don’t vacation here nor patronize events with large crowds.
Some responders tagged major news media, like MSNBC, the New York Times, and Reuters, asking why nobody’s talking about how our astronomical rate of gun violence could be causing a loss in tourism revenue. The basic sentiment was “If our government isn’t spurred to do something by the loss of life, maybe losing money will motivate them.” It could be argued that any politician being paid millions by the NRA certainly won’t find a loss of tourism revenue convincing.
I was moved by an image someone in Australia shared of an Anglican Church sign that read “When will they love their kids more than their guns…our hearts go out to the victims and families of the #FloridaShooting.” It said it was from four years ago, so it’s probably referring to the Parkland school shooting in February of 2018. The fact that I need to say “probably” is grotesque: We’ve had 2,055 mass shootings since then.
The church sign was also a reminder that the tightly-knotted ties between religion and a passionate opposition to sensible gun regulations is a uniquely American thing. The majority of those in the US who oppose furthering any means of reducing the number of people with easy access to murder weapons that can plow down a field of strangers in a matter of seconds are self-described Christians, people whose behavior shows they identify more with the Old Testament God than with the supposedly peace-loving New Testament Jesus. It seems a mingling of conservative politics, a glorification of the Wild West, fundamentalist Christianity, and a general mistrust of their own government causes them to respond to every mass shooting with a knee-jerk defense of their “God-given right” to protect themselves with 12 handguns, 10 rifles, and seven AR-15s.
Statistics on mass shootings vary because some sources only count the incidents in which four or more victims died, since a mass shooting is generally defined as a shooting in one place at the same time with four or more fatalities. This doesn’t make sense. A person trying to murder as many people as possible with his machine gun is still guilty of perpetrating a mass shooting even if one victim dies. It’s called a “mass shooting” not a “mass killing.” And when someone decides to gun down five people in a residence as revenge for some personal grudge, it’s counted in mass shooting statistics even though most people only think of someone unpredictably shooting a crowd of strangers when they read the statistics. It’s unfortunate there isn’t a consensus on these definitions.
Further cementing our image as an unsafe country, the Supreme Court reversed a New York law on June 23 that restricted the right to carry concealed firearms. It’s unconscionable to overturn gun restrictions days after a rash of shootings, but not surprising coming from conservative judges who view the Second Amendment as written in stone and not as something it definably is: amendable.
While my tweet received a startling number of replies, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the billions of people in the world. This led me to wonder if US tourism has been affected at all by our epidemic of gun violence. According to the International Trade Administration, the US Travel & Tourism Industry supports 9.5 million jobs and tourists spend more money in the US than in any other country in the world. This was all before the pandemic, however, so even if the numbers have dropped significantly in the last few years, most of it can be attributed to COVID-19 lockdowns.
Our tourism industry potentially suffering great financial loss shouldn’t matter more to our politicians than our citizens suffering great losses of life. But at the very least, it can serve as an indictment and a wake-up call from the global community.