America’s Irish gun owners: ‘Everyone I know has multiple firearms. Myself included’
Some Irish emigrants want gun control. Others believe strongly in their right to bear arms
Texas Gun is one of the 6,700 gun dealers located near the US-Mexico border. Photograph: Gilles Mingasson/Getty Images
The deadliest mass shooting in US history in Las Vegas last week, which left 58 people dead, has reignited the debate over gun control.
The state of Nevada has some of the most relaxed gun control laws in the country; there are no limits to the number of guns individuals are permitted to possess, including machine guns. The body of the shooter, Stephen Paddock, was found with at least 19 weapons by his side after he shot himself dead.
Irish Times Abroad asked readers living in the US to tell us about the gun laws in the state they live in, and what they think of them. This is a selection of the responses we received.
Robin Latham, Wisconsin: ‘I could buy a 22 calibre rifle in the local farm store’
As a 10-year-old boy in south Dublin I had a pellet gun, until my parents confiscated it. When I moved to the US, I discovered I could buy a 22 calibre rifle in the local “farm store”, for $200 with as many rounds of bullets as I wished, and no background check or ID requirement whatsoever.
I played with it for week on my hobby farm, and the novelty wore off in a week. It has remained in the basement, well oiled and wrapped, ever since.
Last year, it became possible to do what is called “concealed carry” - put a handgun in your inside pocket or briefcase - and wander around 41 states, provided you have done a three-hour, $90 class to get a permit . So I bought a handgun, just because I could. It scares me that I could now kill someone very easily if I wished.
The trainer said if you show the gun you must shoot to kill or the other guy will kill you. No shooting to slow them down or hurt them; within ten seconds you will be dead. In theory, if someone tries to mug me or highjack my car, I can defend myself. I am armed and feel like James Bond, I’m not sure I could pull the trigger.
The US is flooded with all sorts of guns and the bad guys pull their triggers without any concern or fear. They just do it.
In Dublin I was stabbed in the chest by a mugger with a screwdriver, in broad daylight on Dawson Street. He wanted my briefcase. I have not been on Dawson Street since that day more than 30 years ago, and I still have a tiny scar to remind me of the experience.
He could have killed me. Ireland is full of screwdrivers. Death can come in many shapes. My point is, people kill people. Not guns, knives or screwdrivers.
Seán Bailey, Kent, Washington: ‘I know a man with an arsenal of 24 weapons’
I took this picture above of a newsstand in Seattle today. If I wanted to buy a gun I’d have one this afternoon from any of the many gun shops. I know a man with an arsenal of more than 24 weapons. I doubt he has a high school education. I do know he voted for Donald Trump.
Last year I went to a shop for fried chicken takeout and witnessed a gun victim bleeding in a McDonald’s parking lot. He lived.
Gun culture is pervasive and so tangled with machismo and self-reliance here in the US that I see no end to it.
Georgia, where I live, is a “shall issue” state and is one of the easiest states in which to acquire a firearm licence. Even as an alien resident, a visit to my local courthouse, plus a background check and a fee of $75, quickly permits me to pick up a shiny new pistol or rifle while grabbing some groceries at Walmart. Prices start around $40.
In June 2017, the state passed legislation to allow “campus carrying” across Georgia public universities and colleges, meaning permit-holding students can come to college armed. Nine other states have similar laws. While I expect that the numbers of students inclined to keep a revolver on their person is negligible, the fact that this “freedom” even exists highlights the powerful influence of the gun lobby.
The Las Vegas shooting was eye-opening in its sheer barbarity, but also in the weariness that accompanied its aftermath. It was sickening, savage, and without any justification; yet, still, just as with Orlando, Charleston, San Bernardinho, Sandy Hook, and Aurora, Americans are again told following senseless tragedy that the time for debate is not now, but that they must “endure the pain together”, whatever such inanities are supposed to mean.
Last Sunday night, Steven Paddock propelled to the fore of American consciousness a level of extreme gun violence that, until now, had been associated with organised foreign terror groups. Yet, pro-gun voices blithely dismiss the carnage as the inevitable actions of a madman, pointing to mental illness as the primary factor in the deaths of 58 concertgoers and the injuring 0f 500.
If momentum to address the issue cannot be found in the aftermath of such an atrocity, it is hard to see when that urgent, widespread tide of political will might eventually manifest. That said, there is angry debate, and the appal that the Vegas shooting has created seems to have - for now, at least - shifted public sentiment further toward tightening of regulations. Most Americans I personally know do not own a gun, and nearly all - devastated by another dark day - strongly favour robust restrictions on powerful weapons. However, whatever the future holds for general gun availability, it appears to be a sacred cow that will need to be herded slowly into redundancy, rather than slayed.
Peter Healy, Kentucky: ‘Everyone I know owns multiple firearms, myself included’
I was raised in Clonmel and after getting my degree in 1990, I opted for a paid scholarship to do a Masters at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Kentucky and a lovely girl stole my heart, and 27 years later I’m still here.
Lexington is an hour and a half south of the Mason Dixie line and is considered part of the South. Firearms are part of Kentucky life. Here you have “open carry” laws, meaning you can walk around with a firearm so long as it’s visible, like on a firearm holster on a belt. We also have concealed carry laws where you take a short course and test that licenses you to carry a hidden firearm, in your pocket, or under a jacket. Anyone over 18 that has no history of felony or mental health issues can own a firearm and keep it in their home or car.
It is very common to see police and everyday Americans walking down a street with loaded firearms on their hips. Just about everyone I know in Lexington owns multiple firearms and large amounts of ammunition. Myself included.
It’s not the Wild West, it’s the civilized self-protected mid-west. Since the bad guys all can acquire firearms, they are only too well aware that we the people do too, which keeps a relatively safe status quo. The police here strongly encourage responsible firearm ownership.
America is the last country in the world where it is legal and proper to own a firearm. This right should never be taken from Americans.
Dominic Kennedy, North Carolina: ‘I could buy a rifle and carry it around slung on my back’
I went with an American friend to buy his first rifle. He purchased an AR15, which is the number one personal protection weapon (PPW) in the US. Out of curiosity, I asked if I could buy one myself. The guy at the store told me I could buy one no problem, and the process would take 20 minutes. All they do is run a background check. I would not be permitted to buy a pistol as they can be concealed, but I could buy a rifle and carry it around slung on my back as this is an open carry state. It is a pretty odd system.
I live in Houston, where guns are common and most friends will carry especially if going to a restaurant or bar in an area that is new to them. That sounds crazy to us Irish, and it is. Their argument is that lives are saved on a regular basis by people carrying firearms. The longer I live here the more I can relate to that.
Less than two weeks ago an armed man shot people at random in a church in Tennessee, killing one and injuring multiple people. There would have been more killed only for a brave member of the public, a licensed gun holder, who restrained him, saving many lives in the process.
Earlier this year a patron opened fire in a bar in Texas, killing the manager and injuring others until he too was killed by an armed patron acting in self-defence, who clearly saved lives in the process. I can see both sides of the gun argument, but I think in no way should someone be able to build up an arsenal of weapons like what was available to the shooter in Las Vegas.
Steve Barden, Carrollton, Georgia: ‘Purchasing a weapon is as simple as filling out a form’
“Gun control is hitting what you aim at,” is a saying that sums up the attitude toward gun control in Georgia. I live in Carrollton, a rural community approximately 45 miles west of the state’s capitol of Atlanta. Purchasing a weapon is as simple as filling out a federal ATF form (Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) at a local retailer, waiting a few minutes for a background check, then paying for the weapon. In less than an hour, we can walk out of any sporting goods store or gun shop and with as many handguns, rifles, or shotguns as our bank account allows. We don’t worry about ammunition; we can always purchase that at any time and without any additional oversight.
In Georgia, we can store our firearms in our homes, vehicles, or businesses without a license. If we intend to carry them outside these areas, we need either a hunting license or a Georgia Weapons Carry License, which gives permission to carry concealed handguns.
Obtaining this concealed carry license isn’t much of a problem either. First, we fill out an online form, then go to the sheriff’s office to be finger printed and have a background check done. We show our driver’s license, pay $75 to the probate court, and, assuming we don’t have any felonies or mental health issues in our background, wait about three weeks for our permit.
Weapons are plentiful in Georgia. If we see a car with a Georgia tag, we can safely assume that there is a weapon in that vehicle. When we go to the store, we can assume someone there is carrying a concealed weapon. Although it’s not normal, we also see people openly carrying handguns in holsters on their belts.
Frances A. Barrett, Chicago: ‘What’s wrong with our system?’
I was deeply affected by the events in Las Vegas last week, which were so premeditated and horrific. I am very much in favour of gun control.
The most disturbing aspect in my view was that our political leaders did not drop everything and address this issue head on. They should test people who own guns the way they test senior citizens driving cars. Stephen Paddock was only 64 but obviously had something wrong. But what’s wrong with our system that does not have dozens of red flags raised when someone buys 30 rifles in a year?