Upon arrival in Wichita, one thing we noticed immediately is that most buildings had this sticker on its doors. It is a handgun encircled in red with with a red strike-through diagonally across it. I had never seen this before and it immediately aroused my curiosity.
When I asked about it, I was told it meant “No Concealed Weapons,” which made sense since most places I frequented were public, government or service-provider buildings, places like universities, banks or non-profits. I was glad for the ban in those places but troubled that there was even a need for the sign. I guess that meant that guns were allowed in other places? It did explain somehow the preoccupation with local news with gun shooting incidents, as well as, the reserved and polite etiquette in regular interactions with locals. No reason to get shot for incivility, right? A lot of this was new to me and a little unsettling.
Upon further reflection, I thought surely Oregon was a safer, smart, more responsible gun state. When I lived there, gun ownership was not regularly discussed and there certainly weren’t those [scary] stickers on every door. People didn’t boast about their views on gun ownership. In the cities, people are very rude, and I never worried about being shot. Unfortunately, I was wrong: According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Oregon earned a “D” on its gun laws in 2013. Kansas was only a few steps behind with its grade “F”.
Grades have been assigned based on the strength of each state’s gun laws. A state in blue (or orange) has one of the ten lowest (or highest) gun death rates of all fifty states. Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 2013.
Overall, there were “75 laws in 29 states made it easier for people to own guns, carry guns in public places—including schools, churches, restaurants, bars, and casinos—and made it harder for the government to track guns” (Mark Follman, Mother Jones, “More Than Half of Americans Now Have Tougher Gun Laws.”)
A study conducted by The American Journal of Medicine concluded that gun laws don’t make a nation safer.
In July 2013, Kansas changed its concealed carry laws so that guns are allowed in government buildings and those other places where they were once prohibited.
I am fully aware of the Bill of Rights and the Second Amendment. Heck, my dad polished his guns in front of me and I had shooting lessons at the range when I was little. And it isn’t as though I’ve never seen military-grade weapons either: In Switzerland, I saw a machine gun in the shoe closet because all Swiss men serve military time and must be ready to defend. As a tourist in Italy, I saw policemen with machine guns during the course of their regular activities.
I am just not accustomed to this facet of culture, to this Gun Culture, being in my awareness all the time. I am not used to hearing gun shots night and day, and being woken up in the middle of the night to gun shots outside my house; gun shots so close I could see the spark. I am not used to people claiming to be liberals but in the same sentence talking about their right to bear arms; I still find myself surprised that local news talks about the issue so much. The annual Gun Show in Wichita is one of the few things to do this time of year.
It is just another kind of culture shock.