What can you carry in your pants pocket? Coins, papers, documents, card… a gun
What can you carry in your pants pocket? Coins, papers, documents, card… a gun. For a Brazilian – even those who are used to the country’s daily violence – witnessing such a scene can be a bit shocking. It brings to mind series and movies in which bad guys show off openly their weapons to intimidate the population. But in some places in the United States, this is a right, or might even be treated as a “duty” of the citizen.
“Guns are part of our history, they were fundamental during the Independence War against England. It is not just a right, owning a gun is a duty, in case we have to fight against a corrupt government,” says the manager of the main gun store in Phoenix, Arizona, visited by the Gazeta do Povo news team.
Of course, not all Americans have the same opinion; not even among authorities, there is unanimity on the subject. The debate is as polarized as the US elections. Democrat politicians tend to defend a bigger restriction to access to guns, while Republican politicians are usually in favor of gun ownership and carrying.
California vs Arizona
A good example is a comparison between California and Arizona. Two neighboring states which seem to be in different countries. While in Arizona citizens are allowed to carry a loaded gun with no special license demanded from the government, in California gun laws are among the most restrictive in the country. There must be a justification to purchase weapons, and carrying them is only allowed in the rural areas of some counties.
This is why in California signs which read “Not Permitted: Weapons” are commonly found in commercial establishments and touristic spots, and, in January, the “End Family Fire” campaign was implemented in Los Angeles bus stops, pointing out an alarming statistic: every day eight children are victims, often fatal, of accidents provoked by firearms in their homes.
Those who live in Phoenix, Arizona, have a different perception. Gun stores can be found all over the place in the United States’ fifth biggest city. In the city’s main gun store, 20 customers bought some form or ammunition or weapon during the thirty minutes in which the Gazeta do Povo news team was at the place.
On that day, 22-year-old Veronica Smith was buying her first gun, a .40 pistol. “I am buying this gun for my personal defense, and also to have fun in the countryside. I think that the fact that I have a gun intimidates people, so no one will mess with me or try to rob me.”
In Arizona, any resident US citizen with no criminal record or a mental disease history who has successfully completed a shooting course may buy a gun and carry it. The minimum age is 21 years, and there are no restrictions on the type of weapon.
It is possible to buy a .38 pistol for 139 dollars, an AK-47 rifle for 643 dollars, or even an AR-15 for 3,161 dollars. They can be bought in specialized stores, on the internet, or even in supermarket chains.
In my case, a legal immigrant with a work visa, buying weapons is only permitted in exceptional cases. Besides being a resident of Arizona for more than six months, it is necessary to obtain a sports hunting license, which costs 165 dollars per year, or prove that I am a shooting athlete. Still, the FBI will conduct an investigation on my past, and only then the government may grant an authorization to purchase a weapon.
Seeing people carrying firearms in Arizona is commonplace. Carlos Medina, who also bought his first gun, said he bought the pistol to protect his wife. “I bought it thinking mainly on the safety of my family. My wife works at a gas station, and the place is frequently robbed at gunpoint. Such situations scare us.”
The main justification for buying firearms is personal safety. The manager of Phoenix’s main gun store defends the following theory: “If in one city the population is armed and in another, they aren’t, in which of them criminals will prefer to rob a bank? Criminals will always have guns, whether the government allows it or not.”
Compared to Los Angeles, FBI statistics contradict this theory. In 2017, the Phoenix metropolitan region registered more murders and robberies with firearms per 100 thousand inhabitants that Greater Los Angeles. There were 302.6 robberies using firearms and 5.7 murders in Phoenix, compared to, respectively, 277.2 and 4.8 in Los Angeles.
One of California’s representatives in the Senate for the Democratic Party, Dianne Feistein, in Congress since 1992, is one of the main voices opposed to the sale of firearms. In 2016, after an attack which killed 49 people in Orlando, the senator presented a bill which forbade stores from selling weapons to people suspected of terrorism. The Orlando shooter was in an FBI terrorist watchlist. Still, the amendment was rejected by Congress.
In November last year, California was also the site of an attack. In the small town of Thousand Oaks, a shooter killed 12 people in a bar, and then killed himself. Gage, Veronica Smith’s boyfriend, who opposed a greater restriction in weapon sales, is not impressed. “Attacks with guns also happen in places where sales are restricted, where it is more difficult to obtain them.”
According to a study done by The Washington Post, in 2018 there were eight attacks, resulting in the deaths of 68 people. This year, the first one happened in Florida, on January 23, killing five people.
As well as California, states like New York, New Jersey, Illinois and the District of Columbia have adopted stricter rules for the sale, possession, and carrying of firearms. Arizona, Vermont, and Alaska, on the other hand, are the states where it is easier to have access to guns.
The annual report of the Firearm Industry’s Trade Association shows that, in 2017, guns and ammunition were responsible directly and indirectly for 311 thousand jobs in the United States, and had an impact of 41 billion dollars in the economy.
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O que é possível levar no bolso da calça? Moedas, papéis, documentos, cartões… uma arma. Para um brasileiro — mesmo acostumado com a violência diária do país — se deparar com a cena é um pouco chocante. Vêm à memória seriados e filmes em que bandidos expõem livremente suas armas para intimidar a população. Mas em alguns estados dos Estados Unidos isso é um direito, ou melhor, chega a ser tratado como “um dever” do cidadão.