I was deeply saddened but not entirely surprised by the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14, 2012. A few days after the shooting, I received an email from a coworker asking me to sign a petition on gun control. The email made me reflect on the shooting; I thought more deeply about what had caused the shooting and how tragedies like this can be prevented. Finally, I ended up signing the petition because I felt it was a step in the right direction. While I’m not opposed to people owning guns for hunting or other purposes, I see no need for people to collect guns or own assault weapons. Yet I don’t believe that gun control alone can solve the problem of random mass shootings, which have been on the rise in the past decade in the U.S. I would like to propose a multipronged approach to this problem based on my experience of living in Europe. In addition to gun control, in my opinion, we need to address health care, higher education and individualism in order to reduce gun violence.
I believe that health care is a right, not a privilege. I’ve lived in Germany and Romania, where quality health care is not only accessible and affordable to everyone but practically free. For instance, while I was teaching at a Romanian university on a Fulbright fellowship, I injured my shoulder and was able to get free health care. Although I was uninsured and was a U.S. citizen, Romania, like most European countries, has national health care. My mother had a similar experience in Germany, where she was able to get free health care as a tourist. In contrast, I have a friend who has a son with bipolar disorder, who is a U.S. citizen but cannot afford to get treated in the United States because he doesn’t have health insurance. And if someone who has a mental illness can’t get treated, won’t he pose a greater danger to himself or those around him? Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act is a step in the right direction. Let’s hope that in the future, everyone living in the U.S. will be able to afford health care.
I also believe that higher education should be a right rather than a privilege for every qualified student. Both the individual and society as a whole would benefit because a well-educated person has better prospects of being gainfully employed and is less likely to commit a crime. I envy my relatives in France, Germany and Romania, who attended universities in those countries tuition-free and graduated debt-free. While I also got a great education at the University of Pennsylvania, I had to take out substantial student loans, which I have been paying back for many years. Why is it that a U.S. citizen can attend a university in Germany tuition-free but cannot do so in the United States? Several years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a German university for a year, where everyone, regardless of their citizenship, attends tuition-free, and that university was typical of German universities. Therefore, I applaud President Amy Gutmann for recently making my alma mater affordable to everyone by making up the difference between what students have to pay and what they can afford to pay in grants rather than loans so everyone can graduate debt-free. Let’s hope that more universities follow her lead.
Last but not least, let’s cultivate a sense of community rather than individualism in this country. People who grow up with a strong sense of community are more empathetic and altruistic and are more inclined to help rather than hurt others. As a child growing up in Bucharest, Romania, I lived in an environment where people cared for and looked out for each other. As a result, there was hardly any crime. Also, I remember feeling secure and relaxed knowing that I was surrounded by people who cared about me. In contrast, after we moved to New York when I was in my early teens, I felt vulnerable because I had to look out for myself.
While I don’t believe that we can entirely eliminate tragic mass shootings in the U.S. like the one at Sandy Hook, I think that we can reduce their occurrence by controlling who has access to what type of guns, but more importantly by creating a society where people care about one another and where health care and higher education are a right rather than a privilege, as they are in most European countries.
Donna McVey teaches English at Drexel University. She can be contacted at [email protected]