The United States of America was, once upon a time, a dream destination for Australians. It was a bucket list holiday spot to many and for some it was a viable option to live permanently.
But the ever-present threat of gun violence is undoubtedly tarnished the States’ appeal, with thousands of people killed and injured by shootings every year.
In 2023 so far, there have been 202 mass shootings – defined as incidents with at least four victims – and 21 mass murders involving guns, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
The non-profit research database shows 14,700 people have died by gun violence in that period, and guns have officially become the leading cause of death for American children, overtaking car accidents, suffocation, and poisonings.
Most recently eight people were killed by a gunman who opened fire at an outlet mall near Dallas, Texas at the weekend. The shooter was also killed at the scene.
The attack triggered a fresh outpouring of grief as well as disappointment and frustration from Americans and people around the world.
It also prompted Australian writer Van Badham to share a map from the National Rifle Association of the 27 American states that allow “Constitutional carry”, urging Australians to avoid them at all cost.
“Here are the 27 states that are unsafe for travel in the United States. Do not risk your life to spend your money in them,” she tweeted.
Texas was among the highlighted states, which are predominantly clustered the mid-west.
Constitutional carry means the state’s laws do not prohibit citizens from carrying a handgun – openly or concealed – without a permit.
Some states make this conditional, allowing citizens to carry openly a handgun but requiring a permit for concealed carry, according to the US Concealed Carry Association.
The other states that allow citizens to carry guns without permits include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida (as of July 1, 2023), Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.
Meanwhile, the other 23 States in the union require gun-owners to have a permit to carry their weapons.
Some users were quick to point out how closely the NRA-approved map matches the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) map showing the states’ firearm mortality rates – one user calling it the “evil identical twin” to the CDC data.
It is perhaps also no coincidence, then, that nine of the 10 “least safe states” in America, according to World Population Review – Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Montana, Alabama, Florida, Missouri, Tennessee – allow Constitutional carry.
And according to the Global Peace Index, the US is the 129th-safest country in the world out of 163 and has been falling every year since 2016.
The most recent survey of worldwide gun ownership was released in 2017 by the Small Arms Survey, and found there were more guns than people in America – an estimated 393,347.000 total firearms to 326,474,000 people.
It found there were 120.5 civilian-owned firearms per 100 people in the States in 2017 – up from 88 per 100 in 2011 – which is almost double the second-place Falkland Islands’ 62.1 guns per 100 people.
America has long been criticised for its lax gun control and staunch allegiance to the Second Amendment “right of people to keep and bear Arms”.
Every mass shooting sparks another shouting match between gun control advocates demanding action and NRA lobbyists parroting that a ‘good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with a gun’.
Admittedly, gun violence is not a new phenomenon in America. And it has not dissuaded Australian expats from touring the land of the free in the past.
But the frequency of mass shootings around the country, as well as the nature of crimes – often targeting marginalised communities – exacerbated by a troubling social, political, and cultural shift toward intolerance and division has seriously curbed our enthusiasm for America.
Even after pandemic travel restrictions have lifted, travel data from Statista show the millions of Australians who used to travel to the States pre-pandemic have all but vanished.
In 2020, the US recorded roughly 209,000 travellers from Australia; in 2021, that dropped to roughly 52,000, according to the 2022 dataset.
And although it is true that owning a gun does not necessarily lead to gun violence, researchers at the Harvard Injury Control Research Centre have found links between large numbers of guns and more firearm homicides, suicides and accidents, ABC News reports.
The fact is: US may not be more violent than other countries that have gun control, but it does have greater access to firearms that amplify that violence and danger.
And, bottom line, everyone just wants to come home safe at the end of the day. Whether that’s in the States, or flying back to Australia.