opinion

'I'm an Aussie who has lived in America. I found the gun culture completely terrifying.'

I wish I could say I was shocked when I heard there’d been another school shooting in the US, this time in Florida, but by this stage, I’m just resigned to the fact that hey, this is America, this stuff happens literally ALL the time.

It’s not a healthy attitude to have, but having just returned home to Australia after a stint living in Los Angeles, I saw first-hand just how messed up the gun laws are, and how even more messed up the attitude towards gun control is that comes with it.

At the time of writing this article, at least 17 people had been killed in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Students walk out of Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after another mass shooting. Photo: Getty Images.

That's nothing when you compare it to the Las Vegas shooting back in November, which killed 58 innocent people and left another 422 wounded. That's become my barometer to measure all other shootings by.

I've become so desensitised to shootings now, that when I initially heard two people had been killed in Florida, my immediate thought was, "Oh, that's not too bad," when in reality, these shootings shouldn't be happening at all.

LISTEN: American-Aussie Amelia Lester explains why US gun laws remain unchanged, despite massacre after massacre. Story continues below.

The Florida shooting has been reported as being the 18th school shooting to occur in America this year - and we're barely even two months in.

Here's the thing about America - almost anyone can buy a gun, and they're everywhere. I went into a sporting goods store to buy an inflatable bed for a friend I had coming to stay in my tiny studio apartment, and right behind the camping gear was the gun counter with all of the rifles laid out on display.

Having grown up in Australia - a country where guns are neither readily available or ingrained in our cultural values - I found myself tensing up when I spotted the counter. I refused to go anywhere near it. I couldn't even really look in its general direction.

Guns for sale in America. Photo: Getty Images
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I never realised just how afraid I was of guns until I actually moved to America. Sure, I'd visited loads of times before, but it was never really anything I'd paid attention to, mainly because I was just getting the highlight reel. I'd go to Disneyland, everything would be happy, happy, happy, and then I'd fly back home to the relative safety of Australia.

But suddenly I was living there - alone - and I was having recurring dreams of being caught up in mass shooting situations. It was truly terrifying.

Every time I went to the shops or anywhere where there was a crowd, I was extremely aware that at any moment, someone could open fire and there'd be absolutely nothing I could do to stop it.

One night, I was sitting in my work office down near Venice Beach, and I heard five gunshots on the street right outside. They were loud, sobering and shocking.

But maybe even more disturbing than the easy access to guns is the attitude towards gun culture. Ask many Americans, and they'll proudly and defensively tell you it's their "right to bear arms".

I've heard it all. People have told me they arm themselves with guns to "keep the government in check". How's that working out for you in the age of Trump, America?

But by far, the funniest and most bizarre explanation would have to go to the guy who said: "If the Jews had had guns during World War II, things would have gone down differently..." Right. Cool story, bro.

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Just after the Vegas shooting, the gun store around the corner from my apartment had a line outside the door. Instead of being horrified by what had occurred, many Americans were just worried this would be it. Many feared this would be the shooting which finally changed America's gun laws, and so they were determined to stock up on firearms while they still could.

The whole thing was just so bizarre and so infuriating to me. I literally could not understand it. After the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996, which killed 35 people in Tasmania, Australians happily turned over their guns, and we haven't had another mass shooting since.

Here I was living in a country where the deadliest mass shooting on American record had just occurred, and not only were people clinging onto their guns for dear life, they were out there buying MORE.

Exactly a week after the Vegas concert shooting, I flew out to Texas for the Austin City Limits music festival. My mum, who was back home in Sydney, had begged me not to go, but I was determined to see The Killers. (The irony of their name is not lost on me...)

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't just a little bit worried before heading out to the festival in light of everything that had happened. I'd spoken to my sister, who suggested I position myself right near an emergency exit "just in case."

On my way to the Austin City Limits Festival in Texas. Photo: @realdemeterstamell

I did exactly that, and as I stood in the dark watching one of my all-time favourite bands, I looked around at the thousands of people surrounding me, and then scanned the sky, realising we were all sitting ducks.

It was something I'd never in my life had to think about while attending a concert, and something I hope I never have to worry about again.

Unfortunately, in the wake of this latest shooting, I know exactly how things are going to play out over in America. The President will come out and say his "thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families." People will argue over whether or not gun control is necessary, and the story will dominate the news for a week or two.

Then something else will happen and it will be business as usual until the next mass shooting when the cycle will repeat itself. And perhaps nothing will ever change, which is the most terrifying part of it all.

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