Europe Meets D.C.: Gun control and delayed winter

Christine Amdam, of Norway, and Alina Braun, of Germany, are WTOP interns experiencing American culture. (WTOP/Melvin Chase)

Editors Note: They traveled 1,230 miles to come to Washington, D.C. — Christine Amdam flew all the way from Norway and Alina Braun from Germany. This fall, they are studying journalism at American University and working as interns for WTOP. They quickly discovered that Washington and the American culture are very different from their hometowns Oslo and Mannheim and decided to document their experiences. Check WTOP.com each weekend to read about Christine and Alina’s “culture clashes.”

Owning weapons – Part of American culture?

Alina Braun, special to wtop.com

Shortly before I came to the United States, the Denver, Colo. movie theater shooting shocked the nation and the whole world. Many relatives and friends told me to be careful going to the U.S., “where everyone can carry a gun around.”

In Germany, you can only buy a gun if you are a professional hunter or rifleman and have a special firearms certificate. Furthermore, gun sellers have to report each sold gun to the town council the purchaser lives in. People under age 25 have to apply for a medical psychological consultancy to acquire a guns certificate for big bore guns. To put it simply, it is impossible for a normal civilian to walk into a gun store and buy a firearm.

In Germany, shootings are very rare because of the strict gun laws. However, if they happen, politicians react immediately. The last shocking shooting was in March 2009 in Winnenden. Tim Kretschmer, 17, ran amok and killed 15 people and then himself. His father was a rifleman and was allowed to own weapons. However, he did not store them in the special safe he should have kept them in according to the German law. He left them in the bedroom, and Kretschmer could easily access them.

After this tragedy in Germany, many politicians demanded that riflemen should not be allowed to have any guns in their houses and that ammunition could only be stored in club houses and rifle ranges. Within three months, stricter gun laws were enforced. Punishments for illegal storage of guns were made more severe and a national weapon registry was introduced.

Here in the U.S. no such steps were considered after the Colorado shooting. Politicians grieved for the victims of the shooting, but nothing ever changed. In all of the dozens of speeches Mitt Romney and Barack Obama gave before the election, I never heard them talk about stronger gun restrictions.

Many Americans I talked to think the possession of guns is necessary. The argument I heard the most was: “Well, if somebody attacks me I have to able to defend myself.” In a 2005 Gallup poll of 1,012 adults, 67 percent named “protection against crime” as reason for owning a firearm. But this mentality does not make sense. More guns cannot lead to more safety. If no one was allowed to own weapons, there would be no reason for people to defend themselves.

Eric T. Hansen, an American and author who lives in Germany, explained in a German newspaper article “why Americans love weapons” using American history. When Americans freed themselves from the British, they were only able to do so because nearly every household owned a gun. “Democracy was won by many private armies,” Hansen wrote. After independence, Americans still did not trust the authorities. So the second amendment to the Constitution was enforced in 1791 – just in case another private army had to be built again.

The second amendment states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” Many Germans consider this amendment to be outdated. However, Hansen wrote, Americans consider gun ownership a basic right.

This argument finally made sense to me. Nevertheless, when looking at the higher homicide rate in the U.S. compared to Germany, it might be time to change the culture around gun ownership so that people do not always feel they have to be ready to defend themselves.

Alina Braun is an intern at WTOP this fall. She is studying journalism and foreign policy at American University for two semesters. In Germany, she is obtaining her master’s degree and studying, in which she is majoring in linguistics and minoring in psychology. She works as a freelance journalist for the German public radio station SWR.

Forever fall

Christine Amdam, special to wtop.com

The fall lasts forever here in Washington D.C. The colors get more and more beautiful every day. This morning I took a run in Rock Creek Park. The trail was covered by leaves in yellow, orange and red. The feeling when your feet run through the leaves is soft and nice.

In September, Norway had its first snow fall of the year. My friends told me about chaos on the roads, the wind whipping in their faces and cold weather. At the time, I was walking up Connecticut Avenue in my summer dress. I wondered when it was supposed to be cold here as well and thought I would never have to put my summer clothes away. It was weird to walk around in the city in warm and humid weather, with leaves starting to fall and the colors of autumn slowly arriving.

Hurricane Sandy hit us with a surprise. The hurricane turned to a post-tropic storm before it arrived in D.C., which I guess we should be happy for. People in New York are still struggling with the lack of power and water. I was a little disappointed by the storm though. People were upset before it came – the can food and water aisles at Whole Foods were empty. The city shut down for two days.

I went out in the storm, and it felt like the daily fall weather on the west coast of Norway. But after the hurricane, the weather became much colder. I had to wear my wool sweaters and a hat. We were drinking tea around candle lights. But suddenly the warm weather returned again, and from one day to another the temperature can change by more than 20 degrees.

Is the fall always like this here in Washington D.C.? Or is the weather changing more extremely now? There is no doubt about that the climate is changing, and humans have an influence on the weather. I think it is terrifying. Is that why the temperature swings so dramatically from day to day, or is this just how this city is? During the presidential campaign, I was surprised that President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney didn’t talk more about the global environment and climate issue. It’s important, and we should not forget about how the world is changing.

The fall in D.C. is beautiful. I don’t think I have ever seen such beautiful, strong and clear colors. I like it here, but I miss the opportunity to go skiing. My friends are posting pictures from the Norwegian mountains on Facebook and Instagram, and then I get a little homesick. When will the winter come here?

Christine Amdam is a WTOP fall intern. She is studying journalism at Oslo University College in Norway. Christine is studying at the American University Washington Semester Program in D.C. for one semester.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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