American Abroad: Global Perceptions of the So-Called Superpower

My.favorite part about my Spanish classes in Barcelona has been my teachers' encouragement of open conversation. We recently discussed the controversy surrounding a case from Ciudad Real in which a 77-year-old man was detained for shooting and killing a 35-year-old home intruder.


Does trespassing warrant murder? Where is the line between murder and self-defense?


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Students from Germany, Switzerland, and Italy were present as we stated our positions.


As for the culprit, it is unclear whether or not he was armed. As for the homeowner, we may never truly know if he shot with intent to kill. Regardless, I do not condemn his actions. I can't imagine a situation in which an intruder deserves the benefit of the doubt, and I understand the elder man's response given his right to defend himself and his property.


Other students felt that the kill was unnecessary and that a firearm should only have been used as a last resort. Agree as I may with the fact that manslaughter of any kind is not to be taken lightly, I think extreme circumstances force you to suspend idealizations. You don't have the time or clarity of mind to rationalize what's happening in the face of a legitimate threat. As much as you may not want to, or generally agree with, harming another human being, we all have instincts for survival. Sure, personally, shooting the man wouldn't be my first choice. But for someone who is alone, vulnerable, and afraid, I fully empathize with their taking control of the situation. Stopping to check if the perpetrator has a gun or sitting and hiding (and potentially being found) waiting minutes for the police to arrive might be too high a risk for the mere seconds it could take to lose your life, all because you wanted to do the right thing on behalf of someone with clearly bad intentions.


Our teacher then explained that one of the most polarizing aspects of the case was the elder man's reported lack of remorse, a topic that proved to be equally polemic in our classroom. One student felt strongly that absence of regret was inhumane, and that the man should be humble if not apologetic for having committed a murder, "you can know you did the right thing and still feel regret," she said.


With this, I whole-heartedly disagree.


Taking a life would be traumatic in its own right, but that feeling is completely separate from the motives of the circumstance. I can't see myself apologizing for taking justified action, especially when I was being victimized or endangered by the person who ended up suffering the consequences.


After I explained this, another student responded, "I don't want to say anything ugly, but I think Americans just have views about guns that are a little bit different."


Striking.


Though my stance remains unchanged, it was a huge wakeup call to observe the way my personal bias has developed. I don't own guns. I don't agree with our gun legislation as it currently exists (or doesn't). But the truth of the matter is it doesn't matter what I think. Firearms are easy to get and I know many people who have them. The saying "more guns than people" is true: there are over 120 guns in America for every 100 civilians - and that's just what's on record. I can't confidently say learning to shoot and possibly obtaining a gun in the future is completely off the table for me. As a young Black woman, I have encountered numerous threats that have been too close for comfort. When I have myself or my family to protect, am I going to fend off someone with a pistol by using my pepper spray? Could I really trust police to protect me instead? Even that train of thought is unfathomable for people who come from places where gun violence isn't even a topic of conversation.


This untimely discourse took place just a day before the tragic Robb Elementary School Shooting in Uvalde, Texas, the 214th mass shooting in America within the first half of 2022 alone.


According to studies conducted by the Institute for Health Metrics Evaluation, the United States ranks highest amongst developed economies for the number of homicide deaths per capita - leading Cyprus, in second place, by over 500%.


It's embarrassing. Even moreso than the instance a few short months ago when someone from France asked me if I helped storm the Capitol when I told him I was from Washington, DC.


I've met so many people with rich and compelling stories about what it's like to live in environments that are truly safe. Rights to life that are truly protected, and further encouraged by bustling educational systems, comprehensive healthcare, and generous workplace considerations. Already disconnected as a minority, seeing the way America is perceived worldwide makes it all the more difficult to identify with the nationalist sentiment that was so deeply engrained into me as a child. And whatsmore, I've noticed an overwhelming disparity between my own global consciousness and that of my abroad-born peers. Before my travels, I knew almost nothing about world geography, international relations, or global culture, yet most of the people I meet from other countries could hold legitimate conversation with me about specific people, places, and ideas from the States. Hubris and progress cannot coexist, and it's about time more of us grew into a learning mindset. The U.S. is an exciting place with abundant opportunity and personal liberties that shouldn't be taken for granted, but if we continue to allow the provision of basic rights to blind ourselves from the realities of egregious injustice, we will continue to rest far away from being the paradise we imagine ourselves to be.