Gun violence: An international educator’s moral quandary

Shortly after arriving in the US in late May for a month of business and personal visits, after two-and-a-half years of limited international travel, I noticed an unusual message on my Facebook feed. A US international recruitment colleague questioned his professional raison d’être.

He posted: “It is days like today in the USA when I have an internal ethical struggle with my job … the job I’ve had for 20+ years … the job I love and find so rewarding … the job that has shown me the world and taught me so much about life – outreaching to and recruiting international students to come to this country for a powerful educational experience and a valuable higher education degree.

“I feel guilty sometimes, working with students and families in their pursuit to come to America to experience our culture. Why would anyone want to come here right now? We have some major issues to work out as a society and as a country that the entire world is watching closely.”

I instinctively entered ‘shooting’ in Google and quickly discovered what my colleague was agonising over: the Texas elementary school shooting that snuffed out the lives of 19 children and two teachers and wounded 17 others. I admired his willingness to share this soul-searching angst with the world and post what many international educators in the US have been thinking and discussing behind closed doors.

Along with expressions of empathy, solidarity and a broken heart emoji, some well-intentioned comments embodied the usual moral equivalence arguments trotted out after these tragedies along the lines of “every country has its problems”, as if mass murder with assault rifles is a regular occurrence throughout the world. The “internal ethical struggle” refers to what many of us in the profession are selling, ie, study in the US.

As of early July, the US has the distinction of having recorded 314 mass shootings, with at least four injuries or deaths since the beginning of the year, according to the non-profit Gun Violence Archive. The US is number one among its peer countries in this unenviable category.

There are more than 400 million guns in a population of 332 million. This includes 20 million AR-15 rifles, the weapon of choice for many mass shooters, an increase of 11.5 million since a federal assault weapons ban was lifted in 2004.

A cult of death

In a press conference after the April 2022 subway shooting in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York City, mayor Eric Adams referred to the epidemic of violence as an American problem, noting that “it is going to take the entire nation to speak out and push back against a cult of death that has taken hold in this nation. A cult that allows innocence to be sacrificed on a daily basis.”

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