Think about the lasting effects gun violence can have on Americans. That brief moment when someone opens fire at a school, a restaurant or in the mall, and people die while others are traumatized by what they hear and see.

Abdi Nor Iftin is a Somali-American writer, radio journalist and public speaker. He lives in Yarmouth.

Shootings over the last years have sparked a debate on gun control in the United States. But how do we start a debate about global gun control to put pressure on someone like Putin to stop waging wars on innocent people? At this writing, Russia’s powerful army surrounds Ukraine’s cities and towns, apparently shooting indiscriminately. I think of those who have to flee their homes of many years. Besides sending prayers and love to Ukraine, everyone everywhere should start talking about demilitarizing the world, or guns will undoubtedly kill many more millions in many more cities.

The images coming from Ukraine immediately brought back traumatizing memories of my personal experiences. In 2007, I was living in Mogadishu when Russian-made 2S19 tanks driven by Ethiopian forces showered the city with indiscriminate shelling. The excuse was that they wanted to democratize Somalia and remove radical Islamic groups from our country. The Somalis believed it was revenge against Somalia’s invasion of Ethiopia in the bloody war of 1977, popularly known as the Ogaden War. The Soviet Union was a major sponsor of this war. I was not around when the 1977 war happened. My parents were. I was an adult when the Russian-made tanks rolled into my city flattening neighborhoods, displacing people and causing one of the largest refugee populations in modern history. I was one of the refugees forced to flee my country. Watching the Ukrainians head for their borders, I feel the trauma this will have on them for the rest of their lives. In wars only two things can happen: lives end or are changed forever.

The invasion of Ukraine is one of the newest conflicts in Europe. Meanwhile, other parts of the world – including Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Palestine – have lived with a scale of slaughter unleashed by industrial and technological war. When people are caught up in conflicts, the mental health effects are serious and enduring. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and other stress-related conditions emerge and these can have a lifelong, intergenerational impact.

We watch Ukrainians cross borders for their safety, we see the world coming together to help those fleeing. But I also see people taking the trauma of war with them across the border as I did 13 years ago when I escaped Somalia’s brutal wars and entered Kenya to become a refugee.

For displaced Ukrainians, life will not go on as usual. The struggle from here will include trauma preying on them even as they resettle in other countries. Crude estimates suggest that when one person is killed directly in a war, nine will also be killed indirectly. The deliberate targeting of Ukrainians by Russians will produce generations that will be killed indirectly.

Soon we may not pay much attention to Ukraine; we will go on with our lives as usual. And this may be what Vladimir Putin wants. Meanwhile, his attacks will continue contributing to conflict-related deaths, of which more than 190 million were reported in the 20th century alone. This number is about one-quarter the current population of Europe.

How many more will the war in Ukraine and future wars kill? It’s time for the world’s citizens, despite their different nationalities and languages, to come together and talk about disarming big powers before they burn our planet with their weapons of mass destruction.

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