It is time parents start talking to their kids about gun violence by using examples from parents in war-torn countries.

I grew up during the civil war in Somalia. Weapons were everywhere all kinds of them, easily available for young men like myself. Yet, guns were never allowed at home; we were not permitted to bring one home.

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

There were too many examples of gun violence; the streets were littered with bullet casings and bullet holes were everywhere. A popular expression that emerged in Somalia during the civil war still rings in everyone’s head: A bullet takes lives. Kids or teenagers who carried guns had the option to join a militia group and leave their families. This was usually a one-way ticket, as they often ended up dying in gun battles and never came home again. This knowledge helped many of us avoid weapons and armed groups.

Gun violence in the United States causes a gut-wrenching feeling for those who fled gun violence to live in the United States. Gun violence is now a full-time tragedy in this country; more than 45,000 people were killed by gun violence in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease control.  Every time a shooting happens, Americans are on social media or mainstream media fighting over the country’s crazy culture of gun ownership. Yet our kids are dying in their classrooms, shot by a teenager or adult who bought a weapon.

We should not waste time debating the Second Amendment. Parents have the opportunity to talk to their kids about weapons now. Those who could commit mass shootings in the future may still be changed with a conversation about guns at home.

In Somalia, we never treated people who carried weapons and shot people as heroes or celebrities. However, this is a problem we have in the United States. America’s media treated Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old from Antioch, Illinois, like a celebrity after he shot two men and wounded another in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August 2020. His face was all over the media. He was interviewed on TV after his verdict and became a motivation for others. Parents should have been worried about that because every child who watches Rittenhouse on television sees another kid with a gun winning and becoming more popular.

This is the opposite of where I grew up. No one with a weapon has ever been treated like a hero, even if that person with the weapon was doing the right thing. We always called them “Mooyraan” – the pillager. Somalia’s population is less than 15 million, yet 75% of the population are young men between 15 and 35 years old. During 32 years of civil war, not many houses hold weapons. In fact, parents have done such a great job that armed warlords could not find teenagers to join them. The country does not have opportunities for education, work or other opportunities, and young men would still sit around bored rather than carry a gun.

In the United States, we have plenty of opportunities, entertainment and schools for kids, teenagers and adults to attend. Yet, we are the leading nation in this world for mass shootings. The difference between the two countries is that one has a love affair with lethal weapons and they like to keep these lethal weapons at home, whereas the other dreams of the day when there is a functioning government.

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