Currently I am a long-term expat. I observe my home country, the US, from a distance both psychological and physical. The whole "gun thing" seems both tragic and absurd, from my perspective. I currently live in a country with one of the lowest incidences of gun violence in the world – a cursory examination of a list of countries by incidence of gun deaths shows South Korea as being the 3rd lowest, only after Hong Kong and Japan.
Anyway, it's pretty safe here, from gun violence. I have sometimes wondered if there exists any kind of "gun culture" in South Korea. Actually, I speculate that there does, in fact, exist such a culture – but it would be inextricably linked up with the military. Since military service for males is obligatory, that means that, in theory, at least, every Korean adult male in the entire country has fired a gun at some point in his life, and the vast majority have probably qualified with a rifle. That's interesting, vis-a-vis the non-military culture, right? It makes it a far different situation than either Hong Kong or Japan, where military service is, in the former instance non-existent, and in the latter instance, extremely rare and utterly voluntary (given Japan's relatively small military, in per capita terms, compared to South Korea). What it means is that any Korean man who wants to "play" with guns in a safe and responsible manner has an easy way to do so: he can continue to serve as a "reservist" – which many Korean men do. Then he can go out on the range and shoot as much as he wants, several times a year, I can imagine.
My own experience with guns is broader than you might expect, given my liberal white privilege. I qualified with a rifle during my Army service – as an expert, even – though I sometimes felt I had simply had some very lucky days on my qualifying days. I had even gone on to take the first steps on qualifying with a pistol, as well, before I mustered out.
Further, despite having avoided seeing any actual action in the first Iraq war (1991) – which took place during my military service, and which I watched on the barracks televisions while stationed here in South Korea at that time – I have nevertheless had the experience of having been shot at, directly. I was lucky, in that the man shooting at me was too drunk to aim well. I was not hurt. There is no doubt I might have died – I consider it one of the several times in my life when I have had to look death right in the eye.
Additionally, I once witnessed a man being shot dead. This was during my time traveling in El Salvador, in 1986 – which was during the civil war. It was not clear to me if I witnessing a crime or an act of "enforcement" – there were plenty of uniforms present but it wasn't clear to me if the uniforms were military or rebel forces, and how it all worked. I suspect that during the Salvadorean civil war of that era, the line between crime and military enforcement was pretty blurry. My main reaction was to get away from the situation as quickly and as unobstrusively as I could manage. I boarded a bus and let it take me away.
In the end, my view of guns and gun violence is complicated. I think I have no issue with the type of allegedly draconian gun laws as exist in Japan or South Korea. I think it hardly makes these societies "less free" – there may in fact be ways that these societies are "less free" than in the US, but I don't think the relaxing of gun controls would impact that in any positive way. My libertarian tendencies are undeniable, however. In principle, I have strong sympathies with the "2nd ammendment types" who will brook no infringement of individual rights. My biggest concern with those people is that they are, almost without exception, utter hypocrites – they are libertarians on gun control, but if you ask them to opine on issues like women's rights or immigration, they are all about control and restrictions. This is "libertarianism for me but not for thee." It makes me much less sympathetic to their position – when I find mostly hypocrites holding a given political position, my gut-level response is to assume this is strong evidence of some kind of flaw in that political position.
I will conclude with a humorous video I ran across – a tongue-in-cheek "European perspective" on the American gun problem, which could probably just as easily represent the typical (informed) Korean position.
"A small country on the coast of North America."
[daily log: walking, 7km]