30. Guns in the United States

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podcast transcript

Today I wanted to talk to you guys about guns in the United States. This one was requested by a subscriber to the Wonder in English website, so feel free to subscribe as well. You’ll get free weekly lessons sent to your inbox and lots of nice freebies as I create them. So, definitely subscribe to wonderinenglish.com.

Okay, so today we’re talking about guns in the United States. This is quite a popular topic and it does bring out a lot of heated debates here in the States, especially within my family. So, I’m going to tell you a little bit about my personal experience with guns and then I’ll talk to you about some facts.

So, I remember when I first went to Spain I was going to help teach a class English and they had me stand at the front of the class and gave the students a chance to ask questions. I remember there were a few boys in the back that were kind of riling each other up and getting excited about something and saying, “Ask her. Ask her,” in Spanish and I didn’t know what they were talking about. I was super uncomfortable standing there at the front not knowing what to do with my hands, just kind of fiddling them around, and then the boy stands up and he says, “Do you have a gun at your house?” And I really wanted to say no, because I knew that they thought everyone in the United States had guns in their house, but unfortunately my family did have a gun and I had to say yes. And then everyone freaked out when I did and they were all like, “See! Oh my gosh, I told you so.” And you know what? I wish that they weren’t right but they are. Most people in the United States have guns.

My family personally has guns “for protection” (quote unquote) and I have family members that hunt, something that I don’t participate in, and they use guns for that.

One of the biggest organizations in the United States is the National Rifle Association of America and it’s called NRA. If you watch the news I’m sure you will hear about them. So, the NRA is a non-profit organization that advocates for gun rights in the United States. They were founded in 1871 and since then they’ve had a huge impact on the government through their lobbying. They’re actually one of the top three most influential lobbying groups in D.C. Now, the NRA would have you believe that owning a gun for your protection is necessary and saves lives but in reality this is not the case and in just a minute I’m going to give you the facts and figures related to gun deaths.

So, who can carry a firearm in the United States? Well, most people. So, that means that the government, the federal government, has no law about whether or not we need a permit to get a gun. So, each individual state has to determine what their laws will be about whether or not we need a permit. Only a handful of states require guns to be registered and gun owners to be licensed, so all you do is have to be 18 years old in order to purchase a shotgun or a rifle, and 21 to get a handgun. If you’re a fugitive, like a danger to society, you’re not legally allowed to get a gun. That’s also the case for people who have participated in things like selling marijuana, or who have restraining orders, or have been threatening or stalking people. Things like this. However, everyone else can get them once they’re 18.

Only 12 of 50 states require people to purchase a permit for a handgun. In order to get one of these guns you have to do a background check. This only takes 10 minutes, they can give it to right there and then and then you can walk home with a gun that day. However, what happens is that people typically resell their firearms and they don’t need a background check when this happens so this is a real loophole in the system. And actually one in five transactions selling firearms occur without a background check. This was observed through a study done by Harvard, so I think that we can probably rely on that figure.

Given the lax gun laws, it’s not a surprise that there are 200 to 300 million privately owned guns in the United States. So, that’s about 38 to 48% of adults that keep firearms in their home. Almost everybody says that the reason why they have a gun is for personal protection. However, the statistics actually show that every one time a gun was used in the home to kill an intruder there were 43 other firearm related homicides, suicides, or accidental deaths involving a household member. So, even though all of these 200 to 300 million firearms are supposedly being used to fight these possible intruders, the reality is it’s extremely likely that someone will accidentally shoot themselves in your home with that gun instead. And unfortunately violence in the United States is something that is very prevalent within the media. We like to put this in all of our Hollywood movies, we show it to children, it’s in cartoons and animation, and even very graphic scenes about killing other people are not even rated R anymore. Here sexual scenes in movies are rated much higher than actually violent scenes are, and the opposite is true in Spain.

When I was living there, there could be a sexual scene or nudity and that was maybe rated PG 13, but actually violent scenes were rated R and I definitely agree with this. Why is sex so taboo but yet people can kill each other and that’s normal? I don’t understand.

So, if we look at the data on the amount of violence are seeing you’ll find that by the age of 18 a person has seen 200 000 acts of violence and 16 000 simulated homicides on TV alone. I don’t even want to know how much that has grown since then, because this study was done in 1993 and I’m sure it’s increased. Unfortunately, because of the lax gun laws, we have a very high homicide rate despite the fact that we have actually less violence, assault violence, than other countries. So, even though our average violent assault rate is lower, we have seven times the average homicide or death rate because we’re all using guns, because guns are way more lethal than if someone just had a knife or their fists.

So, as you can see, guns are a real danger and also extremely prevalent in the United States. They’re a really big problem among poor communities. Unfortunately there’s a lot of violence there. My family, they are big gun people, they support the NRA, they support having firearms, and this has caused some tension between us, I’m not going to lie. I don’t support that because I can look at the facts and the figures and I see that most of the school shootings have been caused by people grabbing guns from their homes and going to shoot a bunch of children.

Anyway, this topic is very upsetting to me, I’m sure you can tell by the way I’m speaking. It makes me sad, because I’ve been to other countries and talked to people and I tell them I’m from the United States and they say, “Oh, that’s a great place but I could never live there, because it’s just so dangerous. There are so many guns and there are so many people killing each other.” And of course when you’re here it doesn’t seem that bad. You never would notice that when I’m doing my day to day activities like going to the store and going to the gym. You know, it doesn’t seem like a very violent place to live. But in reality there are a lot of deaths by guns. A lot of murder, a lot of homicides, a lot of shootings, and they do have a reason to be afraid. It makes sense.

So, it makes me sad that the place that I live is becoming so infamous for such a bad and violent thing. But I would really love to hear what you guys have to say, because I’m sure that some of you support guns and some of you don’t. Really, I would love to hear what you guys think, because I want an international perspective. I want to know what you guys have to say about this issue in the States. Does it affect you at all? Are you living here, do you notice it? And if you’re abroad, does it affect you internationally? Do you hear about our shootings? And what do you guys think about that?

So, go ahead and log into wonderinenglish.com and leave your comment there and I will definitely read and respond, and I really appreciate your feedback.



FiddlingTo fiddle means that you touch or fidget with something in a restless or nervous way. So when I was up in front of the class, I was fiddling with my hands, meaning I was moving them and touching them in a nervous way. 
Rifle / shotgun / handgunThese are all types of guns.
Advocates (noun) This is a noun version meaning the people who advocate (verb). To advocate for something means to publicly support a cause. 
Founded (in 1871)Founded means began.
(verb) To lobby means to try to influence a politician or public official on an issue.
This is the noun. The verb is pronounced permit (stress on i) and the noun permit (stress on the e). A (noun) permit is an official document giving someone authorization to do something.
(adjective) Entered or recorded on an official list or directory. So if you are a registered gun owner, then your name is recorded on a public list. 
Restraining orders
A restraining order is a temporary court order issued to prohibit someone from doing something. Most often it’s used to prohibit someone from seeing a specific person. 
Stalking someone
To stalk someone means to follow a person, harass them, and bother them with unwanted, obsessive attention.
Background check
Reviewing both confidential and public information to investigate a person history, like their criminal history. This is done by employers and landlords, for example.
Firearms Guns
LoopholeAn ambiguity or inadequacy in the law or a set of rules that allows people to break the law without really breaking it.
Lax (gun laws)Not sufficiently strict, severe, or careful.
IntruderSomeone who intrudes or breaks into your house or another building, usually with criminal intent.
PrevalentCommon; widespread in a particular area or at a particular time.
Graphic (scenes)When something is graphic, it means it shows a lot of blood and shows too much detail. For example, if a movie showed someone’s leg slowly being cut off, that would be really graphic.
Rated R and rated PG-13These are the ratings we give movies in the United States based on how mature the content is. Rated R means it’s meant for people over 17 years old and PG-13 means kids that are 13 years old and up can watch it. 
TabooSomething that is prohibited or restricted by social custom. Most people are ashamed of or don’t like to talk about taboo topics.
Simulated (homicides)Simulate means to imitate something. So, in movies, they don’t actually kill people they just simulate it to make it look like they do.
AssaultAssault is physical violence against someone; to physically attack someone.
FistsA person’s hand when the fingers are bent in toward the palm and held there tightly, typically in order to strike a blow or grasp something.
InfamousFamous for something bad and negative.

Idioms and Collocations

Heated debatesA debate is where two people argue about something in a civilized and formal way. 
Rile each other upTo rile someone is to make them annoyed or irritatted. When you rile someone up it means that you cause someone or some group to become particularly excited and animated, especially in an angry or irritated manner.
Quote unquoteThis a verbal indication of “quotes”.
Right there and thenThis is a collocation we use to bring emphasis to the fact that something is happening at that time.


1. What are the gun laws in your country?

2. What’s your opinion on the gun situation in the USA?

3. What riles you up?

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