The American Dream: Indonesians in the US talk living alongside gun violence

Gun Rights

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Tunggul Wirajuda (The Jakarta Post)

Jakarta   ●  
Fri, April 28, 2023


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Indonesian expatriates in the United States voice their concerns about the country’s gun violence, as the ongoing crisis continues to kill and injure dozens weekly in 2023

Targeting the young

For Indonesian housewife Petronela Nugroho, the seemingly mundane daily ritual of seeing off her 13-year-old son to school is filled with dread following a spate of gun violence in the United States recently, among them a shooting at a birthday party in the state of Alabama which killed four youths and a school shooting in Tennessee that left six children and adults dead in March. 

“I am more worried about having my 13-year-old child attend school here than in Jakarta. But since my husband’s work required him to relocate to Washington, DC, we have no choice but to hope for the best,” said Petronela, a resident of Arlington, Virginia, across from Washington DC, in a WhatsApp message to The Jakarta Post on April 19. “Ever since I moved here, mass shootings seem to be a weekly, even daily occurrence featured on the news, particularly after the massacre in Buffalo, New York, in May 2022, which killed ten people and injured three others.”

She added that the frequency of shooting incidents deterred her from entering parts of Washington, DC, she deemed unsafe.

Zul Atmosudirdjo, a staff member of Indonesian descent who works at New York University echoed Petronela’s fears about the number of shootings in schools.

“I work in a university and interact with students daily, and outside of work, I often mentor teenagers. From my experiences around these young people, a majority fear that a shooting could happen anytime in their schools,” he noted. “I cannot imagine being that young and living in constant fear, especially now since mass shootings have become so frequent. Anyone can be affected by gun violence; however, it disproportionately impacts minorities.”

Zul made his observations after three mass shootings in Missouri, New York and Texas between April 13 to April 18 where a 20-year-old woman and wounded three other young people were shot after they went to the wrong house or vehicle. According to CNN, the incidents also highlighted the ‘stand your ground’ laws cited by the perpetrators as their alleged motive.

A politicized menace

The BBC noted that the US has experienced more than 160 mass shootings since April, after 647 and 690 mass shooting events in 2021 and 2022, respectively. The prolonged debate on gun control in Congress in the face of these grim statistics has bewildered many, including Indonesian expatriate Ika Sitepu.

Scared: Some Indonesians in the US say they live in constant fear of gun violence. (Pexels/Zachary Debottis)Scared: Some Indonesians in the US say they live in constant fear of gun violence. (Pexels/Zachary Debottis) (Pexels/Zachary Debottis)

“The frequent shootings have left me numbed, while the lack of progress [in gun control] makes me angry. It is ridiculous how [Congress] made universal background checks to carry arms a partisan issue,” she asserted. “It is interesting to see how the debate on guns goes on and evolves. For starters, the Democrats are moving away from gun control to background checks to reach a middle ground.”

And while the political debate on gun control continues, so do fears for one’s well-being.

“As a foreigner living in the United States, I feel like I am living in a Third World country where personal safety is not guaranteed. The frequency of gun crimes also affects me mentally, following reports of armed robberies and other crimes over the past few months that seemingly targeted people, including the death of a nine-year-old child in a drive-by shooting in Washington, DC,” said Grace Hutapea, a resident of the northern Virginia city of Vienna in Fairfax County. She attributed the surge in gun violence to the high rate of gun ownership, the ready availability of firearms and outdated laws. “The Second Amendment on the right to bear arms was made in the 18th century following the need for militia during and after the American Revolutionary War, and so is no longer relevant today. But as long as members of Congress continue to receive funds from the National Rifle Association [NRA], I do not see gun violence ending anytime soon.” 

Grace added that the impact of gun violence in the US was driven home after armed men robbed a group of Indonesian tourists at a Whole Foods grocery store in San Francisco, California, on April 8.

Petronela echoed Grace’s fears.

“The uncontrolled, unrestricted and virtually unlimited use of guns among millions of Americans left me scared to death. The Second Amendment means one is liable to get shot anytime and anywhere,” she added. “The Second Amendment was designed to defend oneself against outlaws. Now it is turning [gun-toting Americans] into outlaws.”

Refusing to back down

The BBC has cited that gun-related deaths in the US rose 31 percent from 33,599 in 2019 to 44,290 in 2022. Indonesian nationals are among the dead, among them Novita Kurnia Putri, who was killed in a drive-by shooting in San Antonio, Texas on Oct. 5, 2022, and Partahi Lumbantoruan, a postgraduate student who was among the 32 people killed in the Virginia Tech shooting on April 16, 2007, carried out by gunman Seung-Hu Cho. 

While the struggle for tighter gun controls might seem like an uphill climb, it does not keep observers like Zul from maintaining their stance on gun control, despite their misgivings due to gun violence.

“I believe in strong gun laws such as a national registry for gun owners, including not allowing anyone with a past history of violence to purchase firearms, background checks and not allowing assault rifles or weapons of war to be made available to the public. Gun violence is a public health and safety emergency and must be prioritized as such,” he said.

Numb: An Indonesian who works with students in the US  says many feel that a gun attack in their school or campus could happen anytime (Pexels/Pixabay)Numb: An Indonesian who works with students in the US says many feel that a gun attack in their school or campus could happen anytime (Pexels/Pixabay) (Pexels/Pixabay)

“There has been an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes, so coupled with gun violence, if I step out of my home on a daily basis, I am left to wonder if I will be a target. However, there are activists nationwide who are trying to make those affected by gun violence be heard and are working to find solutions to the gun crisis.”

Ika echoed Zul’s hopes with some apprehension. 

“I hope that the debate [on gun control] will go the same way as that on abortion – namely, the growing number of pro-choice Republican party voters will make the party’s congressmen rethink their stand on the issue. But it is sad to think of how many more children and innocent people have to die before Congress finds a viable solution on gun control.” 

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