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US gun culture has deep roots in shooting-hit Santa Fe

A mother and daughter on May 19, 2018, dedicate flowers to the victims of a shooting rampage at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas. (Mainichi)

SANTA FE, Texas -- Following a shooting rampage at a high school here that killed 10 people and injured another 10 on May 18, local residents turned out to pray for the victims. But many of them, even students themselves, are not eager to tighten gun control, thanks to a deeply-rooted gun culture in this part of the United States -- one reason why the country is struggling to curb gun violence.

The suspect, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, used his father's shotgun and handgun in allegedly killing and injuring his schoolmates and others at Santa Fe High School. This reporter interviewed more than 20 high school students and adults about their views on gun control, and found few clearly in support of the idea. Many said that "Texas is different," emphasizing that they grow up with guns and they value self-responsibility.

Annabelle O'Day, a 17-year-old senior at the Santa Fe High, says people here are taught not to point a gun at others "when they are only three or four years old."

"It is not a gun issue, but how people treat guns. We can use dogs, they can smell gun powder at (the) school entrance (to prevent shooters from entering the campus)," she said.

Texas' reputation as the land of cowboys and frontier spirits remains. Gun control is weak here, and many Santa Fe residents are said to possess shotguns for hunting.

The reaction to the school shooting here marks a stark contrast to students' reaction in Florida where many went online with slogans like "Never Again" and called for gun control following a shooting rampage at Marjorie Douglas Stone High School killed 17 people. Reporters from U.S. media outlets are asking local residents about the difference.

Edualdo, 17, a junior at Santa Fe High, explained that students would call for countermeasures to stop shooting incidents because they want schools to be safe. "But the answer is not control," he said, adding that checking students' belongings or mental health can play a role. Like the Florida students, their Texas counterparts want safety at school but they are not looking to gun control to achieve that result.

Texas Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick told a press conference on May 18, "We may have to look at the designs of our schools moving forward and retrofitting schools that are already built. ... There are too many entrances and too many exits to our over 8,000 campuses in Texas." These measures are intended to allow the detection or prevention of entry onto school grounds of suspicious individuals. Patrick is known as a proponent of gun rights, and his remarks are in line with the safety measures called for by the National Rifle Association, a powerful lobby against gun control.

Some experts quoted by the U.S. media supported this measure of limiting entry points, saying that it is a logical step for increasing safety. But proponents of gun control said it was not a fundamental solution.

In the U.S., even after major school shooting incidents, arguments tend to focus less on gun control but more on checking perpetrators' mental health or arming teachers. Big U.S. cities, which tend to be politically liberal, call for gun control, but the NRA holds sway in regional towns such as Santa Fe.

(Japanese original by Hiromi Nagano, Los Angeles Bureau)

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