The French and firearms

Machine guns are not a common sight in France. Via Flickr user Michael Dorausch (

Machine guns are not a common sight in France. Via Flickr user Michael Dorausch (

I’ve taught a few of my classes about the U.S. Bill of Rights. The French students nod along as we talk about freedom of religion, of speech, of the press; France of course has similar legislation regarding all of this.

Then we reach the Second Amendment: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” I start to see confused expressions. The students are familiar with news of gun violence in America, so I explain that the Second Amendment is why the United States cannot outright ban guns. (One student asked if we could just change the Second Amendment. That’s an answer that requires an entire semester on how the U.S. government works!)

For the record, in France, a hunting license is required in order to buy a gun, and there are limits on the number of guns a person can own. I live in the countryside, so there are people here who hunt game. A gun shop operates in my town, but from a cursory glance in the window display, they mainly sell hunting rifles.

Guns are a real cultural difference between the U.S. and France, and French people have asked me about guns and gun violence before. I can see why. Now that I no longer live in America and read the news from afar, I see that there are a lot of shootings. I read about one almost every week. You start to overgeneralize and think, Wow, people in America must not be able to even leave their homes.

The idea that firearms are included in one of the most important documents of the U.S. government baffles a lot of my students. I was curious, so I asked for their opinions, and they said that the gun laws in America would make them feel unsafe, like obtaining a firearm isn’t so difficult. Another student said something interesting: As French people, we can’t fully judge America’s gun laws because we grew up with something so different in our country. It isn’t fair for us to comment.

It’s intriguing to see how American and French culture really do treat guns differently; a quick image search on Google for “America guns” and “France guns” is a good jumping point.

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