On a cloudy morning, two teenagers were walking down the street in the sleepy outskirts of Pittsburgh when another teenager jumped out at them and opened fire.
At least four bullets pierced a black minivan parked nearby, hitting a side window, the windshield and the hood. Luckily the shots did not wound a 5-month-old child and her aunt sitting in the car. The teenagers apparently were not injured and disappeared just after the shootout.
When my colleague from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and I arrived at that place about two hours after the shootout, we saw a terrified family near the car but nobody else on the street. Even the police had gone by that time.
If something like this had happened in my country, Ukraine, the shocked neighbors would have been crowding around this house until the evening. (I mean the peaceful parts of the country, outside of the embattled eastern regions.)
Our country has been in a war with Russian-backed separatists for more than a year, but we are not used to shootouts on the streets, because only soldiers and the policemen are allowed to have guns.
In the United States, where the last war on the country’s soil ended 150 years ago, owning a pistol seems like owning a kitchen knife. In some states people are allowed to bring guns to colleges or even to bars.
More than every third U.S. household has a gun, according to the Pew Research Center. The number of people who believe that owning a gun boosts personal safety is on the rise, Pew determined. In 2012, about 48 percent of respondents said that owning a gun prevents becoming a victim of a crime. Now, 57 percent of Americans think so.
My American friends explain to me that possessing a gun is secured by the country’s Constitution, and that it is a part of cowboy culture that values personal freedom. But isn’t the freedom to possess a gun also limited by the freedom to stay safe?
Eastern Ukraine now has a lot in common with the American Wild West, where the armed gangs may attack you on a road, or where two men may settle a business argument with a duel.
As a journalist who worked in a war zone, I know that armed civilians are much more dangerous than professional armed soldiers — even if they are soldiers from the enemy side. Soldiers hardly ever shoot someone accidentally, which is a common problem for civilians, as they lack sufficient training.
A 62-year-old great grandmother of the little girl who was caught in the crossfire in Pittsburgh told us that just four days before the shooting, a teenager was brought to hospital after being wounded in a shootout in the same neighborhood.
The outraged woman said the police need to apply more severe measures to pull guns off the streets. And I totally agree with her.