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Is the U.S. safe and how do mass shootings affect tourism?

por Carlos Dragonné
Disclaimer: This article was written between June 20th and June 27th. It was programmed to be published at 10:00 AM of July 4th, before the shooting at Highland Park was reported. At the time of this update, we learned that on July 4th alone, there were more than a dozen mass shootings across the United States, being Philadelphia, Boston, Sacramento, Oakland, Minneapolis, Kenosha, Kansas City and Richmond some of the most terrifying events. Information about shootings can be found in the Gun Violence Archive website.

It is time to talk about whether we want to continue traveling to the United States or not. It is time to bring to the table a conversation that the industry keeps avoiding out of fear that they will no longer be invited to trips and events, but it is time to realize whether the United States is safe or not. Travel and food media have become an extension of PR agencies. We recently talked about responsible tourism in terms of the homeless phenomenon that is completely out of control. But now I bring you a more serious question than most.

Is the u.s. safe
Cartoon from News Herald

Is it safe to travel to the United States?

For a long time we have looked the other way. But circumstances demand that we become aware and decide based not only on statistics, but also on the actual facts that are changing day by day. Why? Because it is not normal to talk of how wonderful everything is in a country that, according to data from Gun Violence Archive, as of June 20th there had been 279 mass shootings, where a mass shooting is defined as an event in which four or more people are wounded or killed in one incident, not including the perpetrator.

Why talk about whether or not the U.S. is safe until now?

For years we have seen the consequence of a gun ownership policy that feeds on the corruption poured by the National Rifle Association into political lobbying. But where does this spin that the Constitution permits the bearing of arms come from? Right out of a bent interpretation of the law. But we’re talking about travel here, so we’ll leave the constitutional interpretation debate for another time. Let’s talk about circumstances and travel alerts. Mass shootings are no longer the stuff of remote neighborhoods or lawless cities, as New York was in the 1970s – dubbed Fear City by the city’s own Public Safety Council – or an area rife with open wounds and riots as Los Angeles was in the aftermath of the Rodney King case. Now the shootings are getting dangerously close to places where you and I may be as travelers.
Is the u.s. safe
Photo: AP
Case in point, what happened on May 14th when 21 people were injured in a series of shootings in the middle of downtown Milwaukee just after the Bucks’ postseason game in the NBA semifinals. Not exactly an incident that affects inner cities, if you ask me. Same goes for the Pulse shooting in Orlando, killing 49 in 2016, or the shooting that killed 59 and injured more than 500 in Las Vegas in 2017 in the midst of the Route 91 Harvest Festival. But, let’s get back to 2022. In June alone we can find in the statistics cities such as Miami, Washington DC, Chicago, New York -in the middle of Manhattan-, Philadelphia and Houston, destinations to which Mexico, according to Brand USA’s own data, sends quite a lot of travelers. And if we keep going through the months we will find each and every one of the cities where Mexicans usually go when we go for shopping, vacations, business or fun.

More shootings than days in the year. But no one has an alert for anything.

If you look at the U.S. State Department’s website, Mexico is one of the countries with a very high travel alert and, in fact, it is one of the only ones – or the only one, probably – that is even divided by states. Thus, we can see that the alerts are divided into “DO NOT TRAVEL”, “ RECONSIDER TRAVEL”, “EXERCISE EXTREME CAUTION” and “EXERCISE NORMAL CAUTION“. This last category, in which only Campeche and Yucatan are included, is the only one in which no risk is mentioned. From there on, the entire country is marked by alerts “Due to Crime and Kidnapping” or only “Due to Crime“. And within these states, each has its own consideration such as “Sonora is a key location used for international drug and human trafficking. U.S. citizens and Legal Residents have been kidnapped”.
There are other considerations such as in Tlaxcala where, according to the State Department, great caution must be taken because “there is violence throughout the state”. There are even cities in which they require government employees to comply with a strict curfew, such as in Piedras Negras or Ciudad Acuña. The phrase that comes up most often is “Criminal activity and gang violence”. And their perceptions are such that it would seem that, indeed, there are places in Mexico where you can’t even walk if you don’t bring an anti-assault battery. Are we saying that there is no organized crime problem in Mexico? Absolutely not. There is, and in fact, we will talk about that in another post, as we did when those who govern today were campaigning and no one wanted to take on the security and tourism debate. But, therefore, there are a couple of questions on the subject: Who generates these alerts? And, most importantly, why don’t we have a travel alert to the United States due to the increase in mass shootings in which there are at least 4 people wounded and/or killed by firearms… not counting the aggressor?
Is the u.s. safe
The first is a question befitting for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I have made attempts to reach out to people in the Foreign Ministry to find out if they are involved in the development of these alerts or if they are planning to issue alerts for Mexican travelers to the United States. Of course, the answer I got was the same as if I had asked the wall. Too bad… I don’t have Guillermo del Toro doing the Twitter stump for me to get Ebrard to do his job.

Is U.S. safe to travel with gun violence out of control?

That same question I asked a couple of weeks ago to Christopher Thompson, CEO of Brand USA which, for quick reference, is the equivalent of what we had with the CPTM in Mexico. Brand USA is a partnership between private entities and government to promote tourism to the United States. Every year they hold IPW, the most important event in the U.S. travel industry. And this year, in addition, Thompson closed his press conference by boasting loud and clear about the strong influence that Brand USA and the US Travel Association -under the leadership of Roger Dow until that moment, since Dow announced his retirement- have in Washington to promote public policies to support the industry’s recovery. So it certainly seemed like the right place and the right person to ask. Is it safe to travel to the U.S. when gun violence is out of control and, if not, is Brand USA working with the State Department and law enforcement agencies to generate alerts for foreign travelers to certain destinations?
Thompson declined to respond, saying “I’m not the person,” and immediately turned the microphone over to U.S. Department of Commerce Under Secretary for Industry and Analysis Grant T. Harris, who on his Linkedin profile smiles as the header is embellished with a picture of him exchanging ideas with US President Joseph R. Biden – I get it, if I had a picture with the President in the Oval Office, I think I’d put it as the background of my entire living room wall and maybe even the texture of my front door. Harris, elegantly, replied that they are doing everything they can to focus on the problem of gun violence and that “President Biden is committed to passing laws that protect everyone”. Basically, the same official narrative that has been in place after every mass shooting. We had this exchange 10 days after the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where 21 people, including 19 children were killed. My question was the second in a Q&A session of Thompson’s opening keynote. After Secretary Harris’ generic – but gracious, no doubt – response, Thompson ended the press conference. Please let this be a reckoning to my fellow reporters in case I interrupted their dynamic and they were unable to ask their pertinent questions. Grant Harris put me in touch with Peter Dodge, Brand USA’s Senior Manager of Public Affairs who kindly replied that “Brand USA is unable to comment on public affairs,” which only made me wonder about the titles we attach to positions we don’t actually perform. He did let me know that he forwarded my information and questions to his “contacts within the National Travel and Tourism Office” (NTTO), but I’m sure the email got lost in spam because I never heard from them again.
Is the u.s. safe
I followed up with Harris via Twitter who immediately responded that he would put me in touch with his colleagues at the Department of Commerce. He even asked me if I had a publishing deadline. I told him Tuesday the 14th, but said I could extend the date a few days, considering I am the editor of the website. Today is July 4th. I can say with certainty the phrase I knew I would end up using: The Department of Commerce and the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office declined to answer specific questions about possible travel alerts to the United States as a result of the proliferation of mass shootings that have been recorded and, as statistics show, are on the rise.

Beyond the discourse, the reality ahead and what it may mean.

I am writing this a few days after the US Supreme Court, with a conservative majority, decided on two cases of utmost importance, one of them overturning a New York law prohibiting carrying guns outside home and, thus, putting in the way also the annulment of such measure in California, which has a similar law. What does this mean? That now anyone in Times Square can be armed because they no longer have to demonstrate any real justification for carrying a gun in a city that welcomed 33 million visitors in 2021. Yes. 33 million still in a pandemic year. But in 2019, before the pandemic, it welcomed 66.6 million (calm down, Christian conspiracy theorists, calm down). Take into account that something like 20% of those visitors (about 13 million) are foreign tourists. Now imagine one of these nationalist nutjobs whipped up by Fox News conspiracy talk and their White Replacement Theory walking into Times Square with, say, a couple of automatic weapons that they can freely walk all over the city with. Is it safe to travel to the U.S.?
Is the u.s. safe
Who’s to say that just like in the El Paso massacre, where one of these psychopaths murdered 23 people because they were Hispanic and Latino, there isn’t someone already out there dreaming with the idea of doing it in New York, Los Angeles, outside an MLS game or at a meeting like Promotores Unidos, one of the events that brings together many Mexicans to Las Vegas and that, joking with the VP of Public Relations at Westgate Resorts, we called it the Mexican Takeover? And I am not overstating it. Just between March and May of this year, Las Vegas recorded 4 mass shootings in which there were 2 dead and 31 wounded. Oh… and Las Vegas is a city in which Mexico is the second most important country of origin of its international travelers. So, is it safe to travel? Terribly, I don’t know. I think it’s the same as if an American were to ask this question about Acapulco. The difference is that while we cannot ignore the high rates of violence in Mexico, neither can we deny that the violence experienced is not related to sociodemographic motivations such as race, sexual preference, gender identity or country of origin. Of course, it’s not right to indulge the absurdity of “criminals are killing each other”, but, damn… we need to recognize the difference behind the violence. Of course answering such a question requires a long debate. Understanding the political context ahead with a midterm election that looks like the Republicans will not only win, but crush, it’s impossible to think that there will be a change in policy to improve the situation. In fact, if we take into account the Republican Party platform in Texas – one of the most important bastions of the party in the United States – everything points to the fact that things can only get worse.
Is the u.s. safe
And not to be pessimistic, data shows that we are very close to the next mass shooting-related massacre in the U.S. happening at a touristic site. Because the common element in the acts of violence that are being discussed is that those who die are mostly people that the aggressor considers as “different” and as a “threat”. The most serious aspect of this is that it is not an overblown analogy. Because when a country accepts the death of children as “an acceptable sacrifice” to defend its manipulated interpretation of a 233-year-old law, I am sorry to say that the worst is yet to come. Because if you are willing to accept the death of children to support a hobby, it’s time to change your hobby.

This post is also available in: Español

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