For Inger Kwaku, gun control weighs heavy on her heart
By Morgane Wauquier
Nov. 3, 2020
While the lines were empty in the afternoon, this polling station was packed earlier in the day. Photo by Inger Kwaku.
Shortly after Inger Kwaku and her family moved to New Hampshire, an interaction with an employee while shopping with her children at Walmart’s sport section left her horrified and avoiding trips to the superstore.
“This employee comes up to me and says, ‘Oh ma’am! Are you here for the guns?’ And I’m like, ‘Geez, no! Not me! Like, why would I – I’ve got my kids here!’” Kwaku exclaims fervently. The guns were sold next to basketballs and fishing rods. She says it’s shocking how easy it is to buy them in the state.
The issue of gun control is just one of the reasons that Kwaku, 50, voted by mail last month for Democratic candidate Joe Biden. She has her fingers crossed that Tuesday night will see President Donald Trump voted out of office. “There’s just so many things that are wrong about this man.”
Kwaku was born in Australia and has lived everywhere from Argentina to Switzerland to Nepal. She knows what’s it like not to have to worry about guns. She moved to the U.S. in 1994 and since she became a naturalized citizen she has always voted Democrat.
In the 2016 election, the Democrats won New Hampshire by a mere 0.4 per cent. They’re the majority in the sleepy town of Hanover where Kwaku and her family live, but they’re surrounded by Republicans. It’s a blue dot in a sea of red, says her husband, Kevin Kwaku. She remembers driving through pro-Trump territory to pick something up in another town and seeing confederate flags fly. She never went back. “You feel like you’re in a different world.”
While the state’s House and Senate are controlled by Democrats, New Hampshire’s governor Chris Sununu is a Republican and he has a track record of vetoing gun control bills.
“I just can’t believe that someone wouldn’t want to protect the safety of their citizens,” says Kwaku. “I’ll be honest, the only way that I survive is by not thinking about it.”
Her husband says he feels the same. “I honestly try not to dwell on it,” he adds. The state has loose gun laws, including a no license requirement to openly or conceal carry a gun.
For Kwaku, a speech-language pathologist working at Hanover High School and mom of four, the threat of school shootings is often on her mind. Gun advocates in New Hampshire argue that gun violence victims are far and few. According to the CDC, New Hampshire had a gun violence death rate of 10.8 per 100,000 residents in 2018, the 11th lowest in the US that year. Meanwhile, the state had the seventh highest gun sales the same year.
In 2019, Sununu vetoed a bill to restrict guns on school grounds. In a statement, he wrote that “New Hampshire is one of the safest states in the nation” and has a “tradition of responsible firearm stewardship.”
But Kwaku says she doesn’t buy it. Gun violence is low until it isn’t. “Every single school gun shooting that you see on the news, right after it happens, everyone says, ‘Oh my god, I thought it would never happen here!’ Just because it’s never happened here, doesn’t mean that it couldn’t,” she says. “You get this fear. Are we next? Is it going to be our school?”
Kwaku recalls Canadian gun laws changing after the 1989 mass shooting at Montreal’s École Polytechnique that happened when she was a student at McGill University.
“Other countries have been around and they’ve managed to progress, but the U.S. seems to be stuck in the fact that, ‘Well, this is what our Constitution says,’” she says, referring to Americans unwilling to let go of the Second Amendment. “Americans are so concerned with their freedom that they will do so at the cost of other people’s lives.”
Biden’s plan to end gun violence includes banning assault weapons and requiring universal background checks.
Kwaku argues it will take more than just a new president to change gun laws in the country, but he could make it a little safer. Her husband agrees: “At the end of the day, people are sick of the massacres.”
With her mask on, Kwaku went to the polls on Tuesday morning to pick up her ‘I voted’ sticker. Biden supporters stood outside with signs. She bumped into state representatives who said they were cautiously optimistic that he would win.
Otherwise, Kwaku says she and her husband would consider leaving the country to live somewhere safer. Perhaps Canada, where he is from. “After the last four years, you really start to think, ‘Is this the right place to be?’”
Kwaku stands outside the polls in front of Democratic state representatives holding Biden signs. Photo by Inger Kwaku.