On American and Dutch gun culture (by a Netherlands loving American)

My Dutch friends keep asking me, “What the hell is going on in America?  Another mass shooting?!”  I take a deep breath.  Sigh.  And I don’t have the words to explain.  It’s complicated.  And so damn sad.

See, I feel half-American, half-Dutch.  I lived in Amsterdam for 2 years after college and go back annually. I’d love to retire permanently there. I have so many close Dutch friends and I’ve come to love the country, people and lifestyle.  Ik hou van Nederlands!  But I was born an American of distant Dutch roots.  I grew up in New York (which began as New Amsterdam!)  When I visit Delft or Zwolle or Haarlem, I say “Goede morgen! Hoe gaat het met je!”  But, essentially, I’m an American.

And, while I am very patriotic and love America in most ways, I want my Dutch friends to know that I, like most Americans I know, am independent and think for myself.  I do not follow the leadership of elected officials (um, we’re talking about a totally unqualified guy who is currently the President of the United States here) blindly.

I adore the First Amendment which allows me to criticize my Government freely, and I value the independent press/media to act as a countercheck on what my government does.  See, I told you it was complicated.  Let’s sober up with this grim review of recent events, a terrible top ten of American gun violence:

  • 1999: Columbine High School, Colorado
  • 2007: Virginia Tech, Virginia
  • 2009: Fort Hood, Texas
  • 2012: Aurora, Colorado
  • 2012: Sandy Hook, Connecticut
  • 2013: Washington Navy Yard, DC
  • 2015: Charleston, South Carolina
  • 2015: San Bernardino, California
  • 2016: Orlando, Florida
  • 2017: Las Vegas, Nevada

Ring a deadly bell?  And these are just the infamous events.

American gun culture: killing it

Hundreds of Americans are shot with handguns and other firearms on a daily basis.  The US is a country saturated with guns, they are everywhere.  But why do these traumatic mass killings keep happening?  Why do we become desensitized to them?  Can this really be business as usual?  It just makes no sense, yet America suffers these tragedies on a regular basis and keeps ignoring common sense ways to prevent them.  I am so sick and tired of people sending their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims.  Thoughts and prayers do nothing.


Please understand, my Dutch friends, that there is a very large political section of the populace here who desperately wants change.  And, you ask, “Why doesn’t America change?  Why can’t you be more like us?”  It seems so logical, so obvious: the US allows virtually unlimited gun ownership and suffers mass death by gun; the Dutch severely restrict gun ownership and no one is shot.

Dutch gun laws and Dutch gun culture

Dutch gun laws are actually quite strict as you would expect. Gun ownership is seen not as a right, but a privilege, with hunting and target shooting as a sport the only two legitimate reasons for owning a gun. Owning a gun in the Netherlands for both sports and hunting comes with extreme vetting and sees lengthy procedures, and don’t even think about owning an assault rifle.

Self-defense is certainly not regarded as a reason for owning a gun, and only the police are allowed to actually carry a weapon. Regulations and enforcement of Dutch gun laws were even stricter after the Alphen aan de Rijn shooting in 2011.

So, about gun culture in the Netherlands and the US

So, in answer, my dear Dutch loved ones, let me try to explain . . .

Start with the basic truism that America is an ultra-violent place compared to the Netherlands.  We have thousands of killings by gun violence every year.  Holland has virtually none.  Why is this true? To try to understand we need to take a trip down the misty lanes of history.

Remember, the United States is a very young country compared to elegant, noble Holland.  There are churches, there are even restaurants, in the Netherlands much older than the organized formation of the United States of America in 1776.  America is a baby swaddled in a diaper compared to the Netherlands.

This relative youthfulness, plus three important additional factors impact on current events with regard to gun violence: the history of the US, the continental size of the US, and the social philosophy of the US.  Let’s take a look . . .

America was born from violence; don’t forget we are a revolutionary people, freed from England during the Revolutionary War.  We’re rebels.  We fight.  We have lots of guns.  When our Constitution was written by some really smart men, guys like Thomas Jefferson, we added a Second Amendment.  Sigh. 

This is where a lot of the controversy emanates from.  Y’see, the Second Amendment can be interpreted a million ways.  One group of people believe the original literal words included in the Second Amendment guarantee a virtually unlimited right to own firearms.  Another group believes the Constitution should adapt with time to address current contemporary social issues better.

So, the first group reads the right to possess firearms as an unlimited right, the other advocates for gun control, or reasonable limits to what types of firearms average citizens can freely buy and own in their homes.  Dutch people don’t get this; because in the Netherlands you can’t own guns freely and virtually no one has a gun in their home.  See, it’s complicated.  I’m on the side of reasonable gun control.

The Second Amendment was written when homesteaders needed muskets to protect their homes from the dangers of the wilderness.  Fully automatic machine guns and armour piercing hollow-point bullets were way, way, way beyond the imagination of Thomas Jefferson and his peers.  So, do we allow ALL weapons freely or politically design some rational limits on gun ownership?  People disagree on this.  Big time.

Throw in another factor to complicate things more: the political influence of the NRA.  The National Rifle Association is gigantically powerful in the lobbying industry.  They give millions and millions of dollars in contributions to lobby, or influence, the direction of politics.  They contribute to politicians who favour their views.

Some say it’s corrupt, others approve and say it’s business as usual.  Ahem.  The NRA fights tooth and nail to block any infringement on traditional Second Amendment rights.  They advocate for free gun ownership and resist any changes to absolute freedom to own whatever weapons are legally available.

And no matter how many devastating mass murder events occur — Las Vegas, Orlando, Sandy Hook — they send “thoughts and prayers” to the victims’ families.  And never support reasonable limits on gun control.  They are dug in and won’t change even a little bit.

Also remember, the US is enormous.  From the colourful autumn foliage of Maine across the continent to the glitzy lights of LA, this is one big country.  Toss in the tropical beauty of Hawaii or the majestic snow-covered peaks of Alaska, and you’ll see that this country is massive.  The Netherlands is densely populated, yes I know, but tiny in size.  About the size of Pennsylvania, one State of 50.

Why does this matter?  Well, because a smaller nation can find a consensus easier than a gigantic one, and even so, politics is complex in the Netherlands to be sure.  But imagine trying to unite all of the EU on one political policy as emotionally charged as gun control.  See the problem?  Size matters.

And then we add to the mix social discord.  Lack of harmony politically.  Republicans and Democrats.  Ah, I can only take a deep breath and sigh.  America is really, really conflicted right now.  Remember, more than half of the voters rejected President Trump, yet he still won the Presidency because of our traditional Electoral College antiquated rules (ah, perhaps the topic for another article?).

We have “right wing” conservatives – people who want the freedom to own guns, generally NRA supporters, and we have “left-wing” liberals – folks who support restrictions on what types of guns people can own, and who might be disqualified from owning them.

It’s a social mess.  And, meanwhile, nothing ever changes.  I mean, when a crazy guy can go into a school classroom and mow down a group of innocent children with a machine gun . . . when a mentally ill young man can go into a church and kill a bible study group . . . when some enraged man can go into a nightclub and kill dozens of young people dancing . . .when a weird guy rents a hotel suite in Las Vegas and shoots out the window into concert goers with a fully automatic rifle . . AND NOTHING HAPPENS TO CHANGE THE LAW?   Yes, it’s a major problem.

Dutch gun culture
A protest after another shooting – will change nothing

Here’s what I think should happen: politicians need to stand up to the NRA and do what’s right, not what’s politically advantageous to their reelection chances.  Let’s pass some reasonable gun control laws.  OK, OK, I’m not advocating that we take guns away from reasonable people, people who want to hunt or use guns for safe recreation or to protect their home.  Sportsmen do not need machine guns.  You don’t kill a deer with hollow-point bullets.  Let’s get really strict with WHO can own a gun too.  One common thread with these mass killings is that mentally ill people were able to acquire incredibly dangerous automatic weapons.  It’s very hard to kill 60 people with a knife.  Do better background checks.  Don’t allow people with a history of mental illness or domestic violence to own firearms.  Let’s be smart . . . like the Dutch.



Alex Foster
Alex Foster
Alex Foster is an American of Dutch heritage and 11 generations later he still feels a great love of all things Dutch! After college in the US, Alex lived in the Pieter DeHoochstraat for 2 years, learning basic Dutch and beginning a life-long affinity for the Netherlands. Currently, he returns annually and enjoys exploring all corners of the Netherlands.


  1. This is a very good article on the gun culture in the US. Here are a couple of additional thoughts. Yes,the United States has a violent past, and it is still is a violent country. The Netherlands has a violent past also, but today it is not as violent as the US. NL only had 55 gun related deaths in 2004 (the latest stat I could find). Japan has a violent past and today it’s one of the most peaceful and safe countries in the world. In 2014 there were only 6 gun deaths, while the US had over 33,000 gun related deaths.

    “Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a 2015 study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama,” The New York Times reported.

    I could go on and on about the statistics. The problem with Americans is psychological. Americans think that everything can be solved by shooting someone or by dropping a nuclear bomb on North Korea. They are delusional. They believe in the myth of the United States that cowboys with white hats are always the good guys because they’ve killed the bad guys with black hats or the Indians. This has been perpetuated for several hundred years through books, articles, radio shows, TV shows, movies and now with video games. They truly believe (not everyone, of course) that all arguments and disagreements can be solved with a gun. And the truly crazies think that they are more powerful and commanding by owning more guns or more powerful firearms. Pretty soon, under the misinterpretation of the Second Amendment, anyone should be able to own a missile that can be fired from a drone. This big part of America’s psyche is self-destructive and delusional. As Leonard Cohen said in one of his songs called Democracy , “America, the cradle of the best and the worst.” It’s too bad that the world is currently seeing only the worst. The best is still there when Democracy comes back to America.

    • I don’t own a gun now. But I support the NRA. NRA not only protect the right of every Americans to own guns & protect themselves.They represent individual freedoms. I stand for Freedom. We allow to take away one freedom such as to own a gun, what’s next? Freedom of speech & expression? With these freedoms we enjoy, there will be that will abuse them i.e. mentally disturbed people that do mass shootings. Freedom isn’t free. I’m will to pay the price to protect all our personal Freedoms.
      Our founding fathers made sure we as Americans are equal. Including equal to all government officials, police, Military etc. People (all Americans) should be able to own the same weapons, all types of guns just as the police does. Because we are all equal. No elitist etc. It’s the reason our forefathers made sure we all can own & have the same type of guns the public servants use & have. Regardless of their position, we civilians are the same as these public servants i.e. police, Army, FBI, CIA etc. They have guns. We should have guns too. We are all in the same country. These great beautiful USA. The land of the free. It’s what makes America special. Let’s protect the constitution. Protect our way of life.

  2. Actually Americans have guns to protect themselves from their own government that would use those same guns against them or aid other countries to use those guns against them do a little research Mr. Dutchman on favors your own royal family did for the Nazis while said royal family was safe from the Nazis who were running through your country the Dutch royal family gave the Nazis plenty of fuel to fuel their military destruction of your own country.


  3. Absolute codswallop. I guess let’s start here:

    “The Second Amendment was written when homesteaders needs muskets to protect their homes from the dangers of the wilderness.”

    So was the First Amendment. Are you willing to have your first amendment rights altered in a similar way? Also I doubt very much that a group of men wrote this document to protect their ability to defend themselves from WILDLIFE after just successfully completing a violent revolution against their tyrannic oppressors.

    “Fully automatic machine guns and armor piercing hollow-point bullets were way, way, way beyond the imagination of Thomas Jefferson and his peers.”

    Actually fully automatic gatling guns did exist at the time the Constitution was written. So did Cannons. Oddly the Founding Father’s didn’t seem to imply your right to bear arms should be restricted to specific types of arms even with these other weapons available. It’s almost like they truly meant shall not be infringed.

    “So, do we allow ALL weapons freely or politically design some rational limits on gun ownership? People disagree on this. Big time.”

    There are no rational limits if you agree with the Constitution. Advocating to selectively alter the amendments you choose outside of the formal process set forth to change the Constitution is hypocritical and treasonous.

    • Great response. This “article” is not only full of fallacies but also seems to be steeped on very biased, subjective opinion.

      • When the author said machine guns were used in mass shootings he blew it. None were used. And what do the the libs describe as an assault weapon. A scary looking gun.

    • Why is it relevant if the gatling gun was already available at the time the constitution was written?
      The fact that in the Netherlands almost no one is killed by shootings and in the US hundreds or thousands per year seems way more relevant.
      If this part of the constitution was written to guarantee more safety, then it simply does not work. (to my humble opinion as a dutchman.)
      I do not understand that a country, so afraid of (muslim) terrorist attacks, does not see the problem of its own constitional right to bear arms. In the last 15 years american white males were a bigger threat to safety than all terrorists together.

      • You cannot look at the aggregate of a country with 350 million folks. Try looking at killed by mass shootings per 1,000 people. And having strict gun laws doesnt make you immune. Laws against drugs hasnt stopped them. I guess you can pass more laws against drugs and see if that helps. Here is the latest mass shooting in the Netherlands. https://abcnews.go.com/International/multiple-people-injured-shooting-netherlands-tram/story?id=61758017&cid=clicksource_4380645_null_hero_hed

        • “Try looking at mass shootings per 1000 people”.

          We’ve had two “mass shootings” in the last 20 years in the Netherlands on a population of 17 million. You have had 8 mass shootings in the year of 2019 alone.

          It’s all good that you defend your constitutional rights and freedoms, but be realistic about it and look at your own nation with healthy criticism. You have a problem with gun violence, and you can not divert attention to others who may have had something happen recently.

      • Hundreds of thousands of people aren’t killed every year in America is about 40,000. Though that is far from acceptable, it’s far cry from 100,000+. With that said 65% (26,000) of those gun deaths are suicides. The other 35% (14,000) are homicides or accidentally self inflicted. Of those, 70% (9,800) are murders (deliberate homicide). Of those, 80% (7,800) are committed by gang affiliates, while 20% (2000) are committed by non gang affiliates. On top of this approximately 50-60% of all criminals obtain their weapons illegally. In other words, if you eliminated gangs, something the Netherlands, nor anywhere else in Western Europe struggles with, our gun murder rate would be comparable to Sweden.

        So with that spheel out of the way, no, the constitution was never made so people would be safe, it was made so people would be free.

        “Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem.”
        -Thomas Jefferson

        Yes, one the founding fathers, one of the drafters of our constitution and the creator of our declaration of independence wrote that.

        The purpose of the second amendment is to guarantee that no government, be it our own or a foreign oppressor.

        And with that said, our general fear of Muslim terrorist is as irrational as your fear of guns, and I don’t know about your fear of guns, but the fear of terrorist in America was a ploy for control, and it succeeded.

  4. Another mass shooting in the USA. ANOTHER THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS FROM THE PRESIDENT. When will U.S. citizens bite the bullet and make drastic changes to the status quo? The number of accidental gun deaths, gun deaths from domestic violence, and gun deaths from suicide, should be enough to trigger a speedy overhaul of existing laws. Americans have become the most hated race on the planet through attempting to act as the police force of this world. Better “police” your own population and demonstrate that you can live in peace with each other, before trying to impose your version of freedom on the rest of the planet. Make America great again by “growing up”.

    • The problem is the mass shooting deaths have little to do with gun laws, as do suicides. Accidents are accidents so come on now.

      And all of those things combined don’t even begin to make a dent in the numbers. If we banned every ar-15 in America tomorrow, you’d save maybe 25 people. Go look it up at the fbi or any objective website, if you can find one.

      Are real problems are income inequality and the drug war, and really both are tied together. If you legalized drugs and created opportunity for poor people in inner cities, you’d see a major drop in gun crime that would be 50x greater than any ban or new law, because most of those guns are illegal and used in gang related violence.

      • @Michael Capanelli exactly! Finally someone that’s actually looked into the “statistics” (largely flawed and heavily skewed to push certain agendas) and separates the truth from the emotionally targeting narratives!

  5. Liberals talking about gun violence in America, like there’s no gun violence in Europe. Stop trying to prove a point, when you don’t have none. Killing and violence will always exist, guns or not.
    God created man! Colt made em equal !
    I’ve always wanted to say that!

  6. Rights
    Let me be clear on the subject of rights. By the nature of my existence, I own myself and my mind. I own the fruits of my labor (property rights). I have the right to defend myself and defend what is mine (self defense). By extension, I have the right to possess and carry the means to defend myself and my property. The right to bear arms is a natural human right belonging to everyone, no matter where they live. No other has the right to take my life, liberty or property. I owe others only non-aggression.

  7. Do other countries not have an issue with criminals buying guns on the black market? I keep reading these articles about stricter gun laws but nobody talks about guns entering our country illegally and sold to criminals on the streets. Until we secure our borders it will continue. If they stripped law abiding citizens of their right to guns it would not stop the flow of illegal guns here. I see alot of writers trying to compare the US to other countries without knowing or mentioning the many differences.
    Should the US give up nuclear weapons and hope China and Russia follow? I am not giving up my guns and then go home and pray that the criminals who buy them from the mexican drug dealers decide to turn into decent human beings.

  8. None of the shootings you mentioned used fully automatic weapons, aka machineguns. And yeah, hunters DO kill deer with hollow points. Do you want the round to completely penetrate, exit, and hurt something else? No, you want it to stop IN the target, killing it quickly and humanely.
    I manage to make it from home to work and back every day while running errands in between without so much as seeing a single act of violence. So where is all of this ultra violence you speak of? Oh. Chicago, Baltimore, and other liberal run, gun control “havens”.
    The Founding Fathers WERE smart. Smart enough to have imagined weapons of the future. Yet you apparently don’t want to give them any credit unless it suits your agenda.

  9. Except gun control did not prevent this, in fact, as gun control has gotten stricter in America mass shootings have skyrocketed, especially in the last 15 years. For example, in most American schools prior to the 1960s, you could carry on campus or store a gun in your locker, you couldn’t do this then most has riffle clubs. And back then school shooting deaths were as rare as they currently are in Scotland. Thing is, the Netherlands have never had a problem with violence (apart for, you know, two massive wars), even when gun laws were very lax like they are in America today, gun violence was minute, the same was true in the U.K., France, etc.

  10. Ya en betye mulik or. Here in Ireland we have had our fail share of violence but even ira culture didn’t produce as lethal a circumstance as the nra.

  11. Now that only the government can have weapons and they are going to use them to take away your farms, how do you feel about not having a right to bear arms now?

  12. According to a research from 1992-2009, about 1 in 3 murders was committed with a gun (in the Netherlands). So gun-deaths are quite real, even in the Netherlands.
    In the US, more recently (about 2020?) about 3 in 4 murders was committed with a gun.

    Make of that what you want.

    Btw 1. (iirc): In both cases most gun related deaths took place in the criminal circuit.

    Btw 2. In the US the gun-death rate (per 100.000) committed by whites is about the same as the total gun-death rate in the Netherlands.

    Again, make of that what you want.


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