Ashley Tickner and his wife, Georgia, had been planning to visit the United States for their honeymoon in early 2021, but canceled the trip because of COVID-19 concerns. As the pandemic waned and the Surrey, England-based couple found ways to manage their health worries they started to plan a make-up trip for this year.
The couple considered destinations like Boston and New York City, when they again decided against visiting because of safety concerns, this time primarily because of gun violence amid news reports of mass shootings.
“It’s always in the back of certainly my mind and my wife’s mind: Should (we) be putting ourselves in these crowded situations where you just don’t know?” Tickner told USA TODAY.
The 30-year-old is among a number of international travelers who have decided against traveling to the U.S. because of fears of gun violence and other safety concerns, whether temporarily tabling trips or holding off indefinitely.
‘What could happen?’
Erin Holmes, who runs the travel blog Explore With Erin, has spent years traveling the world, but decided to hold off on coming back to the U.S. because of concerns about gun violence.
“I don’t want to be going about my everyday life and thinking, ‘Am I allowed to go to this festival?’ or, ‘Am I allowed to be at this shopping center? Like, what could happen?’” said the 41-year-old.
Holmes, who is based in Western Australia, spent two years traveling around the U.S. with her family in 2015 and 2016, and even considered moving to the states full-time before deciding against it.
With two young children – her son and daughter were 5 and 6 the first year – she could not see herself “placing them in an environment where they would one, need to learn the skills on how to hide from a gunman, and two, to be in a situation where they would need to put that to use so regularly.”
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She considered going with her family on a Caribbean cruise departing from the U.S., but after a series of shootings this year, they opted to sail through the Mediterranean.
Holmes said she might be open to visiting the U.S. without her children, but that she would likely avoid big crowds. Burning Man, for instance, is something she “always wanted to do.”
“But to me, that just seems like something (bad) waiting to happen,” she said.
U.S. leads in firearm homicides
In 2020, 45,222 people died as a result of gun-related injuries in the U.S., the most on record, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including murders, suicides, and other kinds of gun-related deaths.
That year – the last with full data available – suicides accounted for a little over half of deaths related to guns, and murders accounted for 43%.
According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the rate of firearm homicides per 100,000 people is 4.12 in the U.S., ranking first among wealthy countries with populations of 10 million people or more. That number is 0.18 in Australia, for instance, and 0.04 in the United Kingdom.
Daegeun Kim, an assistant professor of global hospitality and tourism at Eastern Kentucky University, said as travelers do research while planning a trip, news reports play a role in their willingness to go.
"The more frequent they see this kind of news about a destination where they want to go, it is more likely that it's going to affect their decision-making process," he said.
There have also been 406 mass shootings and 19 mass murders reported in the U.S. as of Aug. 8, according to nonprofit research group the Gun Violence Archive.
Travelers have other safety concerns, too
For other travelers, gun violence is one of several worries. Alexandra Mirskikh avoids visiting the U.S. because of a number of safety considerations, including mass shootings, police brutality, and how she's seen international citizens are treated by officials at the border.
Mirskikh, who is originally from Ukraine and lives in The Hague, visited Baltimore when she was 16 as part of a student exchange program. She enjoyed the trip, but over the years, as she saw reports of school shootings and families being separated at the U.S.-Mexico border, she grew increasingly hesitant to come back.
The latter struck a particular chord with the now 48-year-old mother of a young daughter.
“You just never know how police will behave, what will happen on the border, whether or not you’ll be shot by someone,” Mirskikh said.
She decided not to visit until her daughter turns 18 and said she may not feel safe doing so even then. And while she loves to travel, there are other destinations on her list.
“The world is really large,” Mirskikh said. “There are so many places I haven’t been.”
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Kim of Eastern Kentucky University noted, however, that when shootings happen at places like schools, the victims are not tourists, and as tourism ramps back up as COVID rules have eased, he does not expect a significant negative impact on the industry as a result of those kinds of incidents.
Tickner will not be deterred indefinitely. He previously traveled to places in the U.S. like Florida and Las Vegas, and said he’s “been desperate to come back for years.” He and his wife are expecting a baby, which may complicate the timeline for another trip, but he said they will return.
“Is it going to put me off coming back ever?” he said. “No, because otherwise these people (committing violence) win.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gun violence, travel safety concern deter international travel to US