My wife said something yesterday which was like an acid bath. Her words completely dissolved my fixed view of the endless, meat-grinding churn of American mass shootings. As we watched reports of yet another gun attack, this time eight dead in Dallas – the tears, the blood; the grief, the empty calls for "thoughts and prayers" – she sighed: “It’s just like us growing up.”

That shook me. What she meant was: she saw in American violence reflections of the lives both of us – and all the children of our generation – experienced during the conflict in Northern Ireland. I no longer use the term "The Troubles". Such euphemism for barbaric civil war does disservice to the dead, the survivors, and my poor recovering homeland.

I’ve worked in America, writing extensively about violent crime, so perhaps my view of what’s happened to the United States has become jaded; perhaps my soul, my empathy, has been worn down by custom. A terrible truth about journalism is that it’s too easy to become inured to horror. I’ve looked on gun violence in America the way the rest of the world probably looked at the conflict in Northern Ireland: "Why can’t those Americans just stop killing each other?" … "Why can’t they just stop murdering each other in Northern Ireland?”

Read more: How 14 days of murder changed my life forever

However, as I learned from growing up in Northern Ireland and covering the conflict there as a writer, murder is a stubborn stain to remove once it’s ingrained into a nation’s soul. A tiny sliver – a mad, brutal minority of people – can turn the lives of the teeming majority into hell, with enough determination and enough guns.

America is terrorising itself, just as Northern Ireland terrorised itself. The similarities persist: there’s a ghastly sense of self-cannibalisation; of a nation locked into bloodshed because the political will to change doesn’t exist, or where it does exist it’s thwarted by those in power.

There’s a terrible irony that I barely want to think about: so much of America was founded by people from my part of the world. Violence, and sheer, bloody wilful stubbornness are part of our cultural DNA. Remember, the symbol of Ulster is the Red Hand.

For those who don’t know the legend: a young prince must beat his brother in a swimming race across Lough Neagh to take the Ulster crown. Falling behind, he slices off his own hand and throws it to the shore, so he can claim to "touch land" first and become king. Perhaps too many Americans share that fatal, uncompromising characteristic.

After that exchange with my wife, I spoke to a dear friend of mine: Erin, a North Carolina businesswoman. Incidentally, she’s got plenty of Northern Irish blood in her veins from generations back – as does a branch of my family who also live in North Carolina. I don’t often talk to my American friends or family about gun violence, unless they raise the subject. Matters turn dark very quickly if I do. They all support gun control, but I don’t want to be seen to stand in judgment of a loved one’s country.

But I asked Erin a rather blunt question: “When will America stop killing itself?” Her answer was chilling: “America’s soul is dead”. The people have become apathetic towards violence, she said. Most see gun reform as a lost cause.

Read more: How Scotland became a refuge for a boy lost in the Troubles

This already sounded like Northern Ireland in the late 20th century. A nation with its soul destroyed, people inured to killing, hope of change dead. It’s not hard to see why Americans feel like this. The future does seem hopeless. Latest figures show 48,830 people died from gunshots in America in 2021. There have been 201 mass shootings in America this year alone. In each of the last three years, there have been more than 600 mass shootings, roughly two a day. Yet nothing is done, despite 57% of Americans favouring stricter gun control. Political deadlock – and culture war – renders change impossible.

“The Government isn’t for the people or by the people anymore,” Erin said. “America is a myth. A lie. It was once a great country and did great things, but that’s dead now. It’s left for politicians and big business to pick the carcass at the expense of American families.”

Erin plans to leave America. That’s how bad it is. She’s eyeing a new home in Ireland, Spain or Scotland. “Give me a small house over there, where I don’t have to fear my brains being blown out every time I go to the store. I don’t feel safe. I live in constant fear.”

That sentence hit me hard. It was exactly how I felt before I left Northern Ireland for Scotland. I remember the tit-for-tat killings in the late 80s and early 90s when murder gangs machine-gunned pubs full of people. Young folk of my generation feared going for a drink at night. We were scared going to school, scared in the park. We lived in an atmosphere soaked in fear. Like in Northern Ireland, when I was young, the majority of Americans crave peace, yet politics prevents it.

In North Carolina, Erin said, people can openly carry guns in public with no licence required. In Europe, she says: “I like walking down the street and not having to scan the environment for people with guns.”

Read more: How I learned to cope with a diagnosis of PTSD

She’s lost all hope: “Everyone knows there’s no fixing it. My generation will never see America heal. That’s why I want out. What America once was is dead.” She sent me a link to an FBI public service announcement called "Run, Hide, Fight" – advice to citizens about what to do if they’re caught up in a mass shooting. “That’s what the Government calls ‘help’,” she added. “I feel hostage in my own country. I’ll just say it: I hate America now. I’m embarrassed to be American.”

It struck me: America helped Northern Ireland achieve peace. Without America, there wouldn’t be any Good Friday Agreement. How I wish America – a country I love and admire for all its terrible faults – might look across the Atlantic and learn the lessons it helped teach my country: that only compromise can end bloodshed in a nation locked in a spiral of death.