Saturday, October 08, 2011

Why Guns are Cool

In Australia, funnily enough, we don't seem to have guns.

That's not to say they don't exist at all. Some farmers and people who live out in the country have them. So do the police and the army. Perhaps the security people who protect politicians have them but they must keep them hidden. Also, very occasionally, you do hear of gun crimes. There are underworld gangsters and some motorcycle gang members who somehow come up with an illegal, unregistered firearm. You usually hear about them when they've just been arrested for shooting each other.

Still though, guns in Australia are somewhat of a rarity. If you have them, your not exactly considered normal. If you have one for private use then it's almost certainly of a variety designed for shooting at things that aren't likely to retaliate.

Things weren't always like this here in Australia, of course. I do have dim memories of a time when gun ownership was, though not an everyday pastime, common enough that it probably wouldn't have raised an eyebrow if you heard that someone had a semi automatic or a self loading shotgun. That was before the new gun laws that were introduced after the Port Arthur massacre. You can watch some rather unclear footage of parts of it here, but I must warn you, it's shocking. After that happened, the federal government, with the support of about 85% of the public, bought back guns considered particularly dangerous, such as self loading, semi automatic and pump action weapons, and toughened licensing for all other types of guns. There was an amnesty period during which the guns were to be turned in by their owners to police stations and I remember the newspapers showing photos of the guns laid out on sheets like museum exhibits. Of course some unregistered guns must have escaped the buyback scheme and are still out there somewhere, which is why they sill turn up from time to time.

That was back in 1996/7. It all seems a long time ago now. As I said, guns really are a rarity here. There existence usually seems like a distant phenomenon, like something you see in news stories about other countries but can't imagine ever facing yourself.

I understand that gun ownership is still a very significant and controversial issue in the USA. There seems to be a huge amount of rhetoric on the internet from people, particularly in the southern states, about their 'right to bear arms.' Of course this is hard for me or anyone here in Australia to understand, since I don't think we've ever had such a right and if we did, it was taken away a long time ago. In the cities, we don't even have the right to carry a pocket knife if the blade is more than a few centimeters (I think it's about 3 inches, but don't quote me on that) or if it's the kind of blade that you can flick out quickly.

I do, however, have a Nerf gun. Actually, I have to admit, I have several. Nerf guns are a kind of children's toy that shoots foam darts. They usually don't hurt very much, even when they inevitably get you in the eye. One of mine has laser sight too. I have no idea why, but even as an adult I find these toys absolutely thrilling to play with. When I'm at home alone, I practice sneaking about and surprising imaginary enemies with them or practicing my aim by shooting my reflection in the mirror (the suction cap darts are the best for this).

Why is shooting a Nerf gun so much fun? It doesn't even do anything to whatever it hits. It certainly isn't useful for anything. Somehow though, it get's the heart racing and ignites some sort of warrior instinct in me. It's the same feeling I get when I drive dangerously fast around corners in a car or when I'm sailing a boat on a windy day. It's exhilarating!

There's more, too. I was reading about the traditions of pheasant shooting the other day. An old man who was interviewed proudly showed off his ancient fowling piece. It had shiny polished bits and beautiful timber and looked like something that was made to be held. It had a history. It had been with him all his life since he inherited it from his father. That reminded me of sailing too. The wooden bits were like the tiller of a lovingly crafted timber boat. I love boats. Boats have a tradition and a beautiful, thrilling feeling that goes with them. Boats are part of my 'culture.'

So I get it, I really do. When all those people in America are having their outcries against the lefties (hay, I'm a lefty!) taking their guns away and interfering with their rights, I get it. I have sympathy. I can see how they (or you, if your a gun owner) could love their guns.

I can imagine myself, if i were born in and lived in a culture like that, lovingly cleaning and maintaining my gun, taking it apart and reassembling it with pride, indulging in the satisfying metallic click as each component moved into place. Not many things we come across are well built and strong and mechanical like that. I can see myself going to a range and shooting it and feeling the power and the glory of holding the key to sudden death in my hands. Blasting things to smithereens must be an amazing feeling, too. All very harmless, I'm sure, since I would be a responsible gun owner and never point my weapon at anybody and never leave it loaded or in reach of children. Yes, I could be a gun owner and a very happy one at that. Guns are cool.

I'm not there though. I'm here in Australia. I've never lived with guns or experienced any of those amazing feelings, though once, as a small child, I did hold a rifle that belonged to a friend's father. The point is though, here in Australia, all the guns I see are on TV. Generally they are in the hands of soldiers and are being used to kill people. Then, if I change the channel, there may be a movie of the guns in America. They're usually being used to play cops and robbers: yes, more killing. Of course I know the phrase that's appropriate here: "guns don't kill people, people kill people." Well that may well be true. Yes, people are the ones doing the killing. The thing is though, here in Australia, in my own country that I see every day, is people not killing each other. Just to make sure I'm not living with a false sense of security, I did check: the USA has a murder rate of 5, compared to Australia's 1.3. How do we keep it so low? Well we don't have the death penalty and innocent people don't have any weapon with which to defend ourselves. Perhaps we're good at communicating with each other. Based on this observation, I humbly suggest you modify your saying: guns don't kill people: people with guns kill people. I get where the Americans are coming from, but I'd still much rather live here than there.


  1. My brother and his wife (both ex-military) have gun licences, though they don't own their own guns as yet. I'm fairly sure they only ever shoot inanimate objects, and only at licensed ranges. I agree that gun ownership isn't common or pervasive here, but I do object to the implication that private gun owners are "not exactly considered normal". I don't think that's correct. I don't think there is a stigma attached to gun ownership here - it's just not common, that's all.

    I remember the Port Arthur massacre, and the weapons buyback afterwards. 85% sounds plausible - I seem to recall an outcry against the new restrictions, but it was not mainstream.

    Guns are fun, they really are. You know that about the nerf guns you play with, I know that about dart guns and super soakers and even occasionally paintballing (ow), and my brother assures me that real guns are even more fun. That doesn't mean they're a good idea, though, and I personally have chosen not even to try shooting a real gun. I get the fascination of guns, but I also get the fascination of trainsurfing and other unwise pursuits.

    I, too, am happy to live here rather than in the USA.


  2. By the way, I am still in discussion with a US man who believed (and possibly still believes) - it's quite interesting to see his approach. And yes, he has been shown the Snopes article.

  3. That's an in interesting article, musicalmotion. I don't think any of those international treaties actually advocate the "complete ban and confiscation of all firearms" as the author suggests. Even here in Australia there are licenses for some kinds of guns and 'confiscation' actually involved financial compensation. A part of me would like to see that happen in America, while another part of me kind of feels excited about the USA still being a sort of wild, untamed place where anything can happen. In the end, it's up to the people there to consider how they would rather live, but I hope they will consider carefully.

  4. I don't think there's a stigma associated with gun ownership in the country. However, I think in the city if someone had one people may feel somewhat alarmed or at least surprised. It's not as if you see them on a regular basis on the street: not even here in Melton, which is semi rural.

  5. Good post. I have been in AU so long that when I go to the states I am surprised to see guns in WalMart, KMart and of course every camping and outdoor sports store. I had my daughter take that photo of me because it seems so absurd. No waiting period. No license required. As long as it is not a hand gun or automatic weapon, if you are 18 (in most states) you can walk straight up to the register and purchase it along with your milk, bread, and eggs.