Again, I'd like to apologise in advance to my American friends, but peeps - we here in the land down under are just kinda freaked out by guns.
It's not that we have no exposure. I grew up in the country and my dad had a few guns -including a semi-automatic. I even shot a tin can once or twice. But the danger of them was always instilled and when the gun amnesty was introduced in 1996, where the government actually paid cash for all and any gun handed in, even Dad parted with his small collection.
The policy was sparked by the Port Arthur massacre that occurred earlier the same year - where 35 people were killed. And how many massacres have there been since? That's right - none. So you'd have to concede, it's been one of the most effective policies the Australian Government has ever introduced.
I find it heartbreaking to hear of all the shootings in the States. So many of them seemingly caused by easy access. The two year old who pulled a gun from his mother's handbag in Walmart and shot her. The five year old boy in Kentucky who was given a gun for his birthday - and promptly shot his two year old sister dead.
I was also really touched by the Australian baseball player, shot in the back while jogging in Oklahoma because his teen murderer 'was bored'. I felt for everyone in this case - the victim, his family and friends, the circumstances that let the 17 year old shooter to do such a terrible thing and his family. An all-round modern-day tragedy.
So weren't we surprised when we went into the general store in downtown Wragell, Alaska (pop 2,400) to see a wall of guns displayed behind the counter. The girls and I could help ourselves. We asked the middle-aged, bird of woman behind the counter some pointy questions. You just need to imagine the answers in a drawling American accent and overly girly voice, not befitting a women in her 50s.
|Not the store, but very similar!|
How much are they?
Oh... you know... they range. From about $280 all the way up to about $600.
(Not nearly enough for our liking!)
Do you need a licence?
Oh yeah, you do.
(Obviously not too tricky to get one.)
What do people do with them?
They like to hunt. Bear, deer, moose, you know...lots of things.
(No, we don't actually. And no wonder we haven't seen a moose!)
Do you hunt?
She looks wistful....
I do. I like to hunt. I like to hunt elk....
You get the gist.
Back on the boat, we share this story with another couple (could be biased, he's an Australian ex-pat). His wife confesses that when their daughter is invited for play dates, she's compelled to call and ask if there are guns in the house and if so, are they locked up. Now there's a call you don't get here!
Maybe I'm just naive. Of course there are people in Australia who own guns - it's just we now assume they're criminals or law enforcers. Okay - I'm sure there are some gun owners who belong to shooting clubs and are farmers. But our culture, on the whole, is so gun free, that even the sight of a gun is freaky. I was at Parliament House, Canberra a couple of weeks ago and we non-regulars were gawking at the security guys, 'oooh... look at the guns!' like kids seeing an exotic tiger at the zoo. Perhaps that's not a bad thing.
PS Apologies for the highlighting thing - can't get it to turn off!!!