November 23rd, 2020An Aussie in America
One day I was walking in North Melbourne, near the Queen Vic Market, when I noticed a gun shop. Now, in the town where I grew up, in northern California, there was a bottle shop – what we call a liquor store – in which, when I was a young man, we could buy beer, wine, spirits, and handguns and ammunition.
Also, my grandfather kept rifles and shotguns in a rack, hanging on a wall, in his home. No locks, no restraints. Plus, my father kept a .45-calibre pistol and a few boxes of ammo in a drawer in his bedroom, under a stack of T-shirts. He’d brought the gun home with him from the Korean War.
Us kids could use these guns, but we’d been taught to ask permission before we took them out target shooting.
I later became friends with a guy who was a Vietnam War veteran who had an M-16 automatic rifle like the one he’d carried in the Army, and we used to go out and shoot it.
I also had a friend, a guy I’d grown up with, who was a fan of the Dirty Harry movies; such a big fan, he bought himself a .44 magnum revolver just like the one Harry used (“The most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off.”), and we shot that too.
Yes, I am comfortable being around guns. So when I saw this gun shop in downtown Melbourne, I was curious and decided to go inside.
The shop door was locked, however. I had to press a button so someone inside could buzz me in. Once inside, I saw rifles and shotguns displayed in securely locked racks along the walls.
I asked if I could look at an Italian-made Benelli shotgun, which had a beautiful hardwood stock and grip and lovely engraved receiver – easily a $4000 gun.
The sales clerk asked to see my gun owner licence. I don’t have one, I told him. Well then, he replied, you can’t touch the guns.
I was surprised, but not upset. I lived in St Kilda, worked at The Age in the heart of Melbourne, and had no use for a gun. I admired them for their craftsmanship, but had no need to own one.
Several years later, now a resident and owner of some Wombat Forest property, near Daylesford, I decided I might like to own a gun, and began the process of obtaining a licence. Bear in mind, this is to own a “long-arm”, not a handgun.
First, I had to demonstrate a need for owning a gun. I could claim that as a land owner I wanted to shoot varmints, aka rabbits. We didn’t have a rabbit problem, so my next route was to join a shooters’ club. I did this by subscribing to a club magazine; later, I thought, I might apply to join the shooting club at the Glenlyon Recration Reserve.
Next, I attended a firearms safety course in Ballarat, which included a thorough briefing by a law enforcement officer, who described how extraordinarily thorough and careful gun owners in Victoria need to be when it comes to storing their firearms and ammunition.
Finally, I had to supply two pieces of identification, and a reference from “an acceptable referee who has known you for at least 12 months and is not related to you by either birth or marriage”.
For my referee I used our friendly local dentist, who also owned a winery in Glenlyon.
I sent everything to the authorities and some weeks later received a letter in the mail, which politely explained that I had neglected to have one of my documents initialled by my referee, and if I would rectify this shortcoming, I could receive my licence. At this point, after all the hassles, I decided I didn’t want to buy a gun. I let the application lapse.
OK, here’s the point. In the US, the National Rifle Association claims to have 5 million members and bills itself as “proud defenders of history’s patriots and diligent protectors of the Second Amendment”.
The US Constitution has had 27 amendments, including the first 10, known collectively as the Bill of Rights.
The First Amendment deals with freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and the right to petition the government.
The Sixth Amendment protects the right to a speedy public trial by jury, and the right to be represented by a lawyer.
These are some fine and important pieces of the American way of life.
And yet for many Americans, the only amendment of consequence is the second, which says: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Over the years, the NRA has convinced its many millions of members and supporters that this right to “keep and bear arms” is absolute. Whenever there is a mass shooting, and some people question the need for unregulated access to weapons of war, politicians refuse to act for fear of angering NRA supporters.
The NRA has also convinced its members and supporters that the Democratic Party wants to impose harsh gun control laws, and take their guns. This might be an excellent idea but no American politician has ever advanced such a policy.
I’ve been asked several times by Australian friends, how did Trump manage to win so many votes? Well, for many millions of Americans, nothing Trump says or does has any impact; all that matters is their belief that he won’t come for their guns.
Bloody hell. And they say Aussies are a weird mob.
Words: Jeff Glorfeld
(Jeff, a former editor at The Age and writer for The Local, lived in Wheatsheaf for a long time with his wife Carol before moving back to America.)