Tuesday, June 24, 2014

History, world views and public policy on guns

Gun ownership and control is a contentious issue for many people and often polarising. I recently had a discussion with an American friend over this. My challenge was, what's a Christian to do with something designed to kill and kept for "self defense" i.e. killing someone else to save at least one's own property.

That aside, and any issue of what policy might look like, why is gun ownership more of an issue in the USA than Australia? This is not a judgment on right and wrong as much as a genuine question. And a few thoughts came to me.

Firstly, America fought for its independence. Australia never really worried about this, and no doubt the complexities of history are such that we didn't need to. The closest we came was the Eureka Stockade, over mining permits. I suppose there are some superficial similarities with the Tea Act.

Secondly, we've never fought each other. Sure there is resentment about "Mexicans" in the south by those from the north, but we've never been at war (State of Origin Rugby Leasgue doesn't count).

I wonder if these two events have normalised guns in the USA in way in which Australian history never has. Even when Gallipoli is used as some kind of "forging of a nation" myth, much centres on character - the laconic Australian who is good under pressure, as much as the fighting ability of the troops. Many accounts show their respect for "Johnny Turk", and the attitude of Attaturk to our war dead often gets a mention (and always reduces me to tears).

The third difference is kind of sinister on both sides really. I grew up with toy soldiers (US) and cowboys and Indians. I've watched many Westerns as a kid. For so long, it appears as if Hollywood sanitised and valorised genocide. In Australia, we've tried hard to sweep it under the carpet, and culture wars have been fought over it (and still are).

So I think history has framed the debate on both continents. Whatever else you think about gun control or anything else, understanding history means you are not doomed to repeat it.

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