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US gun culture and travel advisories



As I cruised solo across the parched plains and buckled ranges of America's Wild West last week, a thought arose: if somebody wants to shoot me, he'll have to bring his own gun.

Chris Johnston cartoonIt wasn't an original thought; I'd read it on the flight over, in Kinky Freedman's The Great Armadillo Psychedelic Picnic — an irreverent guide to the Texan city of Austin, to which I was headed next. I'd departed on my trip, part of a Visiting Journalist program sponsored by Visit USA, shortly after a travel warning was issued against that country by various nations following a mass shooting in El Paso.

The attack — and the travel advisories it prompted — was disquieting: I'd visited El Paso before, had driven from there all along the Mexican border to the remote artists' refuge of Marfa. Now I was about to embark on a journey through New Mexico, and then onwards through a different part of Texas.

I'd never relied on travel advisories before. They tend to be inconsistent, targeting developing nations sorely in need of tourist patronage while ignoring western countries to which tourists already flock. They ignore the risks and threats that bloom where we least expect them to; three of this century's most devastating terrorist attacks, after all, occurred in countries classified as safe to visit: New Zealand, the US and the UK.

So it was with some appreciation of this imbalance that I heard of the decision taken by Venezuela and Uruguay to issue travel warnings for the US. While such a decision might well be vengeful (the US recently announced an embargo against Venezuela, and maintains a travel advisory of some form against both countries), it echoes earlier cautions about America's gun culture by Germany, Ireland and New Zealand.

And after all, this is a country where citizens are frequently armed, and where mass shootings occur on a regular basis. As a tourist, I might be in greater danger here than I was in Kashmir when I visited it six years ago (before the latest conflict between Pakistan and India). Indeed, several Australians have been randomly shot to death in the US.

But I've also learned from travel advisories that they're just that: guidelines based on intelligence and statistics rather than an accurate prediction of where danger will present itself (countries like Somalia and Syria notwithstanding). Accidents and illness are responsible for most of the 1000 deaths of Australians that occur abroad each year, rather than terrorist attacks or gun violence. Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own safety, and must take the necessary precautions against harm.


"I discovered a people so disarmingly friendly, so welcoming and eager to chat — and, in most cases, so preemptively apologetic about the state of their country's leadership — that I couldn't reconcile them with the violence that has beset their country."


And so off I set, unarmed, alone, mindful of the risks inherent in travel — even in a gun-toting country such as this. To be sure, the journey was punctuated by terrifying moments. Our landing was aborted just as we were about to touch down in Santa Fe; there was too strong a tail wind, the captain said, and it might have pushed the plane beyond the end of the runway. We landed safely on the second try.

The drive from the airport to my hotel — in the dark, on the wrong side of the road — left me with white knuckles and clenched teeth. Navigating my way from Austin's airport into its downtown precinct, full of one-way streets and Labor Weekend crowds, I broke into a cold sweat. Taking a wrong turn on my way back to my hotel in San Antonio, I jumped as a homeless man called out to me from the dark.

But the possibility that someone in my vicinity might be carrying a concealed weapon, and worse, that they might decide to discharge it, didn't preoccupy me. Alert and vigilant as always, a wise approach no matter where one goes, I set about exploring my surroundings. And I discovered a people so disarmingly friendly, so welcoming and eager to chat — and, in most cases, so preemptively apologetic about the state of their country's leadership — that I couldn't reconcile them with the violence that has beset their country.

Midway through my trip, another shooting occurred, around 500km west of the region I was driving through. A man had gone on the rampage in Odessa, Texas, shooting at people in their cars. The act itself — and its proximity to me — filled me with a renewed sense of disquiet.

Mercifully, I encountered just one gun during my two-week journey through the Wild West. It was pictured on a sticker on the window of the visitors' centre at San Jose Mission in San Antonio, warning that firearms were not allowed inside the building. I wasn't seeking an affirmation of security, but it temporarily gave me one. I wondered when such a vehement rejection of weapons would seep into the wider American consciousness.



Catherine MarshallCatherine Marshall is a Sydney-based journalist and travel writer.

Topic tags: Catherine Marshall, gun culture, travel advisories



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Existing comments

In Colorado, Democrats are pushing for gun control legislation. One proposed bill would incentivize states to establish red flag laws that would allow judges to order the seizure of guns from people deemed a risk to themselves or others. Republican Ken Buck introduced an amendment that would make the law applicable only to known criminals, especially gang members who he said were responsible for 80% of gun homicides. However Democrats voted against that amendment. Why? At the same time, far-Left activists are pouring money into District Attorney races across the US. George Soros has spent an estimated $13.4 million. Why? Because like Supreme Court Justices who can remake laws, a DA can remake or unmake a city’s criminal justice system, under the guise of “reforming” it. In 2018, Democratic activist Larry Kranser was made DA of Philadelphia, and under his radical policies, homicides are up by 12% and open-air drug use is common across the city. Democrats also support open border policies and abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. Why would law-abiding citizens give away their constitutional right to keep and bear arms to people whose policies encourage lawlessness, violence, and societal breakdown?

Ross Howard | 18 September 2019  

You would remember, Catherine, the country you grew up in, South Africa, is breathtakingly beautiful, but also, for a number of historic reasons, downright dangerous in many places. The ease of obtaining firearms always makes things dangerous. I have to remember things like, having an historic Gurkha kukri from Raj days, it is actually a lethal, hacking weapon, as so many of the King's or Queen's enemies found out to their cost, including the Turks at Sari Bair (Gallipoli). So, if I want to display it, it can't hang on the wall without being in a locked, secure display cabinet.

Edward Fido | 19 September 2019  

We visited the States 20 years ago. Loved the people, but not the driving on the wrong side! There is no way I would go there now-too dangerous!

Gavin A. O'Brien | 24 September 2019  

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