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US gun culture and travel advisories

  • 13 September 2019


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.

It 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