Guns Abroad — How Others See Americans

Guns turned in voluntarily after Australian law took effect (AP)

Once, when I was a kid, a lady in Germany was shocked that I was an American who could speak to her in her own language and took advantage. “Where’s your six-shooter,” she asked. Another time, entering New Zealand, a customs official thought about patting me down for drugs and weapons. “Florida, eh? he said raising an eyebrow.

That’s the way they see us.

Such is the case with U.S. gun violence; President Obama’s announcements on gun control were big news.

Australian television, for example, chose an extreme talking head, Larry Pratt, president of the Gun Owners of America, to discuss the issue.

By way of context, Australia imposed gun laws that worked in 1996 after a shocking mass killing. Former Prime Minister John Howard described the success of Australia’s laws in an op-ed article in the New York Times.

Here’s a section of the interview with Mr. Pratt on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

LEIGH SALES: In Australia, the government reacted to a massacre in 1996 by banning the sale, importation and possession of semi-automatic rifles and by removing 700,000 guns from circulation.

In the 18 years before that we had 13 massacres. After that we had zero. We didn’t have a civil war, the government didn’t come and take all of our stuff away from us. Why not just give it a try in the US?

LARRY PRATT: Once you’ve given it a try there’s no going back and so in the United States we’re not going to do that. In the United States we are citizens in control of the government and as the Swiss say to this day, a rifle is the emblem of a free man.

LEIGH SALES: But it worked in Australia. Why not just try it?

LARRY PRATT: Your violent crime rate is not so admirable and besides…

LEIGH SALES: It’s a lot lower than yours.

LARRY PRATT: We’re not interested in being like Australia. We’re Americans.

An American friend of mine visiting Australia called attention to the interview. “Doubtless Larry Pratt left the show pleased with his no holds barred defense of Americans’ right to own automatic weapons,” my friend said, “but I have to say that as the segment ended I felt sick.”

It is called American exceptionalism. Overseas, it is a farce.

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