We’ve just returned from a real adventure, following in the footsteps of great grandfather George, who was in Alaska in 1900, 1901 and 1902. Whilst I gather my thoughts on the trip and how to share some of our experiences through my PCs, in the following I simply report what I heard!
The gold prospectors arrived in Alaska in the 1890s at Skagway, a town lying at the northern end of a sea inlet; so did we! We stayed at the Mile Zero B&B, appropriately named as the starting point for the trip into the Klondike and Yukon. At breakfast the following morning, we heard of the horrific attack by a white supremacist on a bible study group within a church in Charleston; nine people were dead. “Oh! This is so awful!” exclaimed our host as she watched the morning TV. I don’t think I have talked to an American about their views on gun ownership before, although I am aware that there are very polarized positions. Without knowing anything about this lady, I simply said that the United States seemed very wedded to their gun culture, so this news wasn’t very surprising. Wow! It was as if I had stuck a stick into a hornet’s nest!
“I think everybody should carry a gun, then people like this man wouldn’t do it (not quite sure why she really believed this, but I could not interject!). I have guns in my house (not in the B&B thank God!) and we leave the doors open ….. so anyone coming in we don’t like will get shot. Mind you, I have been personally affected by shootings. One of my brothers shot the nose off the other when he was quite young; well! Just nicked a bit! But my! Was it bloody! Then my niece and nephew had a fight over a gun when they were young, 7 and 5 I think, and it went off ……. and my niece is in a wheelchair for the rest of her life! (So you have had 2 extended family members injured by guns, and yet you don’t bat an eyelid when it comes to having a gun in the house?) But it’s in the Constitution! We must be free to carry guns!”
At this point I decided that it was too difficult to influence this lady in any way, especially as my toast was getting cold. I emailed my daughter Jade to tell her of this experience. She replied: Oh! A gun law conversation over breakfast! Punchy! Next PC sorted then.” And so it was! I was pleased to read later that Barack Obama had said: “At the very least we should be able to talk about this issue. At some point we will have to reckon with the fact that this kind of mass violence doesn’t happen in other advanced countries.”
The polarised positions have their own way of proving their case, so it’s not easy to get definitive data, but accept that some 60 people are shot in the UK every year ….. and in the USA it’s about 11,000. So the comparative figures are, for every 100,000 people, 0.1 of a person (!) in England & Wales and 3.6 people in the US. (But per 100k, 3.5 people in the UK and 11 people in the USA are killed in automobile accidents every year!) Another startling figure is that there are 88 guns per 100 residents in the US!
I am sure Americans choose bits of their Constitution that they like, and ignore those they don’t. In this case Article 2, amended in 1791, states: “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.” I am not sure the lady in the Mile Zero B&B was a member of some militia, but there you go.
Just outside Eagle, a hamlet sitting beside the Yuk,on River, lies Ron’s garage cum scrap yard cum workshop cum timber yard; we pull in for some ‘gas’. “Where’yer from?” asks Ron , mid 60s, bearded, fit. “England!” And without further prompting, Ron launches into: “Oh! You let everyone in, anyone from Europe, migrants, asylum seekers. Here I have a white friend who wants to settle here but she ain’t black, homosexual, with HIV, from Haiti, and unless you’re black, homosexual, with HIV and from Haiti, you can’t come here! Of course we have a Communist president so it’s kinda weird! What did you do?” I felt immediately that expressions of liberal views would not go down well: safer to be short and, talking to someone I guessed would be an appreciative audience, I said I was an ex-military man. “Oh! Well! So you know how to shoot!, he said, visibly relaxing; “Of course only the criminals in England can get a gun! Here, you can walk into a shop, choose a gun from any number of types, buy a box of slugs, walk out the door …..” and, I thought, “start shooting innocent people in Charleston”, but didn’t say it aloud! “That’ll be 25 dollars …… cheap huh compared with where you’re from …. you pay by the gallon or by the litre?? Have a nice day!” This all at half past eight in the morning!
It may have been we would have got a different view if we had raised the issue in Vancouver or in San Francisco, where we would be a week or so later. Maybe Alaska is still pretty much a wild state, where residents naturally keep guns for hunting and for protection. We all remember Sarah Pallin? But do you really need a semi-automatic rifle? For what? Maybe if you live in an environment where the law-enforcers are always armed, unlike in the United Kingdom, there is a tacit acceptance that this is the norm, to carry a gun. Any conflict, however minor, requires a range of responses, generally more serious with each step. But it seems to me that having a personal weapon takes away a huge part of the gradual response, and that’s sad.
Just musings whilst the memory is still fresh!
Richard Yates – email@example.com