The Wild West Down Under, Comparing American and Australian Gun Enthusiasm

Abigail A. Kohn, University of Sydney Law School

ABSTRACT
Researchers are increasingly interested in the cultural meanings attached to guns. In this vein, the author conducted comparative ethnographic research with self-professed gun enthusiasts living in San Francisco during 1977-1998, and in Sydney, Australia during 2002-2003. The American research consisted of participant observation at shooting ranges and shooting competitions, and semi-structured interviews with male and female sport shooters. The Australian research also consisted of participant observation at shooting ranges and shooting competitions, and interviews with sport shooters. The author found that while shooters from both the U.S. and Australia professed a pleasure in guns and shooting, and engaged in similar types of shooting sports (most of which have internationally-recognized rules and practices), the gun as a symbol of American freedom and individualism does not translate Down Under. Whereas American shooters perceive gun ownership to be a firm part of the identities as Americans, symbolizing self-reliant individualism and prfoundly moral character, Australian shooters perceive guns simply as sporting equipment. Australian shooters do not link their guns to identity or citizenship, and are largely comfortable with the idea that guns should be tighly regulated by the government. Based on this data, the implications for gun control in both nations are discussed.

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Updated 05/20/2006