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Guns, and lots of them

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There's a perception around the world that the average US citizen owns a gun . . . or several guns, writes former Shropshire man Mark Ellis from his new home in Arizona.

There's a perception around the world that the average US citizen owns a gun . . . or several guns,

writes former Shropshire man Mark Ellis from his new home in Arizona

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Thanks for all your comments on this issue - the debate is now closed

Many things probably contribute to that perception - TV shows like Miami Vice (showing my age), Clint Eastwood movies (showing my age again), any US TV hospital drama where gunshot wounds always seem to be present, regular news of shooting rampages in schools and beauty salons, or the simple known fact that there are lots of guns in the US.

Growing up in rural Shropshire there was always the presence of guns. Be it farmers shooting rabbit, duck, and geese with shotguns, or my friends with air rifles shooting pigeons and rats.

In my late teens I started shooting clays. A few friends and I would get together in a field in the middle of nowhere and work our way through a box of clays and lots of cartridges - I was a terrible shot but I'd have fun. And my friends would have fun laughing at my pitiful efforts.

Not having a shotgun certificate I didn't have my own gun so I'd simply borrow a friends whenever we met to shoot, but after a while I thought it would be nice to buy my own.

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I had moved to London so handed in my certificate application at the local police station in Hampstead. The policeman that dealt with me was very polite but from his reaction it was pretty apparent that requests to keep a shotgun in NW London were few and far between.

The first question he asked was "what is the intended use of the gun?" There were plenty of answers I could have given that would have stopped the process right there and then, but I refrained.

The Spanish Inquisition began, and it took forever. The final piece of the process happened on a Saturday evening. We were sat watching TV and there was a knock on the door, not expecting anybody, we were a little surprised to be confronted by a policeman.

It's true what they say that when faced with an officer of the law your mind immediately starts to race - what have I done, has my car been stolen, who's died, did I pay all those parking tickets?

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Thankfully, none of the above. He was visiting to inspect our flat to ensure that I would be able to keep a gun in a safe and secure manner should I be deemed worthy of a shotgun certificate.

Remarkably I was issued a certificate but in the couple of years it took to be approved I had practically stopped shooting, moved into a derelict house, and was broke (courtesy of the house) so there was no money for a shotgun.

Anyway, back to the US, and the slightly more lax approach to gun ownership.

There are many reasons quoted here for owning a gun, the most commonly stated one is that "it's my right". As a citizen you are allowed to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. The intention behind this was to allow individuals to have guns to defend themselves, their state, the US, or for killing game.

Hunting is huge in the US so I can understand the last bit.

In Arizona you can hunt for deer, elk, javelina, quail, dove, wild turkey, and many other animals - the majority of killed animals are eaten by the hunters, their families and friends. Little goes to waste.

That covers the killing of game piece of the Second Amendment. Hopefully no citizens will have to defend their state or the US in the near future, so that just leaves the "defending themselves" part.

The majority of people I know have a gun of some variety in their home, be it a hand gun, shotgun, or rifle, or frequently multiples of all three. The only exception are the expats I am friendly with, who having not grown up with guns in their homes, don't feel the need to start having them now.

In the news, just here in metropolitan Phoenix, there are constantly stories involving guns and shootings - robberies, home invasions, drive-by shootings, accidents when kids play with guns, police stand-offs, jilted lovers, gang activities . . . the list is endless. It is happening across the country every day.

Guns are everywhere and buying one is not difficult.

I could walk into the local Wal-Mart on my way home from work and buy a 12-bore shotgun and drive home with it in the back of my car. If I wanted a handgun it would take a little longer as I would have to get a background check performed. Assuming I am not a convicted felon, in a few days I could have a handgun or high-powered rifle.

Slightly different to Hampstead.

In Arizona it used to be illegal to carry a concealed weapon which I always thought was a good thing. You could carry a weapon but it had to be visible (made life easier for the police to spot the bad guys!).

However, a new law was passed in Arizona this year called "Constitutional Carry" which allows anyone over 21 to carry a concealed weapon. A gun owner can "carry" anywhere in public unless carrying weapons is specifically banned - generally offices, stores and anywhere selling alcohol do not allow weapons.

If you don't like being so "restricted", you can apply for a permit which, after passing a test involving live ammunition, allows you to carry a concealed weapon almost anywhere. Including some bars. Booze and guns, a great combination.

Nothing here is going to change dramatically as gun culture is so deeply entrenched and the beneficiary of extremely powerful lobbyists in Washington, DC. There have been a few States that have banned the sale of assault weapons and extended magazines for handguns following horrible massacres, but beyond that, guns are here to stay.

I guess the moral here is don't upset anyone as there's a good chance they'll have a gun either in their briefcase, handbag, car, or kitchen drawer.

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