Saturday, January 19, 2013

Guns, Guam and Gun Tourism

An Associate Press story about Guam's gun ranges serving as an attraction for Japanese tourists caused me to wince.

Let’s start with this third graph:
The U.S. territory of Guam — a tropical island often described as a cheaper version of Hawaii — has long been the perfect place to put guns in the hands of tourists, especially from Japan, where gun ownership is tightly restricted and handguns are banned 
Is Guam, as this story claims, “often described as a cheaper version of Hawaii?”  It’s kind of like describing North Dakota as just like North Carolina except with fewer people.

Guam is place with its own unique history, culture, cuisine, traditions and may be more polyglot than Hawaii. It is not Hawaii-lite.

The story goes on to say: “But this Pacific island halfway between Tokyo and Honolulu is America.”

It’s America with an asterisk and it would be nice if the story explained what being part of America really means for Guam, because that's an important point in a story about American gun culture.

Guam is an unincorporated territory with only symbolic representation in Congress, and very little say over the military’s use of the island. Hawaii doesn't have its own entry in the CIA Factbook’s list of countries; Guam does.

But the thing that made me feel very uncomfortable was the idea that Guam is getting a reputation as a place for gun tourism. Evidently, there are a lot of Japanese tourists who want to do something they can’t do at home, and that’s fire off guns.

Japan’s gun laws are very restrictive. The Japan Times explains: “It’s almost impossible to get to a gun in Japan, and selling one or owning one is a serious crime.”

But on Guam, writes AP, it's much different.
Guam's gun ranges are to the Japanese what Amsterdam's cannabis cafes are to backpackers from the world over.
This story didn't probe the underlying problems around this issue.

What's missing in this tourist-from-Japan-love-going-to-Guam-gun-ranges is whether  people on Guam are comfortable with shooting ranges.

Does Guam really want gun ranges to proliferate? Is there concern about the influence of the ranges, the entirety of the gun culture, on the island itself?

Will media attention on Guam’s gun ranges increase gun tourism and, in turn, spur the creation of more gun ranges?

Will the growing wealth of gun range owners influence local laws, relaxing restrictions on gun use?

Shooting ranges have the potential, I suspect, of becoming as much as a turn-off for tourists as they are a potential draw. There’s something discordant about exploring pristine ocean waters, enjoying gorgeous sunsets and vistas, and then running off to a gun range.

The problem with the AP story is it will become one more thing for Guam to deal with. The story, and others that will follow, assume that because Guam is “America” it is somehow representative of America’s excessive gun culture. Guam becomes, through these news stories, a caricature of what it is not.