Guns & violence: learning about bullets

For the first five years of my life my grandparents lived on a 3 acre block in Bargo, NSW. It was a treat to stay with them. I loved the trees and the freedom to roam around the prioperty. This is how I met the Edwards boys. They lived on an ajacent stretch of land behind Alation’s poultry farm. Their dad was a fettler working on the Sydney Melbourne line, and mum kept house. Poor as they were there was always a happy warmth about them which included me whenever I visited.

At Bargo in 1951

My grandparents, Nana and Pa, built a humble hardwood cottage on their land and I was free to wander anywhere which eventually included hanging out with the Edwards boys. I think their mum was Indigenous because they seemed to know a lot about bush food. We collected Christmas Beetles and Cicadas of different kinds. A big treat was to swing in a hammock set between two casuarina trees on Nana and Pa’s vacant block.

When Dad visited he enjoyed going rabbit shooting, though I can’t remember him doing anything but winging a rabbit. They were far to fast for him since he spent most of his time at sea, though he did help build the cottage when back on land.

The atmosphere after World War II

Guns, rifles principally, .22 and .303 calibre were quite common. We had a .22 calibre rifle manufactured by the Lithgow Small Arms Factory.

“During World War II, [the factory’s] production expanded to include Vickers machine guns, Bren guns and, postwar, branched out into sporting goods (including civilian firearms and golf clubs), tools, sewing machines . . .” See wiki reference.

Ammunition for .22 calibre rifles was abundant. Being long be fore the days of myxomatosis, which wasn’t released in farming and grazing areas until 1950, in places like Bargo rabbits were still abundant. Rabbit shooting with a .22 calibre rifles manufactured post-war by the Lithgow Small Arms Factory was common. I enjoyed eating rabbit.

The Edward’s boys had an air rifle. One of their favourite pastimes was to poke a .22calibre bullet into holes in hardwood stumps made by the larvae of wood moths. Once in place an air rifle pellet was fired into the cartridge. Since the bullet could move forward the cartridge came whizzing out of the stump making a wild sound effect. I was amazed and moved in close for the next one only to find that the whizzing the cartridge grazed my face. Looking back I realise it was like being punched on the face. A few millimetres closer and my right cheek might well have been seriously damaged. I realised instantly that we were engaged in a dangerous game and that I must tell Pa, before anyone else was seriously injured. That was the end of such games.

Randwick Rifle Range and School of Musketry

South of my old place in Arden Street Coogee, was Randwick Cemetry to it’s west was a tract of Commonwealth land that was used as the Randwick Rifle Range and School of Musketry from 1891 to sometime in the 1921. After this there was a Small Arms School established. The history of the area is outlined here. We called the area the rifle range.

This area had reverted to shifting sands with sand mining on its western margin during my later childhood. Here many children found spent bullets and sometimes live ammunition.

On one occasion a child from our neighbourhood gave my younger brother a bag of palm nuts. I still recall him smashing them up with a hammer, one by one. Luckily Dad appeared, interested in his activity, only to discover that the bag held live ammunition as well.

ANZAC Rifle Range – Malabar

South of Maroubra beach on the peninsula between Maroubra and Malabar is the ANZAC Rifle Range. This is also an area with old coastal defences and tunnels used to supple them with ordinance. In the early 1960 a man we called Old Mick, lived in one of the disused gun emplacements a group of nus would often go to chat with him about the history of the area. Another attraction of the area was the reptiles living amongst in the heath land, and on the exposed sandstone shelves that swept in a band from Maroubra to Malabar, behind the targets.

By this stage in my life I’d pushed memories of that early encounter with air rifles and ammunition aside, so along with others had no hesitation in walking through the heath land when red flags told us that shooting was in progress. I think, influenced by the stream of films and documentaries about WWII we thought it was like being on the edge of a war zone. Mick said that sometimes bullets bounced off the concrete roof of the old gun emplacement where he lived.

Discovering lizards was our motivation.

Whites skink, a rare find on the rock shelves behind the firing range.

There is more on the Malabar Battery at this sight, including Mick’s gun emplacement.

My knowledge of Guns

My knowledge of guns was, and still is, extremely limited. They were never a major feature of my life or that of most Australians. Years later I went rabbit shooting at Maitland Bar, a remote locality on the banks of the Meroo River, just north of the gold rush town, Hargraves. Someone brought two .22 calibre rifles for rabbit shooting. I failed to shoot any rabbits and quickly lost interest when I realised that it was easier to trap rabbits.

The POrt Arthur Massacre

“The Port Arthur massacre was a mass shooting that occurred on 28 April 1996 at Port Arthur, a tourist town in the Australian state of Tasmania. The perpetrator, Martin Bryant, killed 35 people and wounded 23 others, the worst massacre in modern Australian history.[3]

Martin Bryant used a semi-automatic weapon. This event changed Australian’s attitudes to guns and led to fundamental changes in Australia’s gun laws.

Prime MinisterJohn Howard, :acted swiftly on the belief that Australia had too many guns, that were far too easy to obtain.

“I knew that I had to use the authority of my office to curb the possession and use of the type of weapons that killed 35 innocent people,” Howard wrote in a 2013 op-ed for the New York Times. “I also knew it wouldn’t be easy.”

Howard obtained a National Firearms Agreement (NFA), which restricted legal ownership of firearms in Australia, created a registry of all guns owned in the country. In addition a permit was to be required for all new firearm purchases. A ban on automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns was also implemented. A mandatory buy back was instituted for such weapons already in the community.

“In the two decades following the reforms, the annual rate of gun deaths fell from 2.9 per 100,000 in 1996 to 0.9 per 100,000 in 2016.” For a wider commentary on this check this article by David Bright Associate Professor in Criminology, Centre for Crime Policy and Research, Flinders University.

A conclusion

I am in no doubt that less guns whether held legally or illegally, result in less homicide or suicide deaths from guns.

In part two I will examine the current situation in the USA.

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