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Guns and hunting in the United States

An English rose in Georgia

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POSTED: September 21, 2011 11:43 a.m.

The extreme heat of summer has passed and everybody in Coastal Georgia seems to be excited about the start of both football and hunting seasons.
Well, as an English city girl, the whole season confuses me. Not only do my American friends and family call this time of year “fall” (we call it “autumn” in the U.K.), they also think there is a chill in the air when the temperature is in the 70s and are horrified if anyone wears white pants or seersucker after Labor Day.
But let’s focus on hunting for now. Firstly, in England, people in the country talk about “hunting, shooting and fishing,” and hunting does not always involve the use of guns.
Hunting normally means hunting foxes with specially trained hounds and a group of red-coated “huntsmen” following behind on horseback.
The killing of foxes in this way was banned in England in 2000, which has led to a lot of heated debate in the U.K.
However, a British compromise has evolved to where people gather on horseback with the dogs, dressed in their special red coats and led by the “master of the hounds,” to chase foxes just as they have for five centuries.
The difference is that these days, they are not supposed to kill the fox being chased.
As in Georgia, the U.K. has seasons for hunting specific animals – the first is usually considered to be grouse season (shooting of a specific game bird that is common in Scotland) on the “Glorious 12th” of August.
However, there are many more restrictions on gun ownership in the U.K. Remember, we do not have a written Constitution and there is certainly no second amendment stating “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”
To buy a shotgun in Britain you need to hold a shotgun certificate, and to buy a rifle you need to hold a firearm certificate. The police are very reluctant to grant these and always want to see “good reason” for wanting to own a gun, such as membership of a clay shooting club (what the British call skeet shooting) or farm pest control.
Also, the police will want proof that guns are kept in a secure and locked cabinet with ammunition stored separately. Two personal references (we call them “referees”) are also needed before the police will grant an individual one of these certificates.
And the police will revoke these if they believe someone no longer has a good reason to hold one.
Since 1997, firearm and shotgun certification became even more stringent in the U.K., and to buy a rifle or muzzle loading pistol, you have to be a member of a target shooting club that has been approved by the government.
Automatic weapons and handguns are practically impossible to own legally in the U.K.
You may not realize that even policemen are not routinely armed with guns in the U.K. – only those in certain positions or locations, such as airports or those in special firearms units.
American citizens who are used to the freedom to keep and bear arms are often understandably horrified by these restrictions in Britain.
As an English city girl, I have had to adjust to attitudes in Coastal Georgia – often to the amusement of American friends and family.
My first shock was when I initially met my husband’s mother before we were married. My mother-in-law was a sweet old lady from Kentucky, and one day she offered to show me her gun collection, just as my mother would show somebody her collection of stamps or porcelain ornaments.
Another time we were with a group at a neighbor’s house for a pleasant evening when the host showed me a mounted fish.
He had me clapping my hands to make it sing, as I assumed it was artificial and made in China, before everyone laughing at me made me realize that the fish was real – a large bass caught recently in the Ogeechee River and mounted on the wall.
And I will never forget the “great raccoon theft” of last winter, a shocking story in this very newspaper when Pembroke police had to deal with the theft of seven frozen raccoons from a refrigerator. Now that would never have happened in London.
Thoughts on football next time, but in the meantime, God bless America!

Francis grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009 with her American husband, Carl, and English dogs. She can be contacted at lesley@francis.com or www.lesleyfrancispr.com.

 

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