MELBOURNE, 1977. A man walks down Little Collins carrying what is clearly a rifle . Nothing happens. No-one is shot, the police are not called, no one freaks out. Even when the man stops and asks people if they notice anything unusual about what he is doing, several appear totally
oblivious to the fact he is carrying a rifle, and most of the others who do notice the gun are totally unbothered by it. As it happens, the ‘gun’ is only a stock and barrel, with no action, but there is no way for anyone on the street to know that – and the result is still the same anyway.
Fast forward 42 years, in the same city. A busker walks into a railway station carrying a didgeridoo in a bag. He practices some breathing exercises before starting his set. Someone sees him, freaks out, calls the police, armed officers show up in force, the entire railway station is
locked down, people are terrified and the Melbourne rail network is plunged into chaos. (See article link)
What the hell happened to us? When did we as a society become so scared of our own shadows that musical instruments warrant an armed police response?
Also concerning is the fact it reportedly took 20 minutes for police to find the allegedly armed person – who, if they had been up to no good would have been long gone by then or already opened fire.
Some of the blame must be directed towards Victoria Police and Metro Rail’s handling of the situation, which almost certainly contributed to the fear, panic and anxiety.
Police said the initial report was that ‘someone had a rifle case on the train heading into the city loop’, so they stopped the train at Flagstaff Station and had Critical Response officers search it.
Stop and think about that for a second. Someone sees a gun bag on a train – not an actual gun being brandished or fired, just a bag – and the correct response is to halt the train and send in armed police?
The unpopular but true reality is that people in Australia are not going to be openly carrying guns in a public place with criminal intent. Someone with a rifle in an obvious gun bag (and a didgeridoo bag looks nothing like a gun bag) is almost certainly either a sporting shooter on their way to or from an event, or a licensed gun owner with a licensed gun doing something like going to or from a gunsmith or gun shop.
Would someone freak out seeing a cricket gear bag on the train? What about someone with a knife roll? So why a rifle? Why was it that 42 years ago no-one cared and now a mere bag warrants a critical response call-out?
The fact someone saw a person going about their peaceful business in a railway station with a bag which might, if you squint at it, have a gun in it and their first reaction was ‘better call the cops because that person is clearly a criminal’ just goes to show how badly demonised law-
abiding shooters are in this country.
As shooters, we deal with it on a daily basis. But when thousands of people have their morning commute halted because someone who had no idea what they were looking at freaked out and no-one further up the response chain apparently said “Hang on, is sending in armed and armoured police really the best way to handle this?”
We need to chill out, calm down, and stop looking for things to be scared or outraged about- and that starts with some education about guns, the shooting sports and the realities of the lucky country we all share.