It's been another one of those weeks where I'm glad to live in New Zealand.
The big news today was that a man, dressed in a trenchcoat, was spotted on the Waikato University campus wielding a gun. A concerned citizen called 111, the campus was locked down, and armed police dropped by. Fortunately, the gun turned out to be a sword. Fortunately, the sword turned out to be an umbrella, albeit one with the handle shaped like a Samurai sword hilt.
Why was the man wearing a trenchcoat, you might ask? Because it was raining. (Historical fact: Before The Matrix made trenchcoats the perfect garment to wear while doing cartwheels and shooting up a hallway, they were used to keep off the rain. Oh, and to make spies look conspicuous.) So yeah. Happily, this turned out to be not much of a story after all.
It's clear this was a case of someone getting jumpy after the horrific shootings in Aurora, Colorado, which I'm sure you don't need to hear any more about. A quick breakdown for anyone who somehow missed it: A man (who may or may not have been dressed as Batman villain The Joker; reports vary) walked into a cinema showing The Dark Knight Rises with assault weapons and shot patrons. Twelve people died; many more were injured. A senseless tragedy.
I watched The Dark Knight Rises myself last week, and although I knew that the chances of a similar incident occurring were minuscule, I caught myself eyeing the exits and making sure that the gunshots in the action scenes weren't real. So yes, I can understand why the sight of someone cruising around the Waikato Uni campus with a gun/sword/umbrella might make someone freak out. Certainly, it's better to be safe than sorry, and the police and Waikato security should be commended for what was, by all accounts, a swift and efficient response. But . . . an umbrella? A trenchcoat? It's hard to see this as anything other than unfair profiling, especially given the fact that swords and shields sported by . . . unconventional-looking people are a pretty common sight on the university campus (the Medieval Club uses them to play a game called Orcball.) It would be a shame if this sort of thing had to stop.
The trenchcoat and katana/umbrella users of this world are mostly a law-abiding bunch. I love the idea of an umbrella with a katana-shaped handle. It's just a cool, geeky thing to have. I would have bought one at the last Armageddon Expo if they hadn't sold out by the time I found out about them. (The fact that there are plenty out there makes me wonder if there will be more umbrella-related police callouts.) At least two of my friends have one.
For that matter, some of my friends have quite substantial armouries. One makes swords for theatre productions. His room looks like a set in a samurai flick that also involves small mountains of clothes and cast-off food - a katana here, a rapidly-evolving bag of leftovers and a longsword there. Another collects guns, for hunting and pistol-shooting. I don't own any actual guns, but I enjoy shooting pests and claybirds. It's great fun. It's also a bit awkward, in the aftermath of awful events like Aurora, to think that objects you use for eradicating vermin, chopping veges, as cool theatre props and/or geek chic also work quite well at killing people, in particular contexts. Even umbrellas have pointy bits at the end. I'm sure they could be used as a deadly weapon. However, most people aren't into this sort of thing.
However, I don't think this translates to allowing people to own assault weapons, for the same reason we don't allow people to own, say, nuclear warheads. The purpose of an assault weapon is to kill multiple people quickly. To a degree, this is also true for a katana, but the important and rather graphic difference is you can only maim so many people with a katana before the police shoot you. And while New Zealand does not lack for horrific gun violence - the Aramoana massacre being the most obvious case - it's easy to see how much worse things could have been if the killers had access to proper assault weapons.
The fact that New Zealanders tend to be safer from mass killings than Americans is because our access to assault weapons is highly restricted, no matter what pro-gun lobbyists might argue. Fortunately, they don't have the voice here that they do in America.
Which is probably a good thing, because I can't think of a class of people I'd more like to swat repeatedly with a katana-shaped umbrella.
Joshua Drummond is a Hamilton freelance writer who is fairly sure you can buy swords that look like umbrellas.
- © Fairfax NZ News