Norwegians check out Montana

“Do you need a license to buy ammunition?”

“No,” I replied. “All you need is money.”

That exchange was while I was showing a houseguest my gun cabinet. Our guests were relatives from Norway, Inger Lise and Robert Bjoerk. Inger Lise is the granddaughter of my father’s oldest sister, which makes her a cousin of sorts, a first cousin once removed, if I understand those technicalities.

They lived many years in the city of Trondheim but after retiring from jobs as an elementary teacher and manager for ISS Norway, part of a worldwide company that provides a variety of business management services, they bought a home on the Atlantic Coast.

Robert enjoys the outdoors, especially fishing, and has a boat docked just a four-minute drive from his house. He also enjoys hunting, though doesn’t often have the opportunity to do much hunting.

He owns a couple long guns, a double-barreled shotgun and a rifle, and mentioned that Norwegian law requires people to store firearms in a gun safe.

According to Wikipedia, hunting is popular in Norway, and civilians can freely own shotguns and semi-automatic and bolt action rifles. There is a total ban on automatic action firearms. There are some caliber restrictions on handguns, but as long as handguns are used for sports shooting, a recreational shooter can own up to four handguns.

To own firearms, Norwegians must obtain an ownership license and show a legitimate use for the firearm. Hunting and sport shooting are considered legitimate uses. Prospective owners get their license through the local police department, and must show they are “sober and responsible,” as well as not have a police record.

Incidentally, to get a hunting license, a person must successfully attend a 30-hour, 9-session class in firearm theory, firearm training, wildlife theory, and environmental protection. There is a good population of big game, including roe deer, red deer (similar to our elk), reindeer, and moose (which are called elk in Scandinavia). In addition there are grouse and ptarmigan for upland bird hunters, as well as waterfowl.

Norway has an enviable record for an almost non-existent rate of firearms homicides, especially compared to the United States, though the tragedy of this year’s mass homicide demonstrates the fact that no set of controls is foolproof.

On their visit, Robert and I took advantage of good weather for a day’s outing, first stopping at a shooting range. We were mainly plinking at tin cans, and Robert, who had mandatory military training in younger years, was a crack shot.

The next stop was on a Big Hole tributary creek where we caught some brook trout, destined to be appetizers for that evening’s dinner.

A lunch break on the Big Hole River was the next stop, where we enjoyed fall sunshine that made the day’s chilly breezes seem quite tolerable. We agreed that a ham sandwich on the banks of a trout stream is first class fare.

The Big Hole’s fish were not so cooperative, however. We fished a couple spots on our area’s premier river without either of us having a nibble on our flies. As we put fishing gear away for the trip home I asked Robert, “In Norway, do they ever say, ‘You should have been here last week’?”

Without missing a beat, he said, “Yes, fishing was much better last week. In fact, the fish were jumping out of the water. You didn’t even have to fish for them.”

While Robert and I enjoyed a day of shooting and fishing, our wives were busy on sewing and knitting projects and they fantasized about some of the fancy sewing machines now on the market.

At this point it became apparent there was a culture gap regarding one aspect of American fishing we’d chatted about a few days earlier: catch and release.

The women had been shopping for sewing and other craft items and Inger Lise said we shouldn’t worry about the expense. “It’s no different than all the money you spend on fishing,” adding with ridicule, “and then you just throw the fish back in the river.”

One Montana Hunter’s View of the Tucson Shootings

The shooting tragedy in Tucson at a public “meet your congressional representative” event where six people were killed and many more wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), again raises complex questions about handguns, gun controls and associated issues.

I’ve held off commenting for a couple weeks while facts emerge about the incident. Obviously, that hasn’t prevented others from making instant judgments.

Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima County jumped into the fray early when he made remarks about “vitriolic rhetoric” being a factor in the shooting, a reference to the 2010 political campaign in which Rep. Giffords’ congressional district was the  target in a representation of telescopic sights. I agree with the sheriff’s opinion about the tone of rhetoric in last year’s political campaigns, though as facts emerged it seems certain the gunman was not politically motivated.

Rush Limbaugh, as always the epitome of rational comment, ranted that Sheriff Dupnik should be recalled for suggesting that the rhetoric should be toned down.

An off the wall reaction to the shooting was the report that on the Monday after the Saturday shooting, Arizona firearms dealers had a 60 percent increase in handgun sales, presumably by buyers fearing the shooting would lead to gun control legislation.

The National Rifle Association has been strangely quiet. Their website, even two weeks after the shooting, shows only a statement of sympathy and concern to victims and families.

Other organizations are less subdued. Gun Owners of America, an organization that makes the NRA seem moderate, issued statements on their website that the incident only demonstrates that more people should be carrying handguns, and specifically defending large capacity magazines for those handguns.

That thinking was reflected by some Montana legislators who said the incident demonstrates that legislators should be allowed to carry concealed weapons in the state capitol (guns are not now allowed in the capitol building). They cited a story of a gunman who invaded a Utah legislative session, only to be greeted by half a dozen legislators pointing pistols at him. A good story, though the Utah senate president says it’s bunkum.

Speaking of bunkum, Tea Party darling Sarah Palin went off on a rant against people who suggested that gun sight images on political ads were inappropriate. She carried on at length to convince Palinistas that she was the real victim in the whole affair. Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson says Palin’s insistence on portraying herself as a martyr reminds him of Eva Peron, and that she should find a good balcony for her next address.

There are ironies in the case. The gunman committed the carnage with a 9 mm. Glock semiautomatic pistol. Rep. Giffords, herself, has been supportive of gun rights and reportedly has a 9 mm. Glock of her own.

An undisputed fact is that the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was well known by many to be mentally ill, a sad and lonely person slipping into insanity. In that respect he has a lot in common with other perpetrators of mass killings. Yet he was able to purchase his Glock without difficulty, even buying more ammunition the morning of the shooting.

Loughner is another illustration of the health care system’s failures to recognize and treat people falling off the deep end. If we had really been paying attention we would have gotten him into a treatment program and, as a further step, sent law enforcement agencies to impound firearms he might own until he recovered.

Secondly, and I write this as an long-time firearms owner and user, we need to put some realistic controls on gun sales that would put meaningful barriers in the way of people like Loughner. Don’t hold your breath on that one, though. The gun lobby either owns or has so successfully intimidated so many members of Congress that it’ll never happen. You don’t have to look any farther than Montana’s Congressional delegation for examples of the owned and/or gutless.

If I sound extreme, just ask yourself this question: How many mass murders and dead children must we tolerate?