I’m a Brit. I usually only see guns in museum showcases, historical re-enactments and when I pass through Gatwick Airport. Even better, I live on an island with a crime rate low for even Britain where I’ve only seen an armed policeman on local TV when police are covering a rare ‘incident’. I was once the token Brit bloke at a cowboy cook-out in Wyoming. The other men (Americans) were talking guns. One had a new Glock and so forth. I felt like asking who he was planning to shoot, then thought better of it. When in Rome, etc.
So I’ve just been to Guatemala, where the murder rate is over 30 per 100,000. The websites are quite scary, as is the drive into Guatemala City as dusk is falling. There are lots of guns. Paramilitaries stroll through the market in pairs, with what look like FAL automatic rifles. The men look about 5ft tall, the guns dwarfing them. The police drive around in Hi-Lux pick ups; two men in the cab, four in the back. The guys in the back are either more paramilitaries or black-clad policemen. All are armed with automatic weapons.
In the fiesta town of Antigua, the policemen are walking around in fives. Some have machine pistols, one even had an AK-47 which does not seem to be a good choice of internal security weapon. I adopt a ‘gunslinger walk’ on holiday, with a water bottle in my left pocket and my video camera in the right – strapped to my wrist. Just once I saw a bank guard look nervously at me. He stood there with his hand on his holster. I relaxed gunslinger stance immediately and moved hastily on.
Two guards were on duty at each bank – with pistols and shotguns. Indeed its a great country for shotgun salesmen as each petrol station and store seemed to have a guard on the door. Long-distance trucks likewise had a man riding shotgun. A police motorcyclist came past, his pillion rider facing backwards with automatic rifle. Then five more just the same. In the midst of a traffic jam, two civilians snaked past with the pillion again toting a shotgun.
Don’t worry , said the guide, the violence is all between the cartels. They make so much money from drugs its not worth robbing tourists. Pickpockets are endemic however. Away from the city we strolled around with ease, gradually relaxing. Its a beautiful country and the people are lovely. After three decades of civil war, the country should now be at peace. Pity about the guns.