Before I came to the United States from my native Austria, the only real gun I had ever seen was a pistol belonging to a friend who is a policeman in Germany. I remember touching the Walter PPK pistol in 2014, but it felt weird so I gave it back to him.
Four years later, I was in Chantilly, Virginia, visiting my first gun show as a reporter for my newspaper back home. As I eyed thousands of firearms in front of me, I instinctively took a step back: It felt forbidden to even look at those arms.
My reaction may seem ironic to many Americans aware that I come from the country that produces the most popular handgun in the U.S. — the Glock. Yet, it would be nearly impossible for me to own a Glock or any handgun in Austria.
Austria has very strict gun regulations. In a country of 8.8 million people, only 306,000 own guns (compared to nearly 400 million guns owned in the U.S.). To obtain a firearm, you have to be a hunter, sports shooter, in the Army or a police officer. You must undergo psychological and gun safety tests and risk a fine of up to $4,000 for misuse of a firearm. So most Austrians never think about owning a gun.
I got used to the guns. Then I found the Nazis.
One of the tables at the gun show displayed hundreds of Glocks. I picked one up and let my finger run over the engraved word “Austria” on its slide. America loves your guns, the seller told me, praising their good quality, fair price and ease of handling. When I said I would go to jail in Austria for buying a Glock without all the hard-to-obtain permits, he looked at me sadly and said he was sorry.
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