These blokes would not be impressed if you pulled a gun. Not one bit.

A few years ago I was in South Africa on the world launch of the Yamaha MT-01. A couple of colleagues and I had stopped in Simon’s Town, south of Cape Town, for a cup of coffee and we got talking to two local cops. One had the full gear – bulletproof vest, radio, handgun, baton and whatever – while the other was in uniform, but without the vest, gun and so on. I asked him if he was off duty.

“No,“ he said. – “But…” I indicated all the other cop’s gear, “what if you need your gun?”

He smiled. “Look, it’s all about controlling situations. By the time you reach for your gun, you’ve lost control and a gun is not going to be any use.” This bloke was a big, extremely competent-looking Boer and he was clearly nobody’s fool. He was also a policeman in a country where just about every white person does carry a handgun.


Some time later I was talking to an acquaintance here in Australia who was a bit of an adventurer. He – let’s call him Hans because that’s his name – was about to fly to London and head off on a GS BMW to set a new overland record. He mentioned that he was thinking of taking a gun, but I managed to talk him out of it. One single search at any of the borders and his trip would have been over.

Hans subsequently set out to break some kind of record for a small boat from Australia to Japan, and this time he did take a couple of rifles. His vessel was boarded by police somewhere in Indonesian waters and he spent considerable time in jail for possession of the guns.

Guns are – if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor – a two-edged sword. Just about anywhere outside the United States, possession of a firearm will get you into serious trouble. And having a permit to carry won’t help a bit.

What set me off on this subject was the story of a woman from Madison, Wisconsin in whose bag X-rays at the Cayman Islands airport showed a .25 caliber handgun and six rounds of ammunition. Despite her claim of a Wisconsin concealed carry permit, in the Caymans this was considered illegal possession of an unlicensed firearm. A conviction for this carries a mandatory seven-year prison term upon a guilty plea, 10 years if convicted at trial — unless the court finds “exceptional circumstances.”

She’s among dozens of Americans caught up in the Cayman Islands’ gun laws, but one of only two facing trial and the risk of considerable time in the slammer.

“They do what they want to there,” said the other one, Florida business owner David Meadors. “The biggest problem isn’t the fines, but arbitrarily ruining peoples’ lives… They don’t understand that [the woman] taking a gun with her is a way of life in the U.S.”  he said. “All they see is a criminal.”

So they do what they want to, in their British Overseas Territory, eh, and they see someone who has committed a crime as a criminal? Meadors’ arrogance is a bit overwhelming, but there we go – the entire world does not run according to US laws. And let’s keep in mind that an Australian who’s packing when he gets off a plane in the US won’t be welcomed with open arms either.

Even back in the early 1930s when Robert Edison Fulton Jr was riding his Douglas K32 through Asia, he knew enough about the dangers of being caught with a gun to take care to conceal his revolver inside a custom-made bash plate. From memory, he didn’t ever even think of using it.

Carrying this through seven border crossings was interesting.

Firearms are not the only arms, and there are quite a few countries that have rules against carrying edged weapons, too. Australia is one of them; if you have a knife of any size in your pocket, it’s a good idea to have a good reason. As a police officer friend of mine explained, carrying a large serrated knife is reasonable if you can convince the police that you’re a fisherman and need it to scale your catch. Likewise, a Leatherman is no problem if it’s part of your motorcycle toolkit. But if you’re carrying a knife “for your own safety”, you can expect an interview with a magistrate.

This kukri was a kind of ‘barn find’ in a Kathmandu shop.

Add the scabbard…

…the accessory blades…

…and the removable pouch for fire starters, and you have the Nepalese equivalent of the Swiss Army Knife. Bit more deadly, though.

I have carried an old kukri knife in my pannier from Nepal all the way to England, but I did have to explain that it was an antique at a couple of borders. On another trip I bought an antique sword in Afghanistan and was forced to buy a licence to import a deadly weapon (and a licence to export a deadly weapon) on my way home through Singapore. I suspect the authorities would not be quite so affable these days.

The upshot of all this is simple: have some idea of the laws of any country you visit, and leave your gun at home.

Photos: The Bear

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