A lark with guns

TWO young Australians in California wander into a gun shop with, no doubt, amazement. It is an arsenal of firearms just waiting to be bought by any of the loonies so evident on the street, on tele and on radio. For a lark they arrange for a sales assistant to photograph them holding shotguns and a pistol, and we know it’s a lark, a bit of fun, because we’ve seen the photograph in this newspaper and others.

We’ve had access to the photos because one of the young fellows posted it on his Facebook page, just as most young Australians would have. Kenrick Monk is smiling broadly as he holds two shotguns across his chest in a classic Hollywood tough guy pose and Nick D’Arcy is pulling a face as he holds the pistol, and as a holiday snap it is in the vein of snaps of young tourists taking liberties with famous statues and acting as lairs in front of the White House.

As you’ll know Monk and D’Arcy are members of Australia’s team of swimmers to compete in the London Olympics, and they were in California training, and the US gun shop was clearly a bit of light relief from the long hours and rigours of training. There was no booze, no fighting, no drugs, no menace, no abuse, no racism, no sexism or any other ism.

Swimming Australia, however, saw it differently and ordered the swimmers to remove the photo from Facebook, which they did, before they boarded a plane for their scheduled return home. ‘‘Swimming Australia in no way condones these photos, and does not condone the posting of inappropriate content on Facebook, Twitter or any social media platform,’’ it said in a written statement. ‘‘This is a timely reminder for athletes to be more responsible to themselves, the public with whom they engage through social media, and the reputation of the sport.’’

Inappropriate? Firearms are not illegal in the US, nor are they illegal in Australia. Millions of Australians have been photographed with firearms, and photographed using firearms, and while I have seen hundreds of such photos I have never seen one that was in itself offensive, even if I am offended by the killing of animals as sport. Indeed, Australians will be holding and shooting firearms at the Olympics.

A Swimming Australia chief, Nick Green, told the media the photo was foolish and he warned athletes not to ‘‘put anything up on social media that you would not share with your mother or your grandmother’’. Mr Green is foolish indeed if he believes Nick D’Arcy and Kenrick Monk and any other young Australian would hesitate to show such a photo to their mother or grandmother, and he is even more foolish if he believes mothers and grandmothers in numbers that matter would be offended.

Newspapers weren’t any better. This paper’s headline over the story referred to the photographs as anti-social shots and a Sydney-based daily described the young fellows in its headline as idiot swimmers. Posing for fun with legal firearms in a legal gun shop in a country where millions of people carry a gun is anti-social and idiocy?

The Sydney daily then went on to make much of a claim that the guns were similar to those used in various massacres, including the Port Arthur slaughter, as if the young fellows would have been aware of that or posing with the guns to celebrate a massacre!

Australia is in the grip of a new prissiness. Purse-lipped puritans are shepherding us through the new inappropriateness as if we’re small children on a school excursion, and it seems that most Australians are happy to be so shepherded. It’s more than the political correctness that sought to thwart so much that is Australian until it drowned in its own madness a few years ago. The new prissiness utters only the word inappropriate, no explanation needed, to prompt a chorus of tut-tutting across Australia, and the media is keen to join in.

And, anyway, Swimming Australia needs reminding that these young fellows are adults, that its failure to recognise that is indeed inappropriate.

Were you offended by the photo? Are you going to bow to the new prissiness?

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