[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]P[/su_dropcap]icture a tiny, Christmas town filled with classic Alpine chalets and surrounded by mountains, with the citizens working dutifully to contribute to the common good, and you will envision Zermatt, Switzerland. Zermatt is a picturesque tourist town that would fit the typical political progressive’s idea of utopia on earth: modern, clean and government-controlled. Environmental preservation is key. Residents pride themselves on the pure, glacial water flowing through the town. Cars are banned, except for the few licensees who are permitted to drive electric vehicles. I spoke with a shopkeeper who explained the government’s protection of the Swiss deer. If you hit a deer on the road, you had better report it and pay your fine. Unlicensed deer murderers are not tolerated. Switzerland’s per-capita income is extremely high, but according to this shopkeeper, much of her taxes fund government programs.
Gun laws around the world vary greatly. Many countries have very lenient gun-ownership laws, and statistics show that they benefit from very low crime rates.
On our first morning in Zermatt, my husband and I, like most tourists, gazed at the Matterhorn through our hotel room window and eagerly stepped out for a walk. This walk is where the progressives’ utopia would end: Within five minutes of leaving our hotel, a young man with a rifle slung over his shoulder passed us heading in the opposite direction. No one was staring. No one was concerned. No one got hurt. The man, in fact, was the epitome of normal. He looked ruddy and healthy, and was clean-shaven and well-dressed.
FIREARMS IN SWITZERLAND are no cause for concern. Until recently, the Swiss could own almost any kind of firearm, including anti-aircraft guns and howitzers. Since 1291, it has been said that Switzerland does not have an army – it is an army. With a “rifle behind every blade of grass,” the same was thought about the United States years ago. Swiss men undergo mandatory military training, which is voluntary for women, and until 2011, these militia men and women ranging in age from 20 to 42 were even required to keep their military rifles at home. In 2011, the laws were changed and now allows the militia an option to keep their rifles in a local armory.
Like the US, Switzerland’s leniency towards firearms has taken a bashing from gun prohibitionists in recent years. The Swiss also receive pressure from the UN and the European Union, to which Switzerland does not subscribe, but from which the country will apparently be influenced. In 2013, anti-gun organizations attempted to ban army rifles from homes altogether. To the relief of Swiss gun owners, the change was rejected by 56 percent of voters. However, some changes to the laws were implemented, such as a list of now-forbidden firearms.
Despite the recent changes, Switzerland still has a relatively lenient gun-ownership system. Approximately 2.3 to 4.5 million military and private firearms are estimated to be in circulation in Switzerland – a lot of firearms for a country with a population of only eight million people. While citizens wishing to purchase a firearm from a dealer must obtain a government-issued permit, the government routinely and without hassle provides these permits to applicants who do not have a criminal background and are not mentally ill.
Transfers between private individuals do not need a government permit, but the buyer and seller must create a written record of the transaction, keep the record for 10 years and provide a copy to the government. No government background checks are required on these private-party transfers.
WHILE THE EXACT NUMBERS differ depending on who is counting, the conclusions about Switzerland’s gun ownership and crime rates are the same: gun control laws are relaxed (virtually any citizen can own a firearm), gun ownership is high and crime rates are low.
In 2011, the Swiss Federal Police compiled statistics on gun-related crimes which showed that during 2009, the police investigated 236 homicides, of which 55 were allegedly committed with a gun. During the same year 524 aggravated batteries were reported, 11 of which involved gun use and 3,530 robberies were reported, of which 416 were committed with a gun. Switzerland has a population of 7.9 million. Switzerland also has the third-lowest homicide rate of the top nine major European countries. To date, Switzerland has not hosted a school massacre. This is true, despite kids and guns mixing freely in the Swiss culture. The traditional Swiss Knabenschiessen is an event for boys and girls age 13 to 17 years old in Zurich where they enjoy the pleasure of competing with Sig SG 550s. The event has taken place since 1657. The Swiss support this mix of kids, Sturmgewehr (the “SG” in Sig SG), Alps, cowbells, music and rifle fire as an event the whole family can enjoy.
Contrary to popular belief, Switzerland is not alone among European countries in its relaxed gun laws and low crime rates. Numerous Europeans own guns. Luxembourg, Finland, Lichtenstein and Belgium are a few other countries that allow citizens to obtain firearms after getting a permit; however, the applicant must generally provide a reason such as hunting, sport shooting or collecting. Self-defense licenses allowing a person to carry outside their home are generally more difficult to obtain but are available. Austrians also own quite a few guns. Austria maintains an expensive training, testing and permitting process. However, Austrians enjoy the ability to freely purchase some firearms, including certain bolt-action firearms and shotguns, provided they are registered within six weeks after purchase.
IN OUR QUEST for more information on both history and firearms, my husband and I traveled to Poland to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. How could the Poles not own guns? After all, it was the few Poles with firearms – just 10 handguns – in the Warsaw ghetto who were able to resist and begin the uprising against the Nazis. If the Polish people, comprising a population of about 45 million, each had owned even a single firearm, they could prevent an atrocity like the Holocaust from ever happening again. These prison camps have enshrined several tons of human hair, the prisoners’ eyeglasses, luggage and other belongings behind glass. We stood in the same spot as did the helpless, disarmed victims who were taken off the trains like cattle and sorted to live or die. I grew up listening to stories from my German grandparents of the horrors of World War II in Europe. The Poles, I thought, must own firearms. Not so.
Polish gun ownership is the lowest in the European Union. Yet, while recent changes to their gun laws would allow virtually any Pole to acquire a firearm, not many of them choose to take advantage of this newfound ability. Perhaps this will change in the future.
EUROPEAN COUNTRIES with stricter gun-control laws include Germany and France. Despite this, Germany still has a high rate of firearm ownership – millions of firearms are legally possessed with a Waffenbesitzkarte (firearms ownership license). Hunting and sport shooting are held in high regard, although self-defense is not deemed an appropriate reason to receive an ownership permit. Better than the Oktoberfest, the German’s annual Schützenfest in Hannover attracts over 5,000 marksmen every year. The highest scoring sharpshooter is crowned the Schützenkönig amidst the parade (the longest in the world), bands, rides and beer tents.
France restricts the types of weapons and magazine capacities for firearms and requires a government-issued permit to own a firearm. The French do not have the gun culture found in other countries like Germany or Switzerland. After the Paris terrorist attacks in 2015, Americans were quick to point out that if anyone had been armed, the death rate could have been much lower. Americans also pointed out that the gun-control laws banning certain firearms, limiting magazine size and emphasizing hunting and sport rather than self-defense did not prevent the terrorists from bringing guns into the country and slaughtering over a hundred people. Despite France’s gun-control system for citizens who obey the laws, the terrorists in Paris used AK-47s that were illegally possessed and illegally transported into the country. It appears that Europeans are reassessing their situation. While the Knabenschiessen and Schutzenfest attest to the fact that many Europeans view firearms and shooting as a wholesome community activity, the increase in defensive weapons sales also attest to the desire of Europeans to use firearms in self-defense.
In fact, after the influx of Islamic refugees to Germany in 2015, guns began “flying off the shelves,” according to a Czech TV report, in the countries where citizens could purchase them, particularly in Austria. The increase in crimes, including rapes and assaults, in countries where these immigrants are welcomed and where they are passing through has made citizens stop and think about their personal safety. Austrian gun stores reported being sold out.
When in fear for their safety, Europeans, like everyone else, desire the right to defend themselves, but some of these countries’ progressive laws have made their citizens vulnerable to attack from individual criminals and terrorists because some deny gun ownership to people wishing to own firearms solely for self-defense reasons. If the high rate of firearm purchasing in countries where this is possible is any indication, Europeans wish they had a Second Amendment.
COUNTRIES WITH STRONGER gun-control laws include Australia, Brazil, Great Britain and South Africa. After a mass shooting in Australia in 1996, the government instituted strict gun control through the National Firearms Agreement, which restricts possession of semiautomatic and automatic firearms, requires registration, permitting and instituted a buy-back program (which brought in over 650,000 guns from the citizenry). Previously, only handguns needed to be registered in Australia.
Similarly, after highly publicized criminal activity including a mass shooting in the late 1980s, the United Kingdom enacted new gun-control laws that included banning certain firearms such as semiautomatic rifles, creating a strict licensing and registration system and instituting a buy-back program. An outright handgun ban was passed after another mass school shooting in 1996. Despite these laws, crime rates continued to rise, and recent facts – checked by Politifact – indicate that England and Wales have more than double the violent crime rate of the United States (comparing violence with injury against a person, serious sexual crime and robbery).
All firearms in Brazil are required to be registered with the government, and self defense is not a valid reason to request a permit. All guns are registered, confiscations occur and permits to legally own guns are routinely denied. This has not stopped Brazil from being a world leader in homicide, a fact supported by the Crime Prevention Research Center.
South Africa is another country with a strict permitting system for legal gun ownership, and a professional hunter described to me how the right, let’s say, “motivation” for owning a gun, as well as certain financial incentives, is what will ultimately decide who can possess a firearm. Despite the strict permitting laws, South Africa’s gun violence stems from the illegal possession of firearms by the people who do not respect the law and disregard the permitting process.This seems to be a reoccurring theme. All of the countries with strict gun-control laws also boast higher violent-crime rates than countries with higher rates of legal gun ownership. England and Australia have virtually banned gun ownership, but have the highest rates of robbery, sexual assault and assault with force. Britain has the highest rate of violent crime in all of Europe – higher in the early 2000s than the United States or even South Africa. In addition, these countries may have low legal firearms ownership rates, but the possession of illegal firearms can be very high, particularly in Brazil and South Africa.
AT THE END OF THE DAY, guns are part of life the world over. Countries with gun cultures that respect firearms and integrate ownership and responsibility into daily life and sporting events enjoy high rates of legal gun ownership and lower rates of violent crime. In other words, there is no correlation between legal gun ownership and increased crime rates. Instead, countries with some of the strictest gun-control laws boast the highest illegal gun possession rates and correlating murder rates in the world, such as Brazil. Even with high rates of legal gun ownership, the United States and Switzerland do not lead the world in violent crimes, homicides or gun violence. Instead, it correlates to low rates of crime. These facts are laid out plainly in research that has been conducted and compiled by the Crime Prevention Research Institute and in additional fact-checking supported by Politifact. In summary, you can own firearms in many other countries, and in some a wide variety that are not readily available to US citizens. The laws often created by a country’s history and culture define the rule. ASJ
Story by Robin Taylor
Photographs by David Mechin, Douglas Smith, Kristen Daulton and J2 Photography
“If you had asked me 16 years ago if I thought I could do this full time I wouldn’t have said yes,” says Lenseigne. “Who would have known work would be something you love so much?”
Today Lenseigne is both “making a living” and “living a message” of responsible firearm use that opens doors worldwide. As a trainer, shooter, rider, and ambassador for the shooting sports there is a lot to be said for Kenda Lenseigne.
I caught up with Lenseigne at her New River, Ariz., home, freshly returned from an American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) night event in Scottsdale (the Sun Circuit Championship). Like most people, I’d always assumed that mounted shooting was primarily regulated by the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) – the major governing body for cowboy-style events. Not true!
Mounted shooters and SASS “ground shooters” have very different needs, and when Lenseigne started shooting in 1998, the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association (CMSA) had just branched out from SASS. Since then, the two organizations have followed different roads. The most visible difference being CMSA’s decision to eliminate SASS’ long-standing costume requirements.
“Dropping the costume requirement changed everything,” says Lenseigne. “That one decision opened up the sport to the broader riding world,” says Lenseigne. “Suddenly we had better horses, better riders, and it became a lot less expensive to participate.”
Sponsors like Wrangler took an interest, and people started taking “mounted” seriously. The result was a modern rodeo sport akin to barrel racing – with guns. Horse and rider charge through a rodeo-corral-sized course of fire, circling around and through a proscribed pattern of plastic barrels at maximum speed. At intervals, the rider breaks target balloons using a blank-firing single-action revolver. With as many as 10 balloons in play, the shooter must switch from one pistol to another at full gallop. It happens fast, and at Lenseigne’s level, if you miss one balloon, you lose.
“If you are too far away, the black powder granules burn up before hitting the target, and if you’re too close, once in a while the pattern will have a hole in the middle. The balloon will literally just wave at you. It’s happened to me several times.” Lenseigne continued, “You have to trust yourself to hold off a little bit. If you relate it to bird hunting, you want to wait for the bird to be at an optimum distance. Shooting it too soon leads to a bad result, and so does waiting too long.”
Flying through an agility course atop a galloping charger isn’t “normal” horseback
riding. Barrel racers aren’t quite as crazy as, say, rodeo bull riders, but the pictures with this article show a little bit of what Lenseigne’s horses can do. I mentioned to Lenseigne that my aunt was a barrel racer, and she shot back with “Then, she’s crazy like us!”
This year Lenseigne made her fourth trip to France to serve as an ambassador/trainer for the growing community of Western shooting enthusiasts there. European mounted fans are overcoming some gun-control requirements – using cap-and-ball revolvers if they have to – in order to shoot from horseback.
The following year, Lenseigne was asked to teach a clinic – and France had eased its gun restrictions so she was able to use a revolver. “People started showing up with all manner of crazy stuff. They were just so happy to be there, it was infectious,” she says. “Last year, even more showed up, some with modified .357 revolvers.”
Some European riders are bringing their dream to learn all there is to know about the mounted shooting and cowboy lifestyle all the way to the United States just to compete.
Back in the late 1990s, Lenseigne and her fellow riders had no gear that really worked for mounted-action shooting. Some things could be adapted (barrel racing saddles, for example), but most of the “gun stuff” was just wrong. Imagine trying to re-holster a SAA (single-action Army Colt revolver or Peacemaker) one-handed while using a period-correct “slim jim” holster (a holster with a very narrow girth) at full gallop. It’s not quite like threading a needle, but you get the idea.
“We had people walking around with water bottles stuffed in their holsters to get them to stay open,” says Lenseigne. “I was one of them!”
The problem became an opportunity when Lenseigne met Safariland’s Scott Carnahan at the NRA’s Bianchi Cup in Colombia, Mo. The holster innovations that practical shooters like Carnahan take for granted – low-cut fronts for faster draws, laminated holster materials, adjustable draw tension – all that was unknown to the mounted community.
Carnahan connected Lenseigne with his design staff, and their Bianchi Cowboy line has offered Kenda Lenseigne signature holsters ever since. Lenseigne’s line takes advantage of the technology that Safariland is known for, but holds the standard of a traditional look and feel. “It’s like an old model car with a new engine.”
“When you look at the products I’ve been involved in developing, people essentially are benefiting from my decade of learning the hard way,” laughed Lenseigne. As she explained, it’s difficult to shoot a standard Peacemaker well right out of the box due to the stiff hammer action. Competitive shooters immediately lighten the hammers. “When I first started in the sport, I had heard about the legendary Bob Munden who was the go-to gunsmith, so I sent him my guns. When I got them back, $300 per gun later, I had hair triggers – which is absolutely not what you want for mounted shooting.” Once Lenseigne found the right gunsmiths, her mounted guns began to evolve. “The original hammer spur on the old Peacemaker tends to open your grip when you’re shooting one-handed,” Lenseigne explained. “So, we took that hammer spur and made it lower and wider for quicker access.” Today, Uberti firearms offers the Kenda Lenseigne signature line as a package “racegun” for mounted shooting. They sell well to mounted shooters, and to “ground shooters” who compete in SASS events.
Certain brands have become household words among horse people in the US. One of the largest is Circle Y Saddles.
“In January of ‘09, Circle Y contacted me to design a saddle for them, saying ‘We want to be the first in the industry that builds a saddle specifically for your sport.’” Lenseigne was shocked. What an honor! “This is the saddle brand that practically everybody grew up riding, or at least wanting to ride. Basically, if you own a horse, you know Circle Y.”
Lenseigne had ridden many different disciplines over the years, so she had a lot to say.
“They sent out their designer to visit with me, and we sat down with a yellow pad. We sketched out what I thought would be a good design for the sport: a forward-tilted horn to allow clearance for your gun leather, free-moving stirrups, and a deep seat to hold you in.” A contract to ride for Circle Y developed, and things got very serious. “They hand-delivered the prototype to one of the CMSA majors in Arizona. They put it on my horse, did a photo shoot, and then gave me the option to ride it in the upcoming event, or ride my regular saddle.” As any sponsored competitor knows, running brand-new gear at an important match invites disaster. If it works, you’re a hero. If it fails you damage yourself and the brand. It’s a high-stakes “hero or zero” gamble.
“I warmed up my horse in the saddle for about 45 minutes, liked it, and decided the time was right to believe in my design and go for it.” Lenseigne set the world record on her first pass, and her saddle design went “hero” instantly. “The design was a hit from day one; we’ve only made some minor changes since then – different grades of leather, etc.,” she says. Not every project has worked out so well, but as she’ll tell you “you can’t excel unless you fail a time or two and learn from your experiences.”
Lenseigne’s life involves many pieces. She describes herself as “horse-heavy at the moment” with six of her own quarter horses in varying stages of training, plus several more that she’s training for customers. As you might imagine, training a horse to deal with a gunshot fired near its head isn’t easy, and would-be competitive riders are more than willing to pay her for her help. Lenseigne’s involved with every piece of the puzzle, firing .22 blanks from horseback on her home range, and taking horses to the Ben Avery Shooting Complex to shoot the louder .45s.
“For me the most important thing is building the horse’s confidence to accept the noise of gunfire. People send their horses to me for that.”
Once she gets the horse settled in, she insists on spending time training the rider. “I can train the horse and he’ll be ready to go, but if the rider doesn’t know what buttons to push, that won’t work for either of us.”
Lenseigne explained that even a moderately experienced rider can accidentally send the horse mixed signals – especially with all the distractions created by adding guns and rapid balance shifts to the equation.
“Had I not been an experienced rider, I certainly would have hit the ground more times than I can count,” says Lenseigne. In the Internet age, Lenseigne’s an irony in motion. She’s competing, training, designing, traveling the world, and doing media appearances – all because of her skill with a horse and a gun. ASJ
David Mechin is a French photographer whose ability to capture Kenda Lenseigne in these images portrays his passion for his field and depiction of beauty, power and dynamism. See more of his work at davidmechin.com.
Douglas Smith See more of his work at wysiwyg-photography.smugmug.com
Posted in Women and guns Tagged with: Bianchi Cowboy, Circle Y Saddles, CMSA, Cowboy Mounted Shooting, David Mechin, Douglas Smith, France, Gun, Holster, Horse, Kenda Lenseigne, Robin Taylor, Safariland, SASS, Scott Carnahan, Shooting, World Champion, Wrangler