Pippa Middleton's latest foray into the headlines courtesy of her companion, Romain Rabillard's, somewhat inept gun-safety demonstration, almost slipped right past me. Normally, I would have learned of the incident during the course of my wife's regular evening reading of items of interest in People magazine, but after the latest issue arrived, I successfully barricaded myself in my office with a glass of Knob Creek. Fortunately, Google News transmitted what my wife could not, and so I learned what the rest of the world already knew: Pippa remains easy on the eyes, and France is a bit better armed than American mythology would have us believe.
In the U.S., at least at the extremes, Team Blue partisans often like to pretend that Europe is a unified whole where civic peace reins and tough gun laws keep weapons out of civilian hands. Team Red fans generally consider Europeans to be a bunch of sissies willingly disarmed by their governments.
In fact, savvy firearms aficionados will tell you, it's all a lot more complicated than that. Gun laws, as befits a collection of closely packed countries who have traditionally — and justifiably — viewed each other with a great deal of suspicion, vary widely. France's own regulations are probably less burdensome than what you'll find in New York or New Jersey.
And Rabillard wouldn't have had much difficulty navigating those regulations. As a legal advisor to weapons-maker Heckler & Koch, it wouldn't be too difficult for him to get a gun or the legal advice needed to navigate any necessary paperwork to make it legal. The brain required to refrain from waving said firearm at journalists with cameras he would be expected to provide of his own accord.
But it wouldn''t be all that surprising if Rabillard hadn't bothered to dot all of his legal "i"s and cross his red-tape "t"s. That's because gun laws in Europe are at least as divorced from actual gun ownership as tax laws are from tax payment. According to the 2003 Small Arms Survey (PDF) at the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, in most of Europe, "public officials readily admit that unlicensed owners and unregistered guns greatly outnumber legal ones." In France, the survey found, that meant 2.8 million legal firearms, and 15-17 million illegal guns, in civilian hands.
And recently, one of those hands, perhaps wired to a slightly under-powered brain, was right next to Pippa.