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Reporters on the Job

Brazil vs. Scotland: Four times as many Brazilians are fatally shot as Americans. That's just one of the statistics discussed as Brazilians vote Sunday on a national gun ban. Correspondent Andrew Downie says that guns are so ubiquitous in Brazil that it's common to see one pulled on the swankiest streets of Rio. Yet, he's never been assaulted or threatened with a gun in the six years he's lived in Brazil.

As a Scotsman, however, he was shaken by a recent University of California report that the murder rate in his home country now exceeds that of the US and Israel. And a UN report described Scotland as "the most violent country in the developed world."

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The reports don't blame the violence on guns. But Andrew read an article in The Guardian Thursday by Irvine Welsh, a leading Scottish novelist, who points to alcohol and a culture of knives. Andrew doesn't own a gun, but on special occasions he has carried a knife.

"It's still a widespread assumption, particularly in parts of Glasgow, that carrying a knife is acceptable behavior. This probably goes as far back as the Highlander's sgian-dbuh, but has more recent roots in the 'tools' culture of the city's industrial past," wrote Mr. Welsh.

A sgian-dubh is a small dagger worn under the kilt. Andrew says that he's worn his kilt to soccer games when the Scottish national team has played abroad, and without thinking about it, inserted his sgian-dubh into his sock as part of the traditional garb. But since Sept. 11, he says the security at events make such a practice impossible. Besides, he adds, "I'm a lover not a fighter."

David Clark Scott
World editor