Australia has historically had relatively low homicide rates, and therefore the country’s relaxed gun legislation was never in the forefront of the public’s mind. That all changed on April 28, 1996, when a deranged man carrying two semi-automatic rifles opened fire on tourists and workers at the Port Arthur Historic Site in Tasmania, killing 35 people and injuring 23 more. The event marked the deadliest shooting by a single person in Australian history, and one of the deadliest in the world. The aftermath of the shooting was mainly one of public outrage. With a high percentage of Australians favouring new gun control legislation, the issue was thrust into the forefront of public policy debate. The government at the time swiftly worked to enact tight gun control laws – now considered some of the tightest in the world.
In brief, Australian gun controls require all gun owners to have a firearm licence and have secure storage for their weapons. All firearms must be registered with their serial number. A 28 day waiting period applies for all first-time gun applications, and applicants must provide a genuine reason as to why they need a gun. Self-defence doesn’t count – it needs to be something useful, such as pest control (rabbits!), hunting, target shooting, or collecting. For some classes of weapons, a genuine need must be demonstrated on top of the genuine reason. Some of the more dangerous classes of weapons – such as machine guns and assault rifles, among others – are completely restricted. For existing guns, the government sponsored a “buy back” program, where nearly 700,000 weapons were purchased back from the public and destroyed. This may not seem like a lot of weapons, but given the low population and number of guns per household, it is the equivalent of the US government purchasing back roughly 40 million firearms.
Of course, there was pushback from some sectors of the Australian public, but overall, most estimates put public support at somewhere near 85%. Intense lobbying against the new legislation only backfired and the public became irate when it came to light that pro-gun activists were receiving help from the NRA (of US fame) and the Australian Christian Lobby. I still don’t know how or why people who love Jesus also love guns and vice versa, but I guess maybe church makes people hateful and violent? Or maybe someone is spiking the sacramental wine with some anger pills?
The most amazing thing about all of this is: the government in power at the time was a right-wing government. That’s right, the Liberal Party (Australia’s oddly named right-wing conservative party), under the leadership of John Howard, put all these measures into place. Actually, it was each individual state that enacted these measures, but the federal government enacted a weapons import ban and then pretty much forced the states to enact their own laws by using some heavy tactics. Basically, it would have gone to the public via a vote on a constitutional amendment and public opinion was so great that it was sure to pass, so the states pretty much had to give in. Basically.
According to an article I recently read, written by none other than former Prime Minister John Howard himself, Australia experienced 13 gun massacres (being defined as a shooting with more than four victims) in the 18 years leading up to the Port Arthur Massacre. In the 17 years since the tight gun controls were implemented in the wake of incident, Australia has had no massacres. Not one. Now that doesn’t mean that there aren’t shootings – because some people can get guns, or steal guns, or find a way to import them illegally (though Australian border security is tight as hell, so if they are sneaking them in illegally in some underground tunnel from Papua New Guinea, maybe they can sneak in some Cheez-Its too?) – but it does mean that there are fewer shootings, and the types of weapons that are used generally can’t do too much damage too quickly. I feel safe here.
But then there’s America. Australians look over at America and they’re like “What the fuck is going on over there?”
The recent school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut was big news in Australia – splashed over TV and print news for weeks. Australians were shocked and horrified that something like that would happen in a western country – that something like that could happen in a western country. But it did. It was just exponentially worse that children were involved, and the sheer number of children just dumbfounded Australians.
And as an American, I had literally dozens of Australians, expat Brits, and others asking me for my thoughts on the incident. Of course, this happened all in December, so it made for a festive holiday season. So, to get the first question out of the way: No. I do not have a gun. I have never had a gun. I have never even held a gun. I am not a Republican and not from a red state and Jesus most certainly did not tell me to go buy firearms.
Many Aussies tend to have this idea that everyone in America has a gun and walks around with their guns in their purses or pockets or briefcases or in their jackets. That’s not the case, but from news reports, I can sort of see how they get that impression. One person told me they were going to San Francisco on holiday and they were worried about getting shot. I kindly reassured them that they’d be fine in San Francisco, but that they should probably steer clear of Texas and Tennessee.
Then, of course, they ask why, after so many highly publicized shootings, have Americans not risen up, held guns to the heads of politicians, and demanded they enact laws to take those very guns away? And then I sigh. I have to explain the whole 2nd amendment issue to them and how it would be extremely difficult to repeal it. And then I have to explain how probably only half of the American public wants gun control, and how the other half wants more guns. “More guns? Ha, you can’t be serious!” And then they look up to the news on TV and hear the anchor talking about how the NRA wants guns in every classroom and their jaws hang open and they ask me “Are they serious?” And I have to say yes and then explain that the NRA has some inexplicable power over large swaths of the uneducated American public (of which there are a lot!) and that they fund Republicans who then connect guns to loving Jesus and the whole thing just has some sort of snowball effect.
Eventually, the Australians just give up trying to understand how the fuck America works and decide to call Qantas to change their upcoming trip to the US to their upcoming trip to Canada. But I on the other hand, while being able to explain how America works, still don’t know why the fuck it works this way. We’ve had Sandy Hook. We’ve had Columbine. We’ve had Virginia Tech. There was the DC sniper, the Luby’s parking lot in Texas, the movie theatre in Colorado, the mall in Oregon, the Binghamton shooting, the GMAC car loan office in Jacksonville, and I could keep going on and on and on. Hell, fringe groups like the Branch Davidians in Waco had enough weaponry and ammunition to take over a small country. How was that allowed to happen? Seriously – HOW THE FUCK IS THIS SHIT ALLOWED TO HAPPEN?
And there are people in America who see these things on the news and think to themselves “Well, if one of the teachers had a gun, they could have stopped him from shooting all those children.” No. They couldn’t have. Because he would have caught them off guard and killed them first. His gun was semi-automatic. Teacher would have been dead before she could have retrieved the gun from the classroom safety box. And also, your perspective sucks. And you’re dumb as shit. And really, you should be shot with your own gun. Seriously. See how it feels. Assholes.
What is wrong with these people??? Republicans get all up in arms about gun control, but surely they know what needs to be done, right? Surely they can’t think the current system is working or that putting guns in classrooms is a good idea, right? This isn’t rocket science. It just had to be that they know that if they give in and do the right thing, the NRA will get all angry and stop giving them blowjobs under the table. But you know what I think? Fuck the NRA. While I can appreciate a differing of opinion, when you start suggesting guns in kindergarten classrooms, I have to draw the line and just say that your opinion is so outrageous that it is no longer valid.
Australia had one major, horrific disaster involving guns and they quickly moved to correct the deficiency in their laws. In fact, it was the right-wing party that took the lead. How many more massacres need to happen in the United States before Congress grows a pair and takes some firm action on gun violence? What will it take for Republicans to stand up and do the right thing, without care for what NRA lobbyists will do to them? The time has come, America. Follow Australia’s example.