Learning from the past and each other

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Australia’s stringent guns laws could provide the model America needs

Many Australians can tell you exactly where they were when news of the Port Arthur massacre broke; I was in grade school when our worst mass shooting — to date — happened. Although shocked, I felt safe — a certainty that someone would do something about it.

Once the media grew tired of dissecting the killer’s life, the national conversation — held on bar stools and in classrooms — turned quickly to gun control and how we, as a nation, would avoid becoming our biggest fear: “just like the Yanks,” whose shootings were commonplace.

Stock graphic by William Workman

Twelve days after the massacre, Australian prime minister John Howard introduced the National Firearms Agreement, a series of gun reforms that included a memorandum on the sale of semi-automatic weapons, and a 28-day cooling off period between licensing and ownership of a firearm. The government implemented a buyback scheme generous enough that farmers voluntarily walked into police stations and handed over their much-loved rifles.

I experienced this reform swiftly; the shooting occurred and suddenly, there was news footage of artillery  mountains forming in the dump. The guns were gone and safety was restored.

There have been no mass shootings since the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, and we gladly file it in back of our mind as an ugly and surreal moment in Australian history.

And while it may seem smug and self-congratulatory to prescribe this same approach to America in the wake of their Las Vegas tragedy, the simple fact is that gun control laws work.

Granted, America and Australia are very different countries: America would have to remove 40 million guns to match the 700 000 recouped in Australia’s buyback scheme (half of all guns owned in the country).

But the two countries share similarities. Australia love guns too — the infamous Ned Kelly, the pistol-slinging bushman, is a national figure. Our mental health care system is burdened. We are a lucky and flawed country. We don’t get it right on many things, but our gun laws do work.

And herein lies the attitude why: rather than treating the Port Arthur massacre as the act of a deranged individual, the government and media admitted — quickly — that it was systematic.

From the plethora of articles I devoured after the latest and worst mass shooting in America’s history, one line stood out — a line that broke down the payout percentage from the poker machines that the gunman liked to play. And once I learned that the gunman ordered two sodas, a burger, and a bagel two days before the shooting, I stopped myself and asked why the media was wasting paper on the killer’s motives while ignoring larger issue at hand: gun control.

There’s no certainty in gun regulation as a whole and total solution. What is certain is that without gun control, there will be more Steven Paddocks.

One of the loudest arguments opposing gun control is the constitutional right to bear arms. Does this supersede the right of a child to feel safe? In the wake of such tragedies, there’s a need for America and the world to decide what is worth protecting and how it can be done.

Since Sandy Hook in 2012, there have been 12 mass shootings (with at least three people wounded or killed in each). Even though Australia’s gun control model is imperfect, it’s now time to consider all strategies — and fast.

Tim Fischer, the deputy prime minister at the time of the Port Arthur massacre, summarized Australia’s approach to gun control after the Sandy Hook shooting, a massacre that killed 20 children and six adults.

“Port Arthur was our Sandy Hook,” Fischer said, “Port Arthur we acted on. The USA is not prepared to act on their tragedies.”

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