29 December 2012
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon in Sydney way back on 28th April 1996. I was making my way to the local gym as, in those days, I was a regular gym junkie. Just before I left my home, I heard on the radio that a gunman had been on a killing spree in Tasmania. At that stage only a small number of people had lost their lives. When I got to the gym, the number of deaths had risen to 23. I mentioned this to my gym instructor. His response was that it was the gunman’s form “of self-expression”. The instructor was reading the Celestine Prophecy at the time, which probably explained his comments. I personally preferred the term “madman”.
The gunman was named Martin Bryant and the final death toll was 35. The whole of Australia was in shock. How could anyone kill 35 innocent people? There was an outpouring of disbelief and anger. How could we stop this from happening again?
The Prime Minister at the time was the right wing conservative John Howard. He had been in the role for only a few months. How would he respond? What could he do from a government point of view? The nation held its collective breath.
Before, I go any further, I need to give some background information. Australia is very similar to the United States. Both are large countries, both were built from migrants, both have large agricultural areas and culturally we are very similar. Naturally, we speak the same language – well sort of! Guns in Australia are typically kept in the large rural areas. Farmers need to be on alert for scavengers of the animal kind, especially foxes. Although in parts of the country snakes and crocodiles can also be a problem.
John Howard had to act, and act fast. He introduced strict gun laws into Parliament. This had bi-partisan support of the opposition Labor Party led by Kim Beasley. The new gun controls had to also be made law via the State and Territory Parliaments. Initially Queensland and Tasmania were against tightened gun control. A number of citizens were outraged at the new laws. This outrage was fuelled by the support of the Christian Coalition and the US National Rifle Association!
Finally, the new gun controls were made law Australia wide after a lot of intense debate. In addition, the Federal Government implemented a 12 month amnesty/buyback scheme to allow people to hand in any illegal firearm without running the risk of prosecution. Amazingly, 643,000 firearms were handed in at a cost of $350M.
Since the laws were established, it is now extremely hard to buy a rifle or indeed any gun. A number of valid reasons and references need to be supplied before a gun can be sold. Naturally, if there is a genuine reason to have a gun, and the person appears mentally stable, then they will be able to purchase one, subject to State and Territory requirements. It is safe to say that John Howard’s tough stance has paid dividends. Since that fateful day in 1996, Australia has not had any gun related massacres.
I mention the above purely to give any reader from the United States an idea of how gun control can be implemented. Naturally, all Australians were shocked at the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown. I have two daughters aged 9 and 10 and I certainly felt shock and sadness, especially as it happened so close to Christmas, the time of family gatherings. I feel for the parents who lost their children and the families of all those that were killed in the shooting.
To outsiders, the United States has way too many shootings. For pro-gun lobbyists to claim the second amendment as a right to bear arms in today’s modern society, is a bad joke at best! The question, a very simple one, how many more people have to lose their lives before action is taken? Yes the GOP and NRA are bed partners, and yes there are lunatics high up in both organisations. But do ordinary citizens really require a semi-automatic weapon to protect their property? The answer has to be a resounding ‘No’.
The US has to tighten up its gun laws immediately. It is the only way to go, and also to restore faith with the public. Not only does Barack Obama need to act decisively, it also requires the GOP and others to support any proposed law changes. The good old days of “gun toting” are over. Let’s logically move on and ensure that our children and innocent bystanders are not used as “shooting practice” by a madman.
Finally, do not underestimate the rest of the world’s opinion towards the US and its lax gun laws. I can virtually guarantee you that the feeling of most people is that the US gun laws are a complete joke. It is now up to the United States to ensure that the joke comes to an end.