Saturday, 15 December 2012
Guns Kill People
We woke up this morning to read about yet another mass shooting in the USA. In an all too familiar story, a young man with no criminal history has gone on a shooting rampage in a school in Connecticut, killing 26 people including 20 children before turning the the military-style rifle on himself.
It's a tragedy for the children and families involved, including the family of the killer who started his rampage by killing his mother and ended it with his own death. It should also be a political scandal of the first order. How did an ordinary, and obviously disturbed, young man get his hands on a piece of powerful military hardware? Why, after so many such killings, are gun laws still unchanged and all these weapons still lying around in suburban homes?
It's not often I praise former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, but my American readers should take note of how he responded in a similar situation.
On 28 April 1996 a young man named Martin Bryant went on a shooting rampage at Port Arthur, a former penal colony which is now one of Tasmania's most popular tourist attractions. He killed 31 people and injured another 19. My own feeling of sickness at the event was heightened by the fact my family and I had been there ourselves less than two weeks previously. Yet such a brush with fate wasn't needed for Australians to be shocked. Nothing like this had happened in Australia since the 19th century.
Howard, not long installed as Prime Minister, acted immediately. He rallied Australia's State premiers to the cause and passed new, much tougher gun laws, restricting ownership and sale of a wide range of firearms. He also introduced a time limited buy-back scheme for the now illegal firearms. Protests from Australia's version of the gun lobby (financially supported by their much more powerful US counterparts) were summarily dismissed and the new laws were in operation by October 1996. Any nonsense about "guns don't kill people, people do" was dismissed for the idiocy it is. Bryant would have been a lot less deadly with a knife.
In the next 12 months over 600,000 firearms were handed over to government authorities. In some States they could be handed in at stations where they would be destroyed in plain sight, placed on a conveyor belt and crushed while their former owners, and other curious onlookers, watched.
Of course this measure didn't end violent crime in Australia. It didn't even end shootings. It did show that Australians are not tolerant of such crime. A 2002 incident at Monash University at which a mentally ill student shot two of his fellow students resulted in further tightening of gun laws. Organised criminals, of course, can and do possess illicit firearms, but it is virtually impossible for an ordinary person to get the hardware for the kind of shooting that took place last night in Connecticut.
So, my American friends, turn your shock and grief into action. Don't let the gun lobby and the ridiculous right get away with rhetoric about freedom and democracy and the sanctity of the constitution. Don't let Obama, who no longer needs their votes, get away with inaction. If your congressional representatives try to block legislation, sue them for the deaths of the next group of children killed in such a massacre. Any country which tolerates a legal right to acquire instruments of mass murder is crazy.