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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

australian gun laws

When a major event happens in the US, it may or may not make the front page of the paper way over here in Australia.  American news usually comes in around page 4 or so.  In New Zealand, it was always a hunt. 

But on our Saturday morning/your Friday, that wasn’t the case.  Your front page was our front page.  Sydney Morning Herald.  Massacre.  Movie theatre.  Twelve dead people.  It was horrifying and shocking and the worst kind of awful there is.  I felt so much sadness for those victims, those families, those injured, my country.

I texted my friend in Los Angeles.  The one I text when something really good or really bad or anything in between happens.  Two inadequate words were all I could manage.  Colorado.  Ugh.    

She texted me back immediately.  Don’t get me started.  And then she started.  We’ve learned nothing.  Nothing changes.  No more gun laws.  No one says enough.  Makes me want to move to an island.

I felt the same way. 

And then remembered I did move to an island. 

I had to wonder.  Am I safer here in Australia?  Are there gun laws here?  How do they differ from America?  I didn’t have the answers.  But youknowwho did.  And here’s what Google and I came up with.

In 1987, there were 6 gun massacres in Australia.  32 were murdered with guns.  Most murderers held their guns legally.  After that, most Australian jurisdictions made stricter gun laws resulting in a significant lowering of gun homicide and gun suicide rates. 

In 1996, 35 people were murdered at popular tourist spot in Tasmania.  The murderer was a mentally disturbed person who purchased his weapons legally.  Afterwards, more gun laws were introduced resulting in further lowering of the gun homicide and gun suicide rates. 

In 2002, another individual who had mental problems and had acquired his handguns legally murdered two students at Monash University.  Stricter controls on handguns came out of that tragedy. 

The government of Australia followed the wishes of the public regarding gun laws, and not the wishes of Australia's major shooting groups, and changes were made.  By 2004, it became clear that stricter gun laws were working.  Less people were being murdered.  Less people were committing suicide.  

In 2011, according to  The Sydney Morning Herald, researchers at Harvard University reviewed the evidence on the impact of reforms and concluded, "The National Firearms Agreement seems to have been incredibly successful in terms of lives saved."  There have been no gun massacres since 1996.  There were 13 such tragedies during the previous 18 years.  And there have been drastically less deaths as well.  In the early '90s, approximately 600 Australians were dying each year by gunfire.  Now the number is fewer than 250.  

To answer my own questions, it does seem I am safer here and there are gun laws here and they differ oh so greatly from America.  I know it’s like comparing 311 million apples to 22 million oranges.  But here, on this island, when something bad happens, it seems my friend’s words happen.  People learn.  Things change.  More gun laws are made.  People say stuff.  And then less bad things happen. 

I know nothing about guns.  I have never touched a gun.  I don’t ever want to touch a gun.  And I completely respect those who exercise their right to own a gun.  But something has to be done.  The mentally ill are legally buying guns and no one notices until it is too late.  We need more mental health programs.  We don’t need semi-automatic anythings.  And it should be way harder for anyone not of sound mind to obtain a gun license, much less a gun. 

I have no doubt there are a thousand holes in my simplistic cut-and-paste argument above, but the bottom line is, how can we let yet another tragedy happen and not do anything?  At all.  Again.