Gun control and a false sense of security
This week marks the third anniversary of the horrific gun massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in America, where a lone gunman shot and killed 28 people, 20 of them young school children. Reading stories about the experiences of the kids and teachers who survived that day is completely soul destroying. Those kids will never feel safe again. As a mum, my heart breaks for them, and for their families and friends.
That terrifying incident ignited an outpouring of grief from around the world, and had groups from all walks of life denouncing America’s obsession with firearms. Five days after the shooting, President Obama announced he would make gun control a central issue of his second term, and created a gun violence taskforce to “make progress on this life and death issue”.
However, here we are, three years later and very little has changed. A lot of talk, a lot of ‘prayers and thoughts’, but not much action, due, in part, to the power and influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA), one of America’s most powerful lobby groups.
The latest mass killing, this time in San Bernadino in California that occurred less than a fortnight ago, saw politicians and media personalities once again wringing their hands and sending ‘thoughts and prayers’ to the victims’ families. But still no action.
In the three years since the Sandy Hook massacre, over 90,000 gun deaths have been recorded in America. It is an appalling state of affairs, and one we feel quite removed from here in Australia. Our gun laws are tough. We don’t let gun lobby groups like the NRA make decisions that affect the safety of our citizens.
Australia, the Gold Standard in Gun Control
Australia is often cited as an example of how a country can make sweeping legislative change after a single incident to significantly reduce the number of guns in circulation, and subsequently reduce mass shootings.
In 1996, after the shocking Port Arthur massacre in Tasmania, then Prime Minister John Howard enacted a national gun buy-back scheme, funded by a one-off increase in the Medicare levy. Over the course of a year over one million guns were handed in for reimbursement, and destroyed.
Australians rejoiced. We were safe! We were free from the scourge of guns!
We’ve been trusting in that sense of security our tough gun laws instilled ever since. We walk the streets without fear, knowing our children are safe from those random acts of gun violence so common in the States, safe in the knowledge that guns on our streets are the exception rather than the rule.
But are we living under a false sense of security?
This week also marks the one year anniversary of the siege in Martin Place, which claimed the lives of Katrina Dawson and Tori Johnson, and left the city of Sydney traumatised. The perpetrator of that incident had a valid NSW gun licence, despite being charged with a series of violent crimes.
How did he get a licence? How did he get a gun?
If our gun laws are so tough, then how did a violent criminal with a history of mental illness have access to an arsenal of weapons?
The actual fact is that, while Australia’s gun buy-back scheme and subsequent legislative change is seen as the ‘gold standard’ of gun control around the world, over the last decade or so, loopholes in the legislation have meant that the number of Australians who own guns has risen dramatically.
In NSW alone, an estimated 850,000 guns are privately owned, equating to one gun for every nine people. This is a 40% increase in the last 14 years. Disturbingly, it is often affluent, metropolitan areas including Neutral Bay, the CBD and Pyrmont, where the guns are found.
According to NSW Police, all firearms licence holders are subject to a range of criminal and suitability checks, and a ‘good reason’ is required for each and every additional weapon.
But what is considered a ‘good reason’? Self-defence? Sport? To defend one’s property? What kind of checks and balances are actually in place?
The NSW Greens party is attempting to introduce legislation that will impose limits on the number of firearms people can register, however they have so far been met with opposition. It seems gun lobby groups are pretty powerful here, too.
A gun for every man, woman and child
In America, the right to bear arms is such an ingrained part of the country’s culture, that the government seems unable to do anything about it, despite guns killing more people than AIDS, drug overdoses, war and terrorism combined. Death by firearm is the second leading cause of death in America, after motor vehicle accidents.
For America’s 320 million citizens, there are close to 290 million firearms.
The NRA wants to arm teachers in classrooms, public servants in government offices, and even ministers in churches, claiming this will prevent future mass shootings. They repeatedly claim that if every citizen carries a weapon, then gun violence will be dramatically reduced.
Where is the logic in this argument? More guns = less violence? I don’t think so.
Intentional gun violence isn’t the only problem here. A study conducted in America earlier this year found that a child accidently shoots themselves or someone else every 36 hours, with almost one in three shooting victims dying. Over 30% of shootings are committed by preschool aged kids.
The American reality is that many children will live in a house where firearms are easily accessible, and where kids are taught that guns are not something to be feared, but are a normal, everyday part of life. Until someone dies.
What happens to a child who has accidently killed their playmate, or little brother? How does that child grow up without being psychologically scarred, and how does the rest of the family move on?
Why the obsession with being armed?
For me, as an Australian, it just doesn’t make sense.
Guns scare the bejesus out of me. If I’m walking along the street with my kids and I see a police officer, my eyes are immediately drawn to their belt. Seeing a gun, even wielded by a police officer - someone there to protect us - does not make me feel safe. It makes me feel vulnerable. Under threat. That chunky bit of black metal, to me, is the cause of so much death and destruction – it makes me want to run in the opposite direction. I hate that our police officers carry them.
Guns kill. Guns are evil. Guns are unpredictable, and cause many more problems than they solve. They should not be a ‘normal’ part of our lives, and especially not of our children’s lives.
Do we want a country where we’re too scared to let our kids go to the movies for fear of a massacre, or where we need metal detectors at the front entrances of schools? Where accidental shootings are just a single line news story in the back of the paper?
I certainly don’t.
But if Australia continues down the road of lessening the control over guns, our sense of security may well be misplaced.