Guns and Politics


Under the shadow of last Friday’s Sandy Hook School tragedy where twenty-seven people died – twenty of them children aged 6 or 7 – I thought I’d write a few lines. As parents, Brooke and I made the decision to tell our five year old son Max about what had happened. We’d been able to keep him from any news over the weekend and while he was home with an ear infection on Monday. With him heading back to school today (four days after the event) we thought it was a talk we needed to have.

Last night, snuggled up in his bunk (after the first book reading but before the second and lights out) I told Max the sanitized version of what had happened at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. “Something very sad happened last Friday. A very lonely, upset and sick man got some guns and took them to a school…”. I explained that Max did not need to be worried or afraid, but he might hear teachers or other kids talking about this and I wanted him to hear about it first from us. He might also see flags at half mast and I explained what that meant.

The talk went well I think. Max seemed to understand the seriousness and some of the sadness, but was not distressed. I also told him that he could be sure that everything that could be done to stop this happening again would be done. I hope that’s the truth. I let Max ask questions. Thankfully, he didn’t ask for gory details. Instead he wanted to know how many guns and what type of guns the sick man used. I told him what I knew. Then, very matter-of-fact-ly, Max said, “They should take away the guns!”

I agree with him.

As a rule, I try to avoid making any comment that can be construed as commentary on the US political landscape. I am an Australian living in the US and grateful to be here. I don’t want to appear overly critical or ungrateful. I don’t have the opportunity to vote in the USA, but – with my outsider’s perspective – a lot of what I see politically in my adopted country of residence seems very strange to me. So, let me just share a little of my other home country Australia’s history with murder and guns.

In the 1980’s and early 1990’s, Australia had more than it’s fair share of multiple shooting massacres: Milperra in ‘84 (7 dead, 28 wounded), Hoddle Street in ’87 (7 dead, 19 wounded), Queen Street also in ’87 (9 dead, 5 wounded) and Strathfield in ’91 (8 dead and 6 wounded). From a population of less than 20 million, that list shows an unreasonable and troubling high level of violence.

But the event that pushed public and political opinion over the edge occurred on the island state of Tasmania in 1996. The Port Arthur massacre transformed gun control legislation in Australia forever. Thirty-five people were killed and twenty-one wounded by a lone shooter armed with two semi-automatic, military-style assault rifles. This is the same type of weapon that wrought the carnage at Sandy Hook and, indeed, in all high-fatality shootings.

Within the year, there was a powerful political plan implemented that clearly showed that Australians had had enough – the gun buy-back scheme. Supported by a surge in public opinion, the federal and state governments in Australia worked together to buy around 631,000 guns from members of the public and had them destroyed. Most of the destroyed firearms were much less deadly semi-auto .22’s, semi-automatic shotguns and pump-action shotguns. Only about 3% were military-style assault rifles. Private ownership of  these weapons was outlawed. It was a costly exercise, but we were ready to pay the price in dollars rather than in innocent blood.

There have been no mass shootings in Australia since 1996.


10 thoughts on “Guns and Politics

  1. I think the numbers you quoted about Australia speak for themselves. Couldn’t be more obvious that that needs to be done here in this country as well….I know, some people say criminals will still get weapons illegally but right now they are way to readily accessible. Maybe, have very strict license laws for rural country people (and those licenses should be very expensive)….

    How many more people have to die still for us to finally get it? It’s not all about individual, personal freedom…..

  2. What needs to be looked at is, what help are people getting who have mental illness? Gun control is not the issue here. There is such a lack of help for individuals and families for mental illness/ disabilities. Funding for these programs are always the first to go when budget cuts take place. The root of the issue was the illness, the guns were secondary. Any situation like this is tragic, but we need to look at the real issue,and come up with ways to help people who suffer with these issues, not take guns away from everyone. This isn’t fixing the problem.

    • Thanks for your input Tom. How about we see both issues as important here? After all, there are still people suffering with mental illness in Australia, but no mass shootings since the gun laws changed. Guns are ALSO an issue.

      • Grant, we will agree to disagree on this. The guns were legally bought and had for some time with no issues. To take away ALL guns from people is NOT the answer. My family has had guns since the early 1900’s that I still have today. We have been responsible owners, with no issues (as many other families). Should we say because someone kills others with a car, all cars should be taken away? Phones because of txting and driving. If you own a gun, you MUST take responsibility to keep it safe! Taking away guns is NOT the answer for America!

  3. All guns were not taken away in Australia and I’m not suggesting that should happen in the USA. (Actually, I’m not making any suggestion for the USA. Just sharing some thoughts and the Australian story). It was assault rifles and semi/fully automatic, rapid fire weapons that were banned and bought by the tax payer. They are the weapons that wreak the sort of carnage that occurs in these mass shootings.

    Yes, happy to agree to disagree.

    Peace to you and yours.

  4. There are over 200 million registered firearms in the US. A buy back? I don’t think that will happen. What’s the difference between a semi-automatic handgun and semi-automatic rifle? (A rhetorical question of course) I can see the logic in banning guns all together. Whatever logical view there could be of a utopian view of society…but we’re going to trade a 30 round magazine for a five round barrel? That’s potentially 30 lives for 5? The issue is political. They will continue to think that a few carefully worded laws will prevent such things and completely ignore the rotting of humanity’s moral core. With regard to Australia; Statistics can be made to look any way someone wants them to. It is hard to prove in any situation, that one measure affected the situation in it’s entirety. I’m not strong either way on this. I’m not a fanatical gun owner, etc. I just think so much of the political crap that comes out of Washington is done PARTLY to look like they are actually doing something, so they can keep their jobs. Sure, they’re human (i think) but they’re always thinking about what to do now, that can be expedient down the road. They aren’t necessarily thinking about what is logical. There is no DEFINITIVE study linking less guns with less murder. On the flip side, there must be some belief that guns work to deter violence and crime as well. Armed guards at banks, armed guards with celebrities, even an armed guard at Kroger. Just an observation and something to ponder.

  5. Thank you for the discussion. I believe the roles of mental illness and the media are more important preventing future tragedies like this one.

    Mental Illness/disability:
    -Reassessing medication & drug solutions. Anti-psychoactive medication is too willingly prescribed as an easy solution.
    Side effects or abruptly discontinuing many drugs can lead to dangerous, violent, and/or delusional thoughts. It is currently being reported that the shooter was supposedly on Fanapt, an anti-psychoactive medication with violence as a side effect.

    -Having other mental illness treatment options available. Unless independently wealthy one has few effective options with mental health services being gutted over the last three decades in the US (agreed with Tom)
    -Removing the stigma associated with mental illness in the US

    The Media’s Role:
    -Turning each and every mass shooter into an instant celebrity is the best way to entice copycats.
    -24hour sensationalized coverage of every aspect of these tragedies in the quest for ratings.
    -The opportunity to be immortalized instantly across the globe might persuade an unstable someone who originally was just planning suicide to go out in a blaze of glory to be remembered

    Regarding gun control in Australia, here’s a video that shows some interesting results of gun control there…:

    Thank you and I hope you can relax and enjoy the holidays with your families!

    • Thanks for your input Alexander.

      I watched the YouTube video and I’m finding it very hard to believe it’s legit. Still, I could be wrong about that. Certainly it’s propaganda to fit a particular agenda, but no source for their facts and figures. I stand by the fact that there have been no mass shooting crimes AT ALL in Australia since 1996.



  6. Let me be clear: This post is NOT to make suggestions to, or attack America, her beautiful people, their rights, or their politics. Please don’t use my blog to continue the US political debate.

    I’m posting this to show some of my finding as I try to get to the bottom of whether or not my home country of Australia is, as I have believed, one of the safest places on earth to live … or a crime riddled land of anarchy, full of gun-toting criminals running rampant amongst it’s defenseless, fearful population, as some of my American friends seem to believe … or want to believe.

    I have found this old adage to be true, “Figures don’t lie. Liars figure.”

    No disrespect to Alexander intended, but I believe that the YouTube video in the above comment with the title “Watch What Happens …” is, at best, a gross misrepresentation of Australia and, at worst, completely untrue. It is propaganda that has been produced to serve a particular US political agenda.

    Peace to all

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