In 1996, a gunman opened fire at a popular tourist destination on the Australian island of Tasmania. Using a semiautomatic rifle, he killed 35 people.
Australia responded by reforming their gun laws. High powered rifles and shotguns were banned and uniform gun licensing requirements were imposed for the guns that remained legal. The country also implemented a buyback program which resulted in the destruction of more than a million firearms.
The effort in Australia was not particuarly partisan. It was led by John Howard, Australia’s very conservative Prime Minister. Rather, the gun control measures were seen as a matter of basic humanity and common sense.
In his emotional speech following the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon that left 10 dead, Obama pointed to the Australian example as a potential path forward.
“We know that other countries, in response to one mass shooting, have been able to craft laws that almost eliminate mass shootings. Friends of ours, allies of ours — Great Britain, Australia, countries like ours. So we know there are ways to prevent it,” Obama said.
After a string of gun massacres over the last 3 years that have left hundreds dead and thousands injured, the United States has had a much different response. America has done nothing.
In the wake of Oregon mass murder, Australians are disgusted and perplexed by the American response.
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Michael Pascoe blasted American society as immature and unable to take basic actions to save lives:
In his very fine speech this morning, full of sorrow and frustration, President Obama made a mistake: Australia is not like the United States. We decided not to be.
We decided to grow up instead and become a more reasonable, rational society that explicitly values human life and prefers to think the best of people, rather than the worst.
The US is too immature a society to be allowed to play with guns. It has never shed its Wild West mythology. Americans still use their courts to kill people, which sends a message in its own way… It’s a country that values property more than life.
An editorial in Brisbane Times castigates America’s inaction on guns:
At Oregon last week, four guns were recovered – three pistols and a semi-automatic rifle. Did Mercer have the right to bear those arms? Yes, he did. From that question and answer flows the grim crimson tide. And from that flows, as always, the arrant nonsense from the NRA, and those of like mind, that guns are good, that guns are not the problem, that the president is politicising the issue. He should be, indeed he has been, with limited success. However, such is the web of lobbying, money, political support and sway, interconnected with the myriad legal jurisdictions, that we despair of seeing radical progress.
Yet we must condemn. America prides itself on being a light in the world for democracy and liberty. Yet within its borders it is armed to the teeth. This is a tyranny, borne on a historical anomaly, that must end. Surely, if the phrase “land of the free” stands for anything, it is the embracing of the freedom not to have to live in fear of the gun.
News.com.au, which bills itself as “Australia’s most popular news site,” suggested it was time for America to rethink the 2nd Amendment saying “the legacy of America itself” was at stake:
You sense that President Obama’s legacy as President is on the line here. But so, too, is the legacy of America itself.
America’s gun laws date back to the period in the late 1700s and the time of the War of Independence against Britain. It’s in this long gone era that the second amendment to the constitution was passed — an amendment which permitted and today still permits gun ownership to all.
This archaic law is viewed as sacrosanct by some, but Mr Obama clearly believes it must be challenged.
The same site interviewed David Herber, an Australian who lives near UCC in Oregon. Herber said he supported more gun control in America, but the political system in the United States is dysfunctional:
“As you are likely aware we have had a great many similar tragedies in the United States,” he said.
“Several that you would have thought would shift the needle of political debate, like Sandy Hook, have really done nothing other than become talking points in the national debate”…
“The majority of Americans worship the Second Amendment more than the Bible”…
The disgust is not limited to Australian shores. The New York Times struck a similar note. “Mass shootings have become an unsurprising part of American life, with lame public rituals in which politicians express grief and then retreat quickly into denial about this scourge,” the paper’s editorial board wrote Friday.