I went after guns. Obama can, too. So says the former Conservative Prime Minister of Australia.

It is for Americans and their elected representatives to determine the right response to President Obama’s proposals on gun control. I wouldn’t presume to lecture Americans on the subject. I can, however, describe what I, as prime minister of Australia, did to curb gun violence following a horrific massacre 17 years ago in the hope that it will contribute constructively to the debate in the United States.

I was elected prime minister in early 1996, leading a center-right coalition. Virtually every nonurban electoral district in the country — where gun ownership was higher than elsewhere — sent a member of my coalition to Parliament.

Six weeks later, on April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant, a psychologically disturbed man, used a semiautomatic Armalite rifle and a semiautomatic SKS assault weapon to kill 35 people in a murderous rampage in Port Arthur, Tasmania.

After this wanton slaughter, I knew that I had to use the authority of my office to curb the possession and use of the type of weapons that killed 35 innocent people. I also knew it wouldn’t be easy…

Because Australia is a federation of states, the national government has no control over gun ownership, sale or use, beyond controlling imports. Given our decentralized system of government, I could reduce the number of dangerous firearms only by persuading the states to enact uniform laws totally prohibiting the ownership, possession and sale of all automatic and semiautomatic weapons while the national government banned the importation of such weapons.

To make this plan work, there had to be a federally financed gun buyback scheme. Ultimately, the cost of the buyback was met by a special one-off tax imposed on all Australians. This required new legislation and was widely accepted across the political spectrum. Almost 700,000 guns were bought back and destroyed — the equivalent of 40 million guns in the United States.

City dwellers supported our plan, but there was strong resistance by some in rural Australia. Many farmers resented being told to surrender weapons they had used safely all of their lives. Penalizing decent, law-abiding citizens because of the criminal behavior of others seemed unfair. Many of them had been lifelong supporters of my coalition and felt bewildered and betrayed by these new laws. I understood their misgivings. Yet I felt there was no alternative…

For a time, it seemed that certain states might refuse to enact the ban. But I made clear that my government was willing to hold a nationwide referendum to alter the Australian Constitution and give the federal government constitutional power over guns. Such a referendum would have been expensive and divisive, but it would have passed. And all state governments knew this.

In the end, we won the battle to change gun laws because there was majority support across Australia for banning certain weapons. And today, there is a wide consensus that our 1996 reforms not only reduced the gun-related homicide rate, but also the suicide rate.

In the 18 years before the 1996 reforms, Australia suffered 13 gun massacres — each with more than four victims — causing a total of 102 deaths. There has not been a single massacre in that category since 1996.

But, this is America. We haven’t a habit of letting facts get in the way of political ideology. It will take mass support in every state for any level of reform to gun law.

What passes for conservatism in many other nations still allows for educated opinions. Today’s generation of Republican misleaders got position and power on the basis of religious fundamentalism and bigotry. They may be a dying breed; but they couldn’t care less about how anyone else dies.

13 comments

  1. wideblindeye

    All of this gun violence talk is becoming maddening. Mass media would have one believe that gun violence in America is this epic problem, and use twisted statistics to support their claims. More Democrats own guns, fewer owners own more guns, white men own more guns than others (let’s ignore that 78% of the population as a whole is white), blah blah blah…None of these facts matter.
    Let’s look at some other numbers. In 2011, there were 32,163 gun related deaths in the U.S. This is a terrible number to be sure. However, in 2011 a total of 2,153,864 died. This means that of all U.S. deaths in 2011, only 1.49% were gun related. The estimated U.S. population in 2011 was 311,587,816, meaning that 0.01% of the American population was killed as a result of gun use. Approximately 45% of Americans own at least one firearm.
    Clearly the overwhelming majority of gun owners are responsible. The ugly truth of life is that in a large society, deaths happen. You can argue that these are preventable deaths, but you can argue that about alcohol, personally owned vehicles, and a number of other freedoms we have as Americans as well. No one can reasonably deny that the slaughter of innocent life, especially those of children, is not reprehensible. However guns are not to blame. Guns are tools. The person wielding the tool is to blame. It is my firm belief that for the person willing to kill, there will always be a means to do so.
    The conspiracy nut in me argues that this is nothing but a red herring perpetrated by the media in order to distract Americans from the many, varied, and frankly more pressing issues currently afflicting our nation.
    I do not currently own a firearm. Nor am I ever in favor of exchanging freedom for the illusion of safety.

        • god

          That changes none of your “logic” or ideology. Both of which have little to do with reality.

          Your argument for the gun lobby is analogous to those who would deny speed limits, drivers licenses – or regulation of the tobacco industry, for example.

          And I do own guns.

          • wideblindeye

            You’re mistaken. I am not against meaningful regulation, background checks, and such, as I am not against driver’s licenses. What I am against is the media frenzy making out as if gun control in this country is a crisis. I am also against restricting the type of weapons a person can own. Media scare tactics such as using words like military style, assault style, and high capacity magazines is all nonsense meant to rile people up.

            The reality remains that fifty times more people die annually from heart disease and cancer. The reality is that most gun owners are responsible owners. And, as I said, for person that wants to kill a lot of people in one setting, there will always be a means of doing so.

            • moss

              If you spent any time as gun owner you would know the characterizations are common to the gun biz and not part of your fear of media at all.

              Just as saying you support regulation – and launching into all the regulations you wouldn’t support is damning with faint praise.

              General MacChrystal said it best when he differentiated between guns designed to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible…and sporting and hunting rifles. Every serious shooter knows the difference. The gun lobbyists lie and you accept their lies as rote.

              • wideblindeye

                In my initial post I wrote that I am not “currently” a gun owner. I have owned weapons before, and I am also a military service member, and am trained on a variety of weapon systems. The term “military-style” is nonsense, as the media uses it to describe anything that looks at all modern. The term “high capacity magazine” is misleading as it in essence refers to anything larger than what the stock weapon was designed for. Magazine sizes are not standardized across weapon platforms, but many magazines are interchangeable between different weapons, so 32 rounds may be “high capacity” in one weapon, and only “standard” in another. I concede that there is such a thing as an assault rifle. I was thinking of a particular article that misused the term.

                Further, I wonder why I keep getting gun lobby accusations thrown at me. I don’t care for the NRA any more than any other lobby. My argument is based on principle. I do not believe in the principle of removing a freedom from the vast majority of responsible Americans that desire to own firearms as a solution to “preventing” the deaths of a relatively small number of Americans. I also said I do support requiring background checks. I don’t currently have a desire to own a fully automatic weapon for personal use, but should I develop such a desire, I believe I should be able to do so.

                Mainly, as I said, I am concerned about the amount of attention this is getting. Why isn’t POTUS making statements about how he plans to deal with heart disease and cancer, which kill nearly fifty times more Americans annually? And if he is, why isn’t it getting the media attention that it deserves?

                • moss

                  The liberal and progressive press do pay attention to the health questions you raise. If you’re a lifer than please read something more than Murdoch’s flunkies and you’d know that. Tough that media sources rely on back issues of GUNS & AMMO instead of military procurement – but, that’s still reality.

                  These are topics Eid addresses on a regular basis – and when he doesn’t link directly to peer-reviewed science he relies on media sources ranging from global wire services to papers of record like the NY TIMES,

                  Sorry, dude, but you still don’t offer anything other than resentment of the same public surveys that forecast the joint failure of Republicans and rightwing Libertarians. They reflect an America that’s changing faster than you can handle, I guess.

                  You’re copping out on the same level as people who say they don’t believe in conservative vs liberal, reactionary vs progressive, History only ends up one way over enough time. Ask any old-timey supporter of the Confederacy and their “ideals”. Ask any Admiral – for that matter – who misses battleships.

                • moss

                  BTW – Obama had to slide it through in the Military funding bill passed a couple weeks ago – but, he just managed to increase funding for early diagnosis of some cancers. It was published in the LA TIMES and a couple hundred other newspapers.

                • wideblindeye

                  Your continued assumptions about who I am, what I read, do, and know are a bit stressing.

                  I actually read every post Eid makes, and I agree with most of it, and my initial post had nothing to do with him or his opinions in general, and everything to do with how I feel the media is spinning this particular issue.

                  Most of the American public is misinformed on many issues. Seeing as my aversion to what I consider to be some extreme proposals on gun control aren’t based in political or relgious idealogy, I fail to see how many opinion is not a valid and informed one, simply because I don’t agree with the majority. The majority of whom I wonder how many actually took the time to look up the figures and do the math for themselves rather than accept what’s been force fed to them.

                • god

                  Justin up in Toronto must think he’s in heaven. The Arse have scored 3 more in the last 5 minutes.

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