How to Prevent Gun Massacres?


David Gray/Reuters

On April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant, a disturbed twenty-eight-year-old Australian who had been bullied at school, walked into a café in the city of Port Arthur, a former convict settlement in the state of Tasmania that is now a unesco World Heritage Site. He pulled a Colt AR-15 rifle from his duffelbag and started shooting. After killing more than twenty people in the café and in an adjacent gift shop, he reloaded his weapon and roamed around the site shooting at random. A carjacking and a hostage negotiation followed. By the time he was arrested, he had killed thirty-five people and wounded another twenty-three.

Australia, like the United States, is a federalized former British colony that has long styled itself as a rugged, individualistic nation. Hunting and shooting are popular there. Unlike the U.S., though, Australia has a political system that is responsive to popular opinion. Its legislatures do not have filibuster-like rules that allow a minority of lawmakers to block legislation. Within two weeks of the Port Arthur massacre, the worst in modern Australian history, governments at the federal and state levels had agreed to ban semi-automatic and pump-action firearms. The federal government also introduced several other measures, including a buyback scheme to compensate owners of the newly banned firearms, a centralized registry of gun owners, and a public-education campaign about the new laws…

It should be noted that Australia, like the U.S., has a strong gun lobby, which, until 1996, had successfully frustrated efforts to tighten gun laws there. When the conservative Prime Minister at the time, John Howard, pushed through the ban on certain firearms, gun owners were so angry that he wore a bullet-proof vest when he addressed a group of them. But the vast majority of Aussies backed Howard.

As would the vast majority of Americans…if we had politicians and a political party with enough integrity, honesty and backbone to put their deeds where their mouths are.

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