Dear America: Gun Control Works. Please, Please Do It. Love, Australia.
If not now, when?
Yesterday the US experienced its worst mass shooting in history when a gunman killed more than 50 people in Las Vegas. Unfortunately this article, written in response to last year’s Orlando massacre, is still relevant.
This morning we woke up to the news that America’s most deadly mass shooting in modern history had occurred in an LGBTIQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It was the 136th mass shooting in the US this year. 50 people were shot dead and another 53 were left injured after the assailant, armed with an assault rifle and a handgun, stormed the venue.
Every year more than 10,000 Americans are murdered as a result of gun violence. That’s more than three times the number of deaths associated with the September 11 attacks occurring every single year.
In the aftermath of the Orlando massacre we have already seen the usual cynical attempts to spin such tragedies to suit narrow, political agendas. Some media commentators have attempted to downplay the homophobic nature of the attack. US Presidential candidate Donald Trump has reiterated his call for a ban on Muslim migration to the United States.
What has happened in Orlando is just the beginning. Our leadership is weak and ineffective. I called it and asked for the ban. Must be tough
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 12, 2016
At this stage we don’t know whether the attacker was a “lone wolf” terrorist or part of a broader Islamic State conspiracy. But we do know that despite having been interviewed by the FBI twice and being placed on the terrorist watch list, he was still able to legally purchase an AR-15 assault rifle and a handgun: the two weapons he used to murder and injure more than 100 people.
Let that sink in.
Despite America’s sweeping anti-terror laws that allow the government to detain suspects without charge and conduct mass surveillance operations, the country’s obsession with gun rights allowed someone on the terrorist watch list to legally purchase a weapon that has been used in 10 mass shootings in the past five years.
Sandy Hook: AR-15
San Bernardino: AR-15
Umpqua Community College: AR-15
— Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) June 12, 2016
We Know Firsthand That Gun Control Works
There have been no mass shootings on Australian soil since we banned the sale and ownership of firearms, outside of exceptional circumstances, in the aftermath of the Port Arthur massacre. More broadly, gun violence has halved. It took one exceptionally tragic and violent incident for Australia to back gun control. In the 15 years following Australia’s new gun control regime there were no less than 50 school shootings in the US.
Whenever we in Australia hear about another tragic massacre or school shooting we think “Surely now our friends in the US will understand the importance of gun control and support restricting the sale of firearms.”
After the Sandy Hook massacre — where 20 children, the oldest aged seven, were murdered using a legally purchased assault rifle — we thought the time had come where the US would finally ban the purchase of assault rifles. Though a bill to do just that was drafted, it was defeated in the Senate.
And now, in the aftermath of Orlando, when we again think that surely now, after the single worst gun crime incident in modern US history, the country will reform its gun laws, a contender for President is more concerned about banning Muslim migration than restricting access to guns.
For those saying gun laws don't work, I made a list of Australian public mass shootings since our strict 1996 laws pic.twitter.com/0bAcOPmeeP
— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) June 12, 2016
A Recipe For Disaster
Right now in the US there is a more serious debate underway on restricting any member of a one billion person strong religion from entering the country than on restricting the sale of deadly assault rifles. Events like the Orlando attack completely undermine any of the “logic” underpinning the basic justifications for gun rights. Proponents of lax gun laws regularly claim that guns can be used to defend as much as they can be used to attack.
But how was that supposed to work in Orlando? Everyone who wants to head out clubbing in one of the safest parts of the world should be carrying around their own handguns and assault rifles, on the off chance they get attacked?
How would that have worked in Sandy Hook? All school children, no matter how young, should be given a gun to protect themselves from violent gun wielding attackers?
Increasing the amount of guns in a community, and suggesting more people wield weapons, isn’t a strategy for improving safety, it’s a recipe for disaster. There is no sensible or logical argument underpinning the US obsession with the right to own and wield firearms.
Guns In America: A Personal Case Study
My uncle, an otherwise fair and progressive-minded US citizen who resides in the hipster paradise of Portland, Oregon, is a gun owner. When I asked him why he bought a gun he simply replied: “Protection, from other people with guns.”
A few years ago I travelled to Florida as part of a group observing the Presidential election. It was a beautiful place, full of kind and generous people eager to show off their part of the world to a bunch of Aussies. But one incident stood out in my mind both for how it spooked me and how much it summed up US gun culture.
In a random suburb of St Petersburg, in south Florida, I was going door-to-door talking to voters about the upcoming election and who they were considering voting for. After finishing up one fascinating discussion with an Obama voter — who was particularly concerned about economic inequality and lack of affordable healthcare — he invited me inside his house and offered to show me his collection of guns. I made a polite excuse and bolted. But the episode showed me that guns in the US aren’t just something conservatives are obsessed with, they are far more deeply ingrained in the country’s national character.
Many Americans seem unable to separate out their desire to own weapons for protection from the fact that the current system, with very few checks and balances, allows suspected terrorists to purchase rapid fire killing machines.
If Not Now, When?
There is something deeply broken about a nation where someone so close to the Presidency responds to gun crime with a half-baked, moronic plan to ban an entire race of people, rather than a sane plan to control guns.
The evidence is overwhelming: restricting guns will limit gun violence. We’ve seen it firsthand in Australia. Even if the US doesn’t want to outright ban the sale of all weapons, banning assault rifles, machine guns and stopping suspected terrorists from buying them would be a good start.
A friend of mine posted an incredibly powerful message about the Orlando massacre on Facebook this morning. As a gay Muslim, he was reeling from the complexity of emotions, anger and hurt he was feeling after reading the news. “Bigotry is just too real,” he wrote. “Give the bigots ammunition, be it bullets or political power and space, and you get more tragedy like this.”
How many more massacres will have to occur before gun control is implemented? In Australia, it took one. In the US there have been dozens, just this decade. It’s time for the US to catch up before we have to ask the question yet again, “Surely now they will act?”.
Lead image via YouTube