In the wake of another school shooting in the United States, the ongoing debate about gun control has predictably flared up for the billionth time. The issue will eventually scatter away into the darkness, just long enough for people to kind of forget what happened, before another school shooting will command the spotlight yet again.
U.S President Barack Obama recently commented that Australia hasn’t had a mass shooting since Port Arthur in 1996, when the aftermath of the massacre resulted in the implementation of stricter gun control measures. The U.S President is becoming increasingly frustrated by his own nations inability to push along gun reform and he needs to do something, but is Australia the best example?
Not really. Australia is not renowned for being full to the brim with gun-crazy, weapon-toting, constitution-swearing folk. Gun-related massacres down under are as rare as hen’s teeth.
In 1996, Martin Bryant opened fire in the historic town of Port Arthur, Tasmania, killing 35 people and wounding 23 more. He used a Colt AR-15 SP1 Carbine, and an L1A1 SLR, both semi-automatic weapons. Within months, the government put into motion a buy-back scheme, and we were greeted with news reports showing footage of glowing, cackling, bonfires stacked with burning semi-automatic weapons.
There’s been no mass shootings since. But there weren’t that many beforehand either.
There was a handful in the lead up to Port Arthur, such as the Hoddle St Massacre in 1987. The Hoddle St shooting ended with 7 dead and 19 wounded. Julian Knight used a Ruger 10/22, a Mossberg pump-action shotgun, and an M14 military rifle. Knight perched himself up high and took potshots at passersby over the course of 45 minutes before running out of ammunition and surrendering to police.
Since the gun control measures were enacted in 1996, we haven’t had a repeat of Port Arthur or Hoddle St, but there’s no evidence to suggest we would have anyway. To find two events 9 years apart is in stark contrast to the United States where one report suggests there has been 387 school shootings in the United States since 1992. That equates to 17 per year, or 1 every 3 weeks in the last 22 years. Also take into account that school shootings are grossly over-represented in the media and more shootings occur in restaurants and homes than they do in schools. It provides a glimpse into how prevalent mass shootings actually are.
Gun lobbyists in the U.S are quick to point out that gun violence in the States has actually decreased in the last 20 years. Whether this is true or not is completely irrelevant. Imagine how much further it would decrease if you actually removed the guns from the equation. It’s akin to claiming only 100 people died from HIV/Aids this year as opposed to 1000 last year, so we no longer need to do anything about it.
Obama using Australia as an example hasn’t escaped the attention of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the United States #1 organisation when it comes to anything or anyone supporting the right to bear arms. The NRA have also used Australia to support their argument, suggesting that nothing has really changed since the gun control measures were implemented.
The problem with statistics is that they can suggest whatever you want them to. If gun-related crime had gone down, I would argue that gun control works. If the rate has gone up, I would argue that it provides more weight to the fact that guns are still the quintessential example of why the crime rate is high so even more needs to be done. Despite the statistic cherry picking by the NRA, or Obama’s misfired attempt at using Australia as a gun control role model, I still wholeheartedly agree with his sentiment. Statistics don’t change the fact that I’m waiting to hear just one solid reason why guns are a positive thing in our world.
I wouldn’t shed a tear if every gun on the planet was wiped out. I’m not a gun enthusiast, I never will be, and I don’t see a need for them to exist. Whether it’s two hoodlums down a dark alley, or two countries with armies of gun-toting soldiers at the ready, the basic premise is the same. Guns are produced for people to counteract other people who already have guns. It feels like an infinite loop.
Then we get to the well-worn cliché, ‘Guns don’t kill people, people kill people’. It’s true. 100% it’s true, but for those of you wonderful readers who have read my previous blog posts, you’ll know I love nothing more than creating a long-winded example out of left field for the sake of supporting my argument. So here’s another one:
A teacher places a bomb somewhere in a school. The teacher then hands all 30 of her teenage students a detonator each and tells them, “if any of you press the detonator, a bomb will go off in the school, and other children will die”. Suddenly the bomb goes off. Who’s at fault? The teen that couldn’t resist him or herself or the teacher who placed the detonators in their hands? Using the “guns don’t kill people” theory, the blame here would be squarely on the student for not following the rules and causing mass destruction. But what would that student have been doing if the exercise was playing dodgeball? My money is that they’d be playing dodgeball, not blowing up other kids. The teacher would probably be the one behind bars at the end of this little experiment, not the student.
To be able to diagnose, monitor, control, and protect every single human being that has any sort of mental health issue, psychological disorder, appetite for destruction, evil streak, or run of the mill rebellion, is impossible. There is no doubt that the task is impossible.
One of the common arguments among gun nuts is that if guns are banned, then knives, matches, hammers should be as well. Anything that can be used as a weapon should be banned. As common sense would tell you, that argument is simply ridiculous. Knives, hammers, and matches all have legitimate purposes.
So would a crackdown on guns solve anything? First of all, people with psychological disorders, mental heath issues, or anyone else who wishes to cause harm to people will always exist, and they’ll always cause harm to people one way or another. A student doesn’t shoot up a school because he or she simply has access to a weapon. A student shoots up a school because he or she harbours serious demons that have either been neglected, ignored, misdiagnosed, or simply missed. Mass shooters are generally deeply troubled enough that feel the need to commit suicide alongside their ghastly act.
But how much harder would it be if guns weren’t so easily accessible? They could turn to explosives. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the pair responsible for the Columbine tragedy, included bombs in their plan, but they failed. The guns didn’t, and 13 others ended up dead, another 21 wounded. Bombs require time, skill, and there’s no certainty about what can happen. They have one chance to get it right and so many variables can minimise the damage intended. It’s also unlikely someone will take the time to produce explosives on an impulse.
Knives? Whether you’ve watched Criminal Minds, read anything from John E. Douglas about FBI profiling, or scoured academic journals, you’d be familiar with the notion that knives are personal and intimate. To intentionally kill someone with a knife requires a different form of rage, and a different mindset. Knives are often used by murderers who intimately know their victim, or those who are incredibly drunk or under intense hallucinations. Psychologically it becomes so much more difficult to kill a large number of people using a knife, not even allowing for the logistics of being able to reach numerous people within a longer timeframe.
Guns are impersonal. Using a weapon from distance, even a metre, keeps the shooter disconnected from the victim. Hell, you can close your eyes, spray bullets into a crowded room and kill a dozen people without even realising it. Not to mention blindingly quick. Martin Bryant killed 12 of his victims within 15 seconds.
If semi-automatic weapons had been banned prior to 1996, would Mr Bryant have still committed his rampage in 1996? Who knows? He could have tried his hand at bomb making. Considering his victims were spaced out over a fairly expansive site, the extent of the damage would not have been as high. He could have run around wildly with a knife, but the thought of him having enough time and stamina to fatally stab 35 people seems unlikely.
Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.
Our problem starts when we put guns into the hands of people.