We can certainly hope that the Sandy Hook school shootings in Connecticut have finally evoked a moral standing on the issues of gun possession and their use in the United States. It is definitely hoped that this tragic incident will be the final tipping point on gun control and the implementation of strict laws on assault weapons.
Many examples have been cited to compare the gun laws currently in existence in the US to those of other industrialized countries, where the laws on the subject are much stricter and the number of crimes resulting from them much lower. Among the examples consistently cited is Australia and how it has been able to successfully curb gun violence completely. It is an interesting parallel to use because of the similarities between the two countries. Both possess wide open spaces with a history of pioneers who had a historical attachment to bear arms. Both countries also have laws governed by state governments and both have a history embedded in British colonialism. Furthermore, just like in Australia when strict gun laws were adopted in 1996, the majority of Americans do favour stricter gun controls.
However, the differences between the two countries on the subject are numerous. To begin with, the culture of carrying arms is widely practiced in American society. Furthermore, although the Second Amendment of the US Constitution is grossly misinterpreted in today’s society to mean that individuals can walk around with dangerous ammunition usually seen only in war zones, that debate does exist widely in the US. In contrast, there is no mention of arms in the Australian constitution. Interesting and valid points also to note are that there are no arms manufacturing industries on Australian territory and very significantly, there is no such intense lobbyists for guns such as the American NRA in Australia. The key difference between pro-gun groups in the US and Australia is that in Australia, it is not an argument that raises individual libertarian concerns. The Australian pro-gun groups are more associated with liberties related to hunting and agriculture rather than the “right” to self-defense.
What triggered Australian policy makers to impose stringent gun laws was a shooting incident in Tasmania in 1996 when a troubled 28 year old man went to a tourist destination and indiscriminately shot 35 people and wounded 23. The reaction in Australia was profound, as it was a nation of gun lovers, target shooters and hunters.
This massacre resulted in immediate gun control debates and strict laws were implemented, banning semiautomatic weapons and placing very serious and stringent controls on gun ownership. There was also a very successful gun buy-back program of dangerous semiautomatic guns at even higher than the retail rate. Australians were left with no choice but to comply as the new laws saw to it that these weapons could not be repaired or re-sold. Importations and current ownership were banned. It was thus a very comprehensive ban. Since 1996 to this day, there has not been a single mass shooting in Australia.
In contrast to the Australian model, the topic of gun ownership and use in the US is a shockingly sensitive issue, one which evokes emotions of constitutional rights, the right to defend one’s family against enemy attacks and the right to follow word for word the Second Amendment, which was adopted 221 years ago and has never seen any adaptations to modern times. It was written at a time when there was fear of attacks from the British army and the militia were asked to be armed with muskets. This is a far cry from the weapons available today and with no foreign threat of invasion!
Time and time again, we hear the rhetoric that taking away people’s guns is anti-constitutional and that it goes against one’s individual liberties. As long as the Second Amendment is misinterpreted to such gross extremes, what hopes of strict gun control laws can there be? Extremely powerful gun lobbyists such as the NRA, with a membership of 3 million only, have a very significant financial hold on Congress and therefore, we have not seen any laws on the subject and one after the other, gun-related massacres continue to occur. In the NRA’s recent press conference, rather than providing any solace to the Sandy Hook School victims and their families, they blamed gun massacres on everything from violent movies and video games but refused to take any responsibility whatsoever. Their solution? Provide all public schools across the country with armed guards. They have clearly chosen to forget or are simply ignorant of the facts. There were armed guards at Colombine High School on the day of the mass shootings, Virginia Tech has its own police force yet that did not prevent the massacre there and the shootings at Fort Hood occurred inside a military base! So much for armed guards!
Certain leaders in Congress and President Obama himself have vowed to take measures to put strict laws into place to avoid another Sandy Hook incident. There is a lot more talk about it now finally, than in previous massacres. However, the lobby for guns is very strong and significant in the US. So many Americans are so dependent on them for their sense of security and comfort, that this will be a very difficult and long road ahead. Whereas in Australia there was a unanimous decision and respect for strict gun laws, in the US, the topic is one which hits nerves. Some analysts say it could take up to 20 years for any changes to occur. Does the US really want to learn from such positive examples such as Australia on the matter? It is worth to note however that if this is America’s tipping point on the issue, the light at the end of the tunnel is that it’s better late than never.