This story was written shortly after the Pulse shooting, but in many ways is even more relevant today than it was back then. Enjoy.
Sometimes I’m glad that I live in Australia.
Not that the rest of the world is terrible and Australia is so fantastic, but there are some times when it’s good to live in this country. Sometimes, you hear news that smashes the fragile image you have of the world, and before the shards hit the floor it’s comforting to know that they are far away and can’t hurt you.
Early Sunday morning, a man murdered 50 people, and injured 50 more, in a gay nightclub in Orlando. The shockwave is still spreading. The worst mass shooting incident in American history, an attack on the very safest place for the queer community; the echoes of this tragedy will be heard for years to come.
I’m not going to write about the awful violation that this attack has caused. There are already any number of heartfelt and powerful articles detailing how this attack on the queer community has taken a huge toll, how the safest spaces are now suspect, and how the fear has spread like a plague.
What I’m here to do is talk about guns.
In the wake of the Port Arthur shooting, 20 years ago the Australian government pushed through a series of reforms that restricted access to firearms, as well as introducing one of the biggest gun buyback schemes ever which reduced the number of guns in Australia by nearly 1 million.
In the years since, research has demonstrated these laws effective, with a massive reduction in gun deaths since they came into effect. More than 50%. In the last 5 years alone, that is more than 1000 lives saved. Suicides rates have plummeted; an almost 80% reduction in firearm suicides with very little concomitant rise in other forms. Australia now has one of the lowest gun homicide rates in the world (27 times lower than that of the US). And to add to all of this, another major victory that cannot be stressed enough;
Australia got rid of its mass shootings.
This is something that can’t just be explained away by lack of access. As a nation, Australians took action and changed the way that we look at firearms, with the result being that not once since Port Arthur has a young man (they are almost exclusively young men) who is feeling disenfranchised and depressed purchased a gun and ammunition and gone on a killing spree.
Perhaps ironically, there is no magic bullet to the problem of guns. The argument tends to fly back and forth between culture and legislation; if you don’t change one the other will never work. But what the Australian experience shows is that you can change both at the same time. There is already excellent research demonstrating that simple, commonsense gun legislation could reduce the number of deaths in America by up to 90%. And when I say commonsense, I mean enforceable background checks for the purchase of guns and ammunition, and national identification for guns, which would make American guns less legislated than cars. The saddest part is that these simple measures, which are supported by a majority of Americans, would’ve denied access to a firearm not just to the Pulse shooter, but to almost every mass shooter.
This is before we talk about more restrictive policies that we have in Australia, such as strict restrictions on the type of weapons you can purchase, or even stricter provisions on how they must be kept. There’s also a very good argument for simply reducing the number of guns in the country; higher numbers of guns are associated with more gun deaths.
Ultimately, this story is about more than just guns. Having access to a gun didn’t drive the shooter to homophobic slaughter. There is no doubt that the factors behind his decision to murder so many people were the same ones that allow homophobia to run rampant through our society. It would be irresponsible to ignore that this attack was targeted at the queer community, and they are the ones feeling the impact most harshly.
There are plenty of homophobes in Australia too (including some in our senate), and yet there have been no mass shootings here. Whilst the culture is no less poisonous towards anyone different, people have fewer options to take such a blood-strewn path. Gun legislation won’t stop abuse. It won’t change everything. But evidence shows that it will save lives. It’s saved quite a few here.
And that’s why sometimes, it’s comforting to live in Australia.