I watch the news of your national tragedy at Newtown and I personally think the ages of the victims makes this truly the most awful mass shooting I have ever seen. I appreciate it is still so raw, that perhaps I should let the dust settle before I even comment, but after seeing a sober report by an Australian academic on morning current affairs, I feel the content of his interview is worth sharing.
I begin by saying, that any comparison between the US, where the right to bear arms is enshrined in your Constitution, and my country Australia, is necessarily skewed. We have a different history and culture on this issue to yourselves. However, to the victims of mass shootings I'm sure we must respond similarly with sentiments such as :- "What an awful tragedy." "What caused this and how can we ensure it doesn't happen again?" "What can/should be done by the government?" etc. Well our story, for what it's worth, on mass shootings is that 16 years ago at Port Arthur, a major tourist landmark in Tasmania, we had a watershed moment. Martin Bryant, a 28 year old man from New Town (I only just appreciated the eerie resemblance) a suburb of Hobart, went on a killing spree in which 35 people were killed and 23 wounded. He used two military-style semi-automatic rifles. It remians our worst-ever mass shooting and also one of the deadliest world-wide. He is currently serving 35 life sentences without parole in Risdon Prison. It also emerged he had significant intellectual disabilities and was on a support pension. He had a history of violent and erratic behaviour beginning in early childhood. It led to the reformation of Gun Control Laws in Australia.
What I just heard this morning, from the TV interview, was that in the 16 years prior to 1996, we had the unwanted distinction of having 13 incidents of mass shootings. We were only just behind the US in this regard, who had 16. Considering we have a population of around 20 million, compared to your 300, this is an awful statistic. I was frankly unaware of this. We also had a newly-elected Conservative Prime Minister, John Howard, who decided to tackle the issue head-on. He had just won the year before with a 50 seat lower house majority and he had the support of all State Premiers both Liberal (Conservative) and Labor. He instituted a ban on all semi-automatic rifles and a gun buyback scheme, which purchased and destroyed some 631,000 firearms. In his first public address, at the start of the process, and on advice from security, he wore a bullet-proof vest, visible under his coat. Surveys showed 85% support, but there was significant opposition from some farmers and sporting shooters.
Now since that time, for the last 16 years, various studies have been conducted as to its effects. Some of the data has been skewed in both directions and an early example of this was, in fact, by the American National Rifle Association They claimed in 2000, that violent crime had increased in Australia since the introduction of new laws, but this was based on an unrepresentative sample from newspaper reports. However, and this is the kicker, since that time we have had no other recorded incidents of mass shootings. No more Port Arthurs. No more ugly Martin Bryants. Meanwhile in the US during the same period, 41 incidents of mass shootings have occurred. So, in summary; in the period 1980-1996 :- 16 mass shootings in the US versus 13 in Australia and in the period 1996-2012 :- 41 mass shootings in the US versus 0 in Australia.
i write about this because I would like to hear your reactions. I know the whole nation will be debating exactly this, from the kitchen table to Washington. I would like to close by offering my profound sympathies to all US readers. I wish you well in the coming period.