Opinion

America, don’t repeat Australia’s gun control mistake

After the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, media hysteria and bipartisan political support for punishing gun owners increased. As a consequence, our gun laws were tightened.

We could have all responded like rational human beings and grieved for the deceased (35 in all). Instead, militant anti-gun activists viewed the massacre as an opportunity, and set out to punish freedom.

Hitler supported gun control. So did Stalin. Still, our activists were bent on portraying the gun-tolerant United States as the real menace. “Australia doesn’t want to end up like the Wild West,” went one common argument.

Yet, in 2011, I’m compelled to ask: When will we learn from our mistakes and admit we were wrong? And I ask this question because many Australians are victims of violence. In contrast, for criminals and their enablers, “gun control” is the gift that keeps on giving.

Take Melbourne, Australia’s second most populous city. Between January 16, 1998 and April 19, 2010, 36 criminal figures or partners were murdered during the Melbourne Gangland Killings.

Alas, family environments, from businesses to parks, were drawn into the mess.

The passage of gun control laws fueled our illegal arms market, and gun-hungry gangs multiplied. The significance: many gangland deaths/wars involved bullets. The tribal fights exploded after the Port Arthur massacre-inspired gun laws, against mainstream media predictions.

To concerned Victorians, too, it felt like our criminal class was running the state. The problem though (in Australia at least) is that campaigning newspapers and television networks are never wrong — no matter how many people are killed or threatened by guns, there’s always a “complex” excuse.

The odd thing about gun control is that a culture of censorship often increases after anti-gun laws fail to deliver. So, it would be hard for an Australian writer to submit a piece on Switzerland’s pro-gun ownership culture and low gun crime rate because our media isn’t “ready” to accept opposing views. Only a “thought control” culture can sustain a “gun control” culture.

When one punishes law-abiding citizens for the sins of criminals, good intentions will backfire. By criminalizing productive citizens, we have made life easier for criminals, and wasted precious police resources on policing farmers.

Moreover, Australians were wrong to exchange scare stories about the “Wild West” because few understood that the Old West was not so wild, according to modern historians. And, we’re still too quick to report on massacres in firearm-welcoming America and too reluctant to report on bigger massacres in firearm-restricting Mexico. We’re quick to report on shootouts across the U.S. but unwilling to report on thousands of Americans who were saved by pointing their easy-to-access guns at criminals, a.k.a. would-be thieves, murderers and rapists.

Also lost in the emotion is the fact that the alleged Arizona killer, Jared Lee Loughner, adored Mein Kampf, by the National Socialist/gun control dictator Adolph Hitler (not More Guns, Less Crime, by John Lott). So, do we need to reward and/or excuse society’s killers?

At times like these, it’s easy to fall prey to post-massacre opportunists. Still, reason and not emotion is our best guide. The facts (to quote the Sporting Shooters’ Association of Australia) are as follows:

  • Between July 1 1997 and 30 June 1999 nine in ten offenders of firearm-related homicide were unlicensed firearm owners.

  • Raw data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reveals that while suicide by firearms is continuing to decrease from a high in the 1980s, suicide by hanging steadily increased throughout the 1990s and increased for three consecutive years after the 1996 buy-back.

  • In the year 2002/2003, over 85% of firearms used to commit murder were unregistered. Recent legislation introduced by all states further strengthened controls on access to legitimate handguns by sporting shooters.

  • The AIC’s ‘Homicide in Australia: 2006-07 National Homicide Monitoring Program annual report’ stated that 93 per cent of firearms involved in homicides had never been registered and were used by unlicensed individuals.

Gun control is a myth, or rather a mountain of myths sustained by campaigning elites in secure buildings with armed bodyguards: the myth that if law-abiding citizens hand their guns over to the big government to burn, then we will enter a new peace; the myth that if we feel that we are gun controllers, then we are humanitarian citizens even when statistics undermine our self-praising image; and the myth that punishing thousands of farmers and sporting shooters, for the crimes of others, will bring healing. But we (meaning anti-gun Australians) were (and are) wrong.

Ben-Peter Terpstra is a freelance writer based in regional Victoria, Australia. He has lived and worked in the Northern Territory, Melbourne, Kyoto and London (England).