By PD Martin
For any regular visitors to Murderati, it’s difficult if not impossible to follow up from Gar’s post yesterday. I had been contemplating two subjects for my blog today — both very different from one another (one was ‘failure’ and what it means and the other was my complete inability to get Christmas cards out on time…actually maybe they are related). However, I didn’t feel that either of those subjects was a fitting ‘follow-on’ from Gar’s amazing post.
So, I’m sticking with the theme by talking about Australian gun laws. I guess as a way of saying ‘this is what it would look like’ if America ever did change its (wicked) ways. Plus Gar’s post inspired me to explore things a little more.
The first thing I discovered was that Aussie gun laws have gone through a massive change — and it was in response to a spree killing. Specifically, in 1996 gun laws were reviewed following the Port Arthur Massacre. I should say, that gun control wasn’t really on the radar in Australia before that, because we’ve always had a relatively low violent crime rate plus we have a long history of low firearm use and gun legislation (off and on, and different for the different states). However the state laws were aligned via the 1996 National Agreement on Firearms. But the fact that gun laws haven’t been a constant source of debate does make us very different to America.
Here’s what it’s like in Australia. I’ll start with a personal experience.
I grew up in Melbourne (population 4.1 million, Australia’s second largest city) and had never seen or held a gun until I went to a firing range as research for my Sophie novels. So I was thirty-five years old the first time I saw a gun. Could this be said for many Americans?
According to Wikipedia, 5.2% of Australians currently own a gun. Under the current legislation, you must get a license to purchase a gun, and there’s a mandatory 28-day delay before the first permit is issued. You also must have a “genuine reason” to own a gun and it must be related to pest control, target shooting, hunting, etc. Self defense is NOT considered a genuine reason.
According to Wikipedia, 25% of Americans currently own a gun and about half of the entire population has lived in a household with a gun. This is something I can barely comprehend. So how many thirty-five year olds in America would never have even seen a gun? Not many, I guess. If any.
And in terms of firearms related deaths? Again from Wikipedia, in the US there were 3.7 homicides and 6.1 suicides using firearms per 100,000 people (2009) and in Australia it was 0.09 homicides and 0.79 suicides per 100,000 people (2008).
For most Australians, guns just aren’t part of our lives. We don’t own them, don’t see them, don’t want them. And I guess that's why it's hard for us to understand the debate in the US.
You might also be interested to know what happened in 1996 when Australia’s gun laws changed. I haven’t been monitoring how far the discussions are going in the US, but I assume people are talking about how, if gun laws were changed, you could get all the guns out of circulation. Well, this is how it worked in Australia. It was simple: gun owners had a certain amount of time to hand in their weapons and they got money in exchange. This from Wikipedia: “Because the Australian Constitution prevents the taking of property without just compensation the federal government introduced the Medicare Levy Amendment Act 1996 to raise the predicted cost of A$500 million through a one-off increase in the Medicare levy. The gun buy-back scheme started on 1 October 1996 and concluded on 30 September 1997. The buyback purchased and destroyed more than 631,000 firearms, mostly semi-auto .22 rimfires, semi-automatic shotguns and pump-action shotguns.” (By the way, Medicare is our national healthcare system, and it was increased from 1.5% of your wage to 1.7% for the 1996 tax year.)
I guess it would be rude and probably naïve of me to say: ‘See America, that’s how it’s done.’ Not to mention inflammatory. We are very different countries with different histories. But from the outside looking in, it’s hard not to feel disbelief at America's gun laws and attitudes. I’m not saying Australia is perfect — it’s not. And it’s with great shame personally and as a nation that we have to claim one of the world’s worst spree killings – Port Arthur. However, I do think we’re at least pointing in the right direction.
I’m proud that I’d never seen a gun until I was thirty-five. Proud that I don’t know anyone who owns a gun. And as a mother, I’d prefer my children to have similar experiences. I think it would be great if they only see a gun if they become a crime fiction author and need to do some research. What about you?