Time for gun control debate is now
Wednesday, November 8, 2017
Another horrific mass shooting has occurred in the United States. An armor-clad gunman opened fire inside a rural Texas church on Sunday, killing more than two dozen people in the largest mass shooting in the state’s history. Twenty-six people were killed during the shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
The shooting comes little more than a month since 64-year-old Stephen Paddock opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on more than 20,000 people attending a country music festival below. The death count of the Las Vegas shooting stands at 59, with 527 injured.
The immediate response must be: How do we prevent another massacre? But that is exactly the debate the Trump administration wants to avoid.
The White House responded to each shooting by noting there’s an appropriate time and place for a political debate on assault weapons.
Yes, that time is now.
As renowned public intellectual and author Naomi Klein tweeted: “Don’t talk about guns after a massacre. Or climate change after storms. Or austerity after firetrap buildings burn. Talk when no one listens.” While it is too late for the 59 murder victims in Las Vegas, looking at a country where mass shootings were effectively ended more than 20 years ago is instructive—the historically gun-loving country of Australia.
On April 28, 1996, Martin Bryant took his AR-15 assault rifle into the southern Tasmanian tourist village of Port Arthur and proceeded to kill 35 men, women and children, injuring 23 more.
“It’s important to remember that before Port Arthur, we [in Australia] had had a series of mass shootings, about one a year,” Rebecca Peters said. “Each time, there was a lot of discussion, noise, grief, prayers, anger, thoughts about what to do. But our politicians were sort of frozen, afraid to take action to reform the gun laws, even though there was plenty of expert advice.”
Peters led the movement in Australia to change the gun laws. She now works as an arms-control advocate with the International Action Network on Small Arms. “When Port Arthur occurred, the prime minister just said: ‘This is it. We’re done. We’ve been talking about this for years. It’s time to take action.’”
Within two weeks, the 1996 National Firearms Agreement was announced, completely banning semi-automatic weapons, pump-action rifles and shotguns. It included a compulsory buy-back program that removed 650,000 guns from private hands. Since that time, there has not been a mass shooting in Australia.
Many are quick to point out that the Australian solution couldn’t work in the United States, not only because there are already more than 300 million guns in circulation, but because the U.S. Constitution, as currently interpreted, protects the right to own guns.
But let’s have the debate. Let’s open the airwaves and the halls of Congress, the classrooms and the town squares, to a vigorous debate about gun violence and how to stop it. Disgraced former Fox News host and accused serial sexual harasser Bill O’Reilly wrote in a blog just hours after the Las Vegas massacre, “This is the price of freedom.”
Both gunmen, the gun-rights advocates would argue, had the right to amass a lethal arsenal—all purchased, it seems, legally and with full background checks. But the peaceful church- and concertgoers also had every right to live, to enjoy their constitutionally protected rights. For these victims, the gun protectors offer “thoughts and prayers.”
But there are those who do change their minds. Caleb Keeter, a guitarist in the Josh Abbott Band that played at the Las Vegas concert shortly before the massacre, wrote the following day: “I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was. …A small group (or one man) laid waste to a city with dedicated, fearless police officers desperately trying to help, because of access to an insane amount of fire power.”
Columbine, the Aurora theater, Sandy Hook Elementary, Orlando’s Pulse nightclub and now Las Vegas and again in Texas: The list of massacre sites will continue to grow, without end, until we have the debate and enact sensible gun control. And when we have that debate, let’s remember the Port Arthur massacre as well.