Recently my brother, who has lived in Australia since the 1980s, came to Illinois for my son’s wedding. One of the topics for discussion was the different directions gun violence and mass shootings have taken in our two countries. In the early 1990s Australia was having problems with mass shootings and in 1996 enacted gun control laws that preserved individuals’ rights to own guns but essentially eliminated automatic and semi-automatic weapons. Australia has not had a shooting involving five or more people since then.
In talking with him it became apparent that a couple of other things occurred in Australia that were just as important as the automatic weapons ban in curbing the use of guns for crimes or to settle sudden disputes.
First there is no concealed or open carry. If you want to transport a gun from your home or farm elsewhere to use for hunting, target shooting or other purposes, it must be unloaded and in a case or other approved gun transport carrier. If you are found carrying or transporting a loaded gun or gun that is immediately available, you are automatically in legal difficulty, even if you can ultimately prove you have the papers to legally own a firearm.
This even applies to large knives. If my brother is going into town from the small cattle ranch he lives on, he takes the work knife off his belt and puts it in the toolbox. Walking around town with a knife on your belt would bring some attention from the local constable.
The result of this law is that when conflicts arise over car accidents or between people they are less likely to escalate to a homicide. When tempers do flair, there are usually no weapons immediately available which may cause an escalation to deadly violence.
We then discussed some of the myths people in the U.S. tell me about guns in Australia.
Myth 1: You cannot own guns in Australia. The website GunPolicy.org indicates the number of Australian guns privately owned in 2016 is only 50,000 less than in 1996. They just are not automatic or semi-automatics.
Myth 2: You cannot own high-power hunting rifles in Australia. This brought a chuckle from him because many in his area people own and use such rifles both for hunting and target shooting. You just have to be happy with bolt action.
Myth 3: Murders increased in Australia when more citizens were not armed. The 2016 rate of gun deaths was 0.18 per 100,000 people, less than a third of what it was in 1996.
Myth 4: You can only own guns if you are in Australian law enforcement. Actually the law allows a number of legitimate reasons to own a gun, including gun club membership, hunting, target shooting, having a firearm collection and varmint control in addition to law enforcement/security employment.
Myth 5: You can’t sell guns privately. Actually you can, but you must allow officials to do an official background check before allowing the sale to go through.
Readers can go online to http://www.police.qld.gov.au/ to get more factual information about Australian gun laws.
Now as individuals who grew up in southwest suburban Chicago hunting pheasant and shooting trap, my brother and I are not averse to owning guns. Similarly when my wife was in the middle of reading It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis, she looked up and said, “This makes me appreciate the Second Amendment as a defense against tyranny.”
But it is apparent in looking at the diverging paths our two nations have taken with regards to guns over the last 22 years, that in the U.S. we are not safer with more guns designed for mass killing being owned alongside liberal firearm carry laws and “Stand Your Ground” laws. This election year we need to elect representatives at the state and congressional level who will support common-sense gun control.
Dr. Soltys of Springfield is a retired physician who still teaches on a volunteer basis at SIU School of Medicine.