To begin with I just want to make this totally clear. I do not want to be some self righteous Aussie lecturing Americans how to run their country. You guys have a pretty damn amazing nation you have built yourself there. I have lived and studied there, I love its people, I love its culture.
I understand there a lot of reasons why our gun laws may not work there. Your population is about 13 times ours and you share a lot of land borders we don’t have to worry about. You also have a lot more guns out there already, maybe it’s too late to get the cat back in the bag? I realise your right to gun ownership is in your constitution (so was slavery and prohibition mind you) and that makes it a little bit harder to change than it was for us.
The only reason I am writing this, as an Australian, is after every mass shooting you guys have I am forced to watch our gun laws get debated online by a bunch of people who know nothing about them and, for the most part, just don’t get them.
So instead of intervening and commenting on every Tweet I see I have decided to just clarify what our guns laws are and why they work for us. It is absolutely up to you to continue the conversation as to whether or not they can work in your country but at least have that conversation armed with the truth.
You can still own a gun here
Well, not everyone, if you have a criminal record, any mental health history, or anyone has ever obtained an AVO (similar to a restraining order) out on you, then you can’t have a gun sorry (not sorry).
But everyone else can! ...so long as you have a reason to. Hunting, farming or sports use are the three main valid reasons why you can apply for a license. But unfortunately no matter what kind of gun license you have no one is allowed any automatic or semi-automatic weapons, there simply isn’t an actual reason for a civilian to have one. The AR15 is fairly useless to hunters or farmers and until the Olympics introduces an Assault Weapon division you will be hard pressed to claim it as a sporting piece. Even suggesting an automatic weapon could be used for self defence in any setting other than an outright civil war requires a little imagination. Many tactical police, for instance, often prefer to utilise a handgun when entering a building with hallways and small rooms as it is significantly easier to manoeuvre and use in close quarters so wanting a "long arm" to defend against burglars doesn’t make a great deal of sense.
Your gun must then be registered and stored in a safe which is bolted to the ground, at any stage, without warning, Police can knock on your door and ask to double check that all the guns registered to you are stored safely. This means it is very rare for guns to get stolen because the only way anyone can get their hands on them would be during a home invasion whilst you’re there to open the safe, and as most gun owners know, burglars tend to avoid houses belonging to gun owners, not target them.
Criminals still have guns
Guns are highly sought after by criminals for obvious reasons. However if a criminal wants a gun they have two options.
Get a license (assuming you have no criminal history etc. as stated above); spend the money on getting a safe that satisfies the legislation; register your firearm knowing full well the local police are now entitled to demand entry to your house and inspect it at any point and even examine it in relation to any crimes they are investigating; or
Buy one on the Black Market.
At this point the Black Market might seem the best option for your everyday crook but keep in mind, even if you actually have the necessary criminal contacts to get in touch with an illegal gun dealer, because of how hard it is to actually steal a gun or smuggle one into the country, you can expect to pay anywhere between $10,000 and $20,000 just for a handgun, whilst any type of military grade weapon is pretty much impossible to obtain.
So yes criminals do still have guns, but generally only the rich ones. They are organised crime groups and usually use them on other organised crime groups. Because a gun generally has to be disposed of once it’s been used in a crime (because bullets can be traced to a specific gun by forensics officers) they tend to only use those guns against other criminals who are costing them a lot of money.
This is why you may still hear news reports about gun deaths in Australia, however invariably they are associated with “gangland killings”. No one is ever mugged by someone wielding a gun and even the instances of armed hold ups with real guns are rare. It is actually more common that replica firearms or knives are used for this level of crime because logically if these criminals could afford an illegal gun that cost them tens of thousands of dollars, they aren’t going to be risking their lives robbing a liquor store of $300.
A byproduct of this is that whenever Police deal with a member of the public there is an over riding assumption that only the Police Officer will be armed. Police are not perpetually on edge wondering if every person they pull over has a gun in their glove compartment and as a result we have virtually no police shootings. The few we do have have usually involved unstable persons lunging at police with knives or other edged weapons.
It is also worth noting that the fact illegal guns are so prohibitively expensive has been one of our greatest defences against large scale terrorism attacks. There have been countless plots thwarted by police and all before anyone actually managed to get their hands on a gun. The two that were successfully carried out over the past 5 years involved a sawn off shotgun and a 1939 vintage handgun. In both instances the assailant only managed to kill a single person before he himself was killed by police.
We have all the same problems as you
We have a massive mental health crisis, suicide is the number one cause of death for Australians under the age of 44. We are also the highest recreational drug users in the world (yep, more than you).
We watch pretty much exactly the same movies you watch (yours) and for some reasons our kids listen to the same rap music
We have a fairly violent history too, competed in every war you have since World War Two (always on your side don’t worry), and our ancestors also proudly murdered a whole race of indigenous people to the brink of genocide.
Not only do we have no ‘prayer’ in school, but almost a third of Australians stated they didn’t believe in any religion at all in our last census. We are becoming increasingly atheist and have even had an atheist Prime Minister.
The reality is there is only one real difference between us; Guns. You have more of them, they are easier to get, and you have ones that can cause way more damage. The overwhelming majority of Australians will go through their life without ever holding a gun and for most the only time they will ever see one is on the hip of a Police Officer.
I really don’t know if your founding fathers considered that a 19 year old kid should own a mass casualty weapon like the AR15 when they drafted your constitution but that’s a conversation for you guys to have.
It’s your country and you will decide how it’s run. But don’t let that conversation be led on lies. The reason these mass shootings are happening is because of your gun laws (and lack thereof). You have to decide if your constitutional rights are too important to be amended; you have to decide if you think our gun laws wouldn’t work in your country for whatever reasons; you have to decide if mass shootings are just a necessary evil to ensure you have a heavily armed public ready to take on the armies of a despotic government.
But please have that conversation acknowledging the fact gun laws stopped mass shootings in Australia, they have made our country safer, and they actually do stop criminals from having guns too. They work.
If you liked this article please follow me on Twitter or Facebook for more! @realcarrickryan