This Is Not The Darwin We Know But Thankfully Not The America We See

‘This is not the Darwin we know,’ said an ashen-faced Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner as he fronted the press following the worst gun-related multiple homicide in Australia for some time. 

Indeed, it’s not ‘the Darwin’ or even the Northern Territory we know and love.  When most people think of the Territory we imagine a place out of legend filled with barramundi, billabongs, crocs and beer.

Instead, as the rest of Australia tucked itself into bed on Tuesday night, reports started rolling in of shots ringing out across the Darwin CBD and a city in lock-down. A motel shot up, a young woman wounded and tragically, four people murdered.

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Darwin police and tactical units should be praised for their amazing response, skilfully apprehending the gunman before more people were hurt.

Once the dust clears from this terrible crime there will obviously be questions that demand answers. How could this happen?  In particular, how was an individual who was on parole, who was known to police and wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet, able to come into possession of a firearm?

Darwin Shooting.

The alleged perpetrator had only recently left prison and was wearing an ankle locator.

Violent gun crimes of this nature often prompt calls from some politicians and gun-control advocates for a blanket tightening of laws regarding firearm ownership.  It’s an understandable response arising from the desire to uphold the right of every citizen to walk Australian cities without fearing gun violence.

Unfortunately, tightening our already strict gun laws would have little to no impact on the circulation of illegal firearms and generally serve to penalise law-abiding gun owners.

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This is not to downplay the seriousness of the murders in Darwin. Indeed this is not the Australia we know.

But thankfully it’s also not the America we see.

Thanks to the strict gun laws introduced into Australia under the Howard Government following the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, the weapons that could have made the loss of life in Darwin so much greater are now near impossible to obtain.

Darwin Shooting
Northern Territory Minister Michael Gunner fronts the media after the shooting. Photo: AAP.

As a result of the Howard Government’s gun buyback and crack down on the availability of semi-automatic weapons, thousands of military-style weapons like the 7.62mm SKK, SKS and Ruger Mini-14 were destroyed and a total ban placed on their importation from the USA, Eastern Europe and China.

1996 Gun Buy Back
1996 gun buyback. Image: Getty Images.

If the Darwin shooting had taken place in 34 of the 50 United States, the news reports on Tuesday night would have likely carried the ubiquitous phrase ‘the gunman was armed with an assault-style semi-automatic weapon’ with hundreds of rounds fired and many more people wounded or killed.

This is exactly what we’ve seen over the last three years in the U.S.

Semi-automatic assault rifles were used in the Las Vegas tower mass-shooting in 2017 where 58 people were killed and more than 400 wounded by gunfire; the Orlando night club massacre in 2016 where 49 people were murdered and 53 wounded, or the Sutherland Springs Church shooting in 2017 where 26 people were killed and another 20 wounded.

People lie on the ground at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Vegas following the mass shooting. Photo: David Becker/Getty Images

Though a terrible crime where four people lost their lives, the Darwin shooting involved a single shotgun and a total of around 20 shots reportedly being fired.

Changing our gun laws for responsible legal gun-owners will not prevent this type of crime from happening again. Greater resources provided to our State and Federal police to destroy the trade in illegal firearms and a review of the application of parole are likely to be far more effective.