It’s Thanks To Tight Gun Laws That People With Milk Crates Can Be Heroes
In El Paso, Texas, a white supremacist armed with an assault rifle walked into a Walmart and killed 22 people. He was eventually stopped by police wielding firearms.
In Clarence Street, Sydney, an assailant with alleged mental health issues armed with a kitchen knife is alleged to have killed one person and wounded another. He was eventually stopped by ordinary citizens wielding a café chair and a milk crate.
The contrast could not be more palpable.
In the US, firearms are far more proliferated throughout the community and far more accessible. Research last year estimated that there were approximately 3.6 million registered firearms across Australia. The vast majority of these are A and B class which includes bolt action, lever action and single shot rifles and shotguns.
The 2017 the Global Small Arms survey estimated there were 393.3 million firearms held by civilians in the USA. These range from air guns through to Glock 19 handguns, AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifles and semi-automatic shotguns.
To be fair, seven states in the USA have outlawed the type of assault-style rifles that were used in the El Paso shooting. Washington DC attempted to ban handguns, however the courts found it breached the second amendment -- the right to keep and bear arms. In 2015, the Obama administration failed to ban the sale of armour piercing ammunition.
In the US, in most states, all that is required to own a semi-automatic handgun or assault-style rifle is a drivers licence, a police check and a cooling-off period of between 30 days and six weeks.
In Australia, following the mass shootings at Strathfield Plaza in 1991 and the massacre of 35 people at Port Arthur in 1996, the Howard Government took the bold and fairly unpopular step to dramatically tighten Australia’s gun laws. Assault-style weapons were banned. Semi-automatic rifles were restricted to those owning land in rural Australia deemed to have a genuine need to manage feral animals. Ownership of handguns was drastically tightened.
Today, in most Australian states, those seeking to obtain a firearms licence must attend a safety course, pass a test and undergo a police check. In NSW, in order to purchase a firearm, licence holders must fill out an ‘application to acquire’ that identifies the exact gun they wish to buy. This takes a few weeks to assess and approve. Only then can they present themselves at a gun shop and take home the firearm, which has to be stored under strict security conditions.
The long-standing argument in the US is that if the population is armed to the teeth, events like the Walmart shooting would not result in such high casualties, as perpetrators would be more quickly subdued by gun carrying civilians. Obviously the converse is also true. If the population is armed to the teeth an incident of road rage can turn a suburban intersection in to the shoot-out at the OK Corral.
In fact, it’s already legal to carry a concealed firearm without a permit in 16 US States. Another 34 allow the carrying of a concealed firearm with a permit -- including Texas. And still the mass shootings continue.
In all likelihood, if the situation that occurred in the Sydney CBD yesterday had taken place in most cities in the US, the perpetrator would not have been armed with a knife. He would have been armed with any number of high-powered firearms capable of discharging multiple rounds in a short space of time. And the death toll would have been much, much higher.
More to the point, the Sydney incident has garnered such media attention due to its relative rarity. If we had the same gun proliferation as the USA, I shudder to think how often we’d see this type of event in Australian cities.
Since January 2010, there have been scores of shootings in the US, where more than three people have been killed in one event.
In Australia, since 1996, there have been seven shootings that have involved the deaths of three or more people. There have been no mass shootings on the scale of Port Arthur.
I am a shooter and a hunter. I love my sport. The vast majority of gun owners in Australia are responsible citizens who comply with our strict gun laws.
However, I am also immensely grateful that we live in a country where an assailant armed with a knife can be taken down by a few brave individuals armed only with a chair, a milk crate and the willingness to act in the defence of others.