As I continued to read about nineteen-year-old Emma Parkinson and her recovery from being shot in the Paris terror attacks, I was fascinated by the irony of her being a native of Tasmania, Australia–a region that experienced one of the world’s most horrific acts of gun violence nineteen years ago, an act that led to a historic reform of the gun laws Down Under.
Days after the slaughter of innocents in Newtown, Connecticut, Slate‘s Will Oremus recounted Tasmania’s terror:
On April 28, 1996, a gunman opened fire on tourists in a seaside resort in Port Arthur, Tasmania. By the time he was finished, he had killed 35 people and wounded 23 more. It was the worst mass murder in Australia’s history.
Twelve days later, Australia’s government did something remarkable. Led by newly elected conservative Prime Minister John Howard, it announced a bipartisan deal with state and local governments to enact sweeping gun-control measures. A decade and a half hence, the results of these policy changes are clear: They worked really, really well.
At the heart of the push was a massive buyback of more than 600,000 semi-automatic shotguns and rifles, or about one-fifth of all firearms in circulation in Australia. The country’s new gun laws prohibited private sales, required that all weapons be individually registered to their owners, and required that gun buyers present a “genuine reason” for needing each weapon at the time of the purchase. (Self-defense did not count.) In the wake of the tragedy, polls showed public support for these measures at upwards of 90 percent.
What happened next has been the subject of several academic studies. Violent crime and gun-related deaths did not come to an end in Australia, of course. But as the Washington Post’s Wonkblog pointed out in August, homicides by firearm plunged 59 percent between 1995 and 2006, with no corresponding increase in non-firearm-related homicides. The drop in suicides by gun was even steeper: 65 percent. Studies found a close correlation between the sharp declines and the gun buybacks. Robberies involving a firearm also dropped significantly. Meanwhile, home invasions did not increase, contrary to fears that firearm ownership is needed to deter such crimes. But here’s the most stunning statistic. In the decade before the Port Arthur massacre, there had been 11 mass shootings in the country. There hasn’t been a single one in Australia since.
While we’re having a conversation about “radical jihadism,” can we talk a bit about gun violence–which aides and abets “radical jihadism” in all its forms? Emma Parkinson’s home country had enough common sense to crack down on senseless gun violence. Why can’t the rest of the world, including the United States? You’d figure that all of the NRA types who are afraid of a Paris-style attack on our soil would be the first ones in line demanding substantive reform of our gun laws to prevent “radical jihadists” from getting their hands on firearms. Of course, you’d figure wrong.
Sorry, Wayne LaPierre: the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is not a good guy with a gun. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is strong federal legislation.
If we are in a new phase of the War on Terror, the NRA needs to decide today whether they’re with us or with the terrorists.
SECOND UPDATE: More from MSNBC.