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Australian perspective on gun control in the wake of the Vegas shooting



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Police vehicles are seen near the site of shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 2. At least 50 people were killed and over 200 others wounded in a mass shooting at a concert Sunday night outside of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. Courtesy of Tribune News Service Buy Photos

Mass shootings are becoming depressingly regular for those of us in the United States. 

Las Vegas, Dallas, Orlando and Sandy Hook Elementary are just a few of the tragedies that have rippled across the American psyche. 

We feel like we know how the debate in Congress will go as well. Democrats will introduce legislation, and Republicans might say it's too broad and infringes on their Second Amendment rights. 

They will argue and maybe resolve to introduce some minor legislation, and we will likely end up back at square one. 

Since the Las Vegas shooting Oct. 1, I have had many Australians here in Adelaide, South Australia, come up to me and express their sorrow, their disbelief and even their anger about the situation and the lack of gun reform in the United States.

The U.S. love for the Second Amendment and guns boggles their minds. One Australian said to me that he didn’t expect us to change. 

After all, he said, we didn’t change after children were killed at Sandy Hook. Harsh words, but the same sentiment is one I’ve heard many times over here.

The pain particularly resonates with Australians because they’ve been through the same problem and dealt with it in a radical way.

Australia’s last mass shooting was in 1996 at a place called Port Arthur. A man named Martin Bryant was found guilty of killing 35 people and wounding another 23 when he walked into a café and started shooting. 

In the aftermath of that horror, Australia and Prime Minister John Howard did something that would be unthinkable in the United States. 

Howard pushed through legislation that banned all automatic and semi-automatic firearms and instituted a government buyback program, which brought in more than 600,000 guns to be destroyed. 

They have not had a mass shooting since. That’s 21 years without a mass shooting. In the United States, since Sandy Hook in 2012, there have been 1,518 mass shootings, resulting in 1,715 people killed and 6,089 people wounded, according to the Gun Violence Archive. 

However, the GVA uses a rather broad definition for mass shootings. Mass shootings occur when four or more people were killed and shootings in which four or more people were merely shot. 

Now, I’m not saying that the type of ban and buyback plan which Australia used would necessarily work in the United States, since there are different factors at play.

First off, Australia certainly has a smaller population than the United States. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates there are approximately 24 million Australians. 

Compare that to around 323 million U.S. citizens. Obviously, shootings and other crimes are going to be more likely with larger populations.

There is also the sheer number of guns owned by civilians in the United States. Although U.S. citizens make up only 4.4 percent of the world population, they own 42 percent of all civilian-owned guns in the world, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting where Stephen Paddock killed more than 50 people and wounded hundreds, it would be a humanitarian move for Congress to look at gun reform with an eye for bipartisanship and maybe use Australia as a benchmark. 

Currently Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, has called for legislation that would ban the “bump stocks,” which allowed Paddock to convert his semi-automatic weapons into a legal automatic-like weapon. If that bill passes, or if something else like stricter background checks will succeed, is yet unknown. 

In contrast, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, talked about a need for mental health reform as a key aspect in the gun debate, rather than further gun control, at a news conference Tuesday. However, he didn’t rule out further legislation like Feinstein’s bill. 

In troubling times when the name “worst mass shooting in U.S. history” has been applied to multiple shootings in my young 21 years of living, it begs the question what needs to be done.

Maybe the United States will find its own way to navigate gun violence, and maybe we can look to countries like Australia as an example to follow. 

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