Is it pride or ineptitude, or something quite other that’s stopping Americans backing a full revision of their outdated gun laws?

 

As the States struggle to overcome their latest public mass shooting in San Bernardino, California at the start of December, the whole world watched as the President of the free world wept for the security of his citizens. We witnessed what can undoubtedly be described as tears of desperation and sorrow as Obama delivered yet another exhausted, disheartening speech to his citizens, one of too many that he has had to make throughout his Presidency.

He used the widely publicised event and the many previous tragedies like it, to promote his ongoing campaign for harsher gun control laws to be implemented across the country, resulting in not only a surge in gun stocks (which is common after such an event), but also in the predictably neutral response from Congress that has all too quickly become routine.

Growing up in Britain and watching all this constant drama unfolding, the notion of legal firearms has always been an incomprehensible idea to me. In fact, it wasn’t until a few years ago that I gained a proper understanding of what goes on in America — surprisingly, the writers of Friends never prepared me for the harsher realities of life.

Not only does the United States have the highest gun ownership rate in the world, with 88.8 guns for every 100 people, as of 2014; but the country also owns close to half of the world’s civilian guns, racking up a grand estimated total of 270,000,000 individual firearms. It may come as no surprise therefore, that America is also the leading country for the number of incarcerated citizens per capita, reminding us that guns are not just an issue to be acknowledged whenever a public mass shooting occurs, but something that is needed to address the unfathomable rates of use every day on the streets.

It must be clear by now (if not to all Americans, then to the majority of the world) that something has to be done. However, the fate of this issue lies not at all in the hands of the President himself, but in those of the 535 voting members of the U.S. Congress — the problem now being that none of them are clear on how to approach the necessary changes.

California for example is currently the state with the strictest gun laws in the country, yet it is also where two mass shootings have happened within a year and a half of each other (Isla Vista killings, May 2014 and San Bernardino, December 2015), and where 68 per cent of all murders are related to gun crime.

This is why we must look to a country that has managed to maintain the legality of purchasing firearms whilst also keeping social unrest, hate crimes, mass shootings and general firearm misconducts down to a minimum.

That country is Australia. Contrary to what most people think, fire arms are actually legal down under, the only thing that separates them from high gun crime countries such as the US are their stringent yet astute gun laws.

After the horrific incidents following the Port Arthur massacre of 1996 where 35 people were killed and 23 wounded, Australia sanctioned one of the world’s largest gun reforms in recent history. Prime Minister at the time, John Howard created the National Firearms Agreement which, along with prohibiting the use and circulation of certain shotguns and semi-automatic and self-loading rifles, required all applicants to undergo an extremely thorough background check whilst demonstrating a ‘genuine reason’ for purchasing a gun and — most surprising of all — this couldn’t include the justification of self-defence.

Essentially, a ‘clear-out’ ensued whereby the government financed a ‘buy-back’ policy for everyone already in possession of a firearm that didn’t adhere to the new regulations. And the results? As you would guess, during the next decade the country’s firearm murder rate had dropped by a full 59 per cent (with a 65 per cent drop in firearm suicide rates). Australia has not had a mass shooting since.

By no means has this realisation washed over President Obama’s head. On numerous occasions he has pointed out and praised the ways in which Australia managed to apply such imposing law reforms that actually succeeded in restructuring what they set out to change. According to him, they are the perfect example for America to follow.

But why hasn’t it?

Some critics of the idea say that the outcome of such reforms wouldn’t have the same effect on the American population, due to the diverse cultural and social differences between the two nations. A valid point, sure — it is understandable that there will be a more varied reception — yet not a good enough reason to ignore the concept of reform altogether.

In the wake of yet another American community stricken with grief, this fragmentary and ongoing dispute has been on everyone’s mind, splitting the nation into two distinct categories: For and Against. Considering that at the forefront of the current opposition to gun control in the media is the intolerant, yet bewilderingly semi-popular statesman, Donald Trump, we can do nothing but hope that the citizens of America and those in Congress will recognise the necessity of overturning the archaic and outdated legislation that is destroying so many communities.

The United States has a tendency to wait for reform (I haven’t even touched on the topic of the death penalty, but perhaps that’s for another time …) so all we can do now is wait to see if they listen to those leading by example — the Aussies.