The Obama administration may be looking for an example in Australia as the White House considers potential new firearm laws for the United States in the wake of the latest in a series of devastating school shootings.
US President Barack Obama cited gun rules in America’s down under ally during remarks that were broadcast on the web Tuesday afternoon only hours after a gunman entered a high school near Portland, Oregon and opened fire, killing a student.
“My biggest frustration so far is the fact that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage. We’re the only developed country on earth where this happens. And it happens now once a week. And it’s a one-day story. There’s no place else like this,” the president said.
“A couple of decades ago Australia had a mass shooting similar to Columbine or Newtown, and Australia just said, ‘Well, that’s it. We’re not doing — we’re not seeing that again,’ and basically imposed very severe, tough gun laws, and they haven’t had a mass shooting since. I mean, our levels of gun violence are off the charts. There’s no other advanced, developed country on earth that would put up with this,” Obama added.
The president was likely referring to a 1996 rampage near the Port Arthur prison colony in south-eastern Tasmania, Australia in which Martin Bryant, 28, killed 35 people and wounded 23 others during an hours-long shooting spree. Upon the overwhelming support of the Australia population, the 1996 National Firearms Agreement was passed soon after, in turn outlawing long-barreled semi-automatic guns and establishing a 28-day wait period for firearm purchases. The government also began a massive mandatory buyback program that is reported to have cut in half the number of gun-owning households.
Upwards of 95 percent of Australians polled after the Port Arthur massacre said they favored more stringent gun laws like these, and mass shootings have not occurred in the continent in the nearly two decades since.
“Overall, the firearms homicide and firearms suicide rates had been trending steadily downwards through the 1980s and early 1990s, but the fall accelerated after the buyback. Analyzing variations in the amount of guns turned in for buyback between states, we again found the same result: in states where more firearms were bought back, there was a bigger drop in gun deaths,” Andrew Leigh, the assistant treasury spokesperson for the Labor Opposition in Australia, wrote in an op-ed for Time magazine published earlier this month—ahead of Tuesday’s shooting in Troutdale, Oregon. “In the decade and a half since the Australian gun buyback, the number of firearms per person has stayed constant, and gun deaths have remained thankfully low.”
If a buyback program and the introduction of new laws were considered in the US, the same affect seen in Australia would mean that as many as 40 million firearms would be taken away. Nevertheless, public support in the states is far from what was evident in post-Port Arthur massacre Australia. After two-dozen people were left dead in late 2012 when a mass shooting occurred at a high school in Newtown, Connecticut, only 52 percent of Americans surveyed by the Washington Post and ABC News said they favored stringent new gun laws. A year later, those wanting reform were once again in the minority.
On Tuesday, White House principal deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that “The president’s goal is to look for opportunities to act administratively, unilaterally using his executive authority to try to make our communities safer.” The administration says hurtles, however, have been the result of lawmakers who want little to nothing to do with the White House’s efforts.
“We’re always looking for those opportunities,” Earnest added. “But none of those opportunities when they present themselves is going to be an acceptable substitute for robust legislative action.”
“If public opinion does not demand change in Congress, it will not change,” Pres. Obama said during Tuesday’s question-and-answer session hosted by the website Tumblr. “We don’t have enough tools right now to make as big a dent as we need to.”
“The question I think really facing lawmakers right now is what common sense steps can Democrats and Republicans take to reduce the likelihood of gun violence,” added Earnest. “And there are some, and they have unfortunately been bottled up in Congress and that is a disappointment to the president. But that’s not going to stop the president from continuing to push for administrative steps that we can take to help reduce gun violence.”